Amplifying Positive Deviance
By Jennifer Hibbits
I was sitting in the most recent Women Leading Change program when one of the participants asked for coaching with regard to not having their latest round of “collecting best practices” make little to no difference. The conversation turned to an IWL tool called Amplifying the Positive Deviant, which was created by Jerry Sternin.
Jerry Sternin and his wife, Monique, worked for the Save the Children Foundation in Vietnam during the 1990s. It was their job to help save starving children in the country’s villages. Within six months, they adopted a radical approach to making change. Now, positive deviance is being applied around the world to change behavior in a variety of other social and organizational situations, such as the spread of AIDS in the Third World and ethnic conflicts in Africa. (To learn more about the Sternins’ application, read the Fast Company December 2000 article about their work.)
Best practices are the perfect opportunity to apply this tool. First, it’s important in your role as a leader that you are clear about the “contextual shift,” culture change, or vision you are moving toward. Next you’ll want to observe those “positive deviants.” These are people, tools or processes in the organization that are moving in the same direction as your vision, goal, or change initiative that you are making happen (which may not be going in the prevailing direction of the organization, the culture, the mindset, the current economy, etc.).
Discover what are the successful behaviors, mindsets, results that support these “deviants.” What is it that makes them work so well? What’s in place that made these results possible? Then find ways to amplify, announce, and spread the word of their results. Best practices are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate this.
Other ways to amplify these positive deviants may be stories in the company newsletter, on the intranet, on announcements to key stakeholders and customers, or even at the usual off-sites. It doesn’t have to be on such a large or visible scale, as it is also effective in staff meetings and conversations with colleagues and managers. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to support and give visibility to your women colleagues.
The key is to find multiple ways to amplify the positive deviants and keep providing opportunities for others to build new behaviors, results, “context shifts” that move the organization in the desired direction. Sternin says, ” … find small, successful but ‘deviant’ practices that are already working in the organization and amplify them. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is already alive in the organization — and change comes when YOU find it.”
Keep monitoring your success and continue to register the value and the difference that is being made. And as we say in our programs, “go ye forth and multiply!”