What is the Positive Deviance model? Description
According to Richard Tanner Pascale and Jerry Sternin, there are always
positive exceptions to rules concerning business problems. Somehow, a few
isolated groups or individuals, operating with the same constraints and resources
as everyone else, are functioning better. In the HBR of May 2005, they describe
their Positive Deviance method. This holds that managers must actively look
for those extraordinarily successful groups and individuals, and bring the
isolated success strategies of these "positive deviants" into the mainstream.
Best practice Change Management methods are not good at realizing this. That's
why Pascale and Sternin suggest to ensure the participation of the members
of the community which you want to change in the process of discovery. In
this way you can make them the evangelists of their own conversion experience.
Also they describe a six-step positive deviance model.
Origin of the Positive Deviance approach. History
Pascale and Sternin do not mention Cooperrider in their article. Nor do
they explicitly mention
However it is clear that their approach is based on similar ideas about organizational
change. Pascale and Sternin make the following comparison of the Traditional
Approach to Change vs. the Positive Deviance Approach to Change:
Traditional Approach to
Positive Deviance Approach
Leadership as Path Breaker
Vulnerable to Transplant Rejection
Flows from Problem Solving towards Solution Identification
Focused on the Protagonists
Leadership as Inquiry
Open to Self-Replication
Flows from Solution Identification towards Problem Solving
Focused on Enlarging the Network
Usage of Positive Deviance. Applications
- See below under strengths and limitations
Six Steps in Positive Deviance. Process
- Make the group the guru. Champions and Change Leaders are important,
but too often, these individuals generate unconstructive dependence from
- Reframe through facts. Problems must be restated. Rather than
starting with an inside-the-box definition. The attention can shift to fertile
new grounds and minds are opened to new possibilities.
- Make it safe to learn. The positive deviants, the authority figures
and the others in the group may all may feel that journeying into terra
incognita is a dangerous thing to do. A safe environment must be created
that supports innovative ideas.
- Make the problem concrete. Otherwise, signal distortion between
senders and receivers can quickly cause unwanted effects.
- Leverage social proof. The old adage: "Seeing is believing" has
special potency when you are dealing with change. Find and communicate examples
of solutions that have worked in similar situations.
- Confound the immune defense response. Prevent avoidance, resistance
and exceptionalism and let the change feel natural. Don't use excessive
Strengths of the Positive Deviance approach. Benefits
- The method works best for situations where behavioral and attitudinal
changes are called for. Where there is no apparent off-the-shelf remedy,
and successful coping strategies remain isolated and concealed.
- Facilitates a role reversal in which experts become learners, teachers
become students, and leaders become followers.
Limitations of the Positive Deviance model. Disadvantages
- Not suited for change initiatives around proven remedies to technical
problems. The authors mention Supply Chain Management practices, hardware
and software solutions.
- Not suited for problems that rely on brainpower but that don't require
major behavioral adjustments. The authors mention portfolio rebalancing.
- Requires a role reversal in which experts become learners, teachers
become students, and leaders become followers.
- Creating a safe environment that supports innovative ideas may sometimes
not be simple.
Assumptions of the Positive Deviance method. Conditions
- There are always positive exceptions to rules concerning business problems.
Somehow, a few isolated groups or individuals, operating with the same constraints
and resources as everyone else, function better.
- Best practice Change Management methods are not good at bringing successes
to the mainstream.
- If you ensure the participation of people, their avoidance, resistance
and exceptionalism will decrease.
- Time is not the issue.
- Leaders want to step back and facilitate the process.
- Positive deviants are willing to share.
Positive Deviance Special Interest Group
Special Interest Group (18 members)
Great exercise (at least annually)
Leaders learning, teachers becoming students - the humility and genuine interest displayed in new ways of thinking, from all levels within the company...
Advance yourself in business administration and management
Accelerate your management career
Compare with the Positive Deviance Approach:
| Change Management
Forget Borrow Learn
| Kaizen |
Business Process Reengineering |
Change Model Beckhard
| DICE Framework
Organization Cultures |
Action Learning |
Change Phases |
Force Field Analysis
| Core Group Theory
| MSP |
Bases of Social Power
| Planned Behavior
| Metaplan |
Return to Management Hub: Change & Organization | Communication & Skills | Leadership
| Program & Project Management
More Management Methods, Models and Theory
Special Interest Group Leader