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Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review - OnPoint", 2006

Abstract

Organizational change has traditionally come about through top-down initiatives such as hiring experts or importing best-of-breed practices. Such methods usually result in companywide rollouts of templates that do little to get people excited. But within every organization, there are a few individuals who find unique ways to look at problems that seem impossible to solve. Although these change agents start out with the same tools and access to resources as their peers, they are able to see solutions where others do not. These positive deviants are the key, the authors believe, to a better way of creating organizational change. Your company can make the most of their methods by following six steps: Make the group the guru - the members of the community are engaged in the process of their own evolution. Reframe through facts, which entails restating the problem in a way that opens minds to new possibilities. Make it safe to learn, creating an environment that supports innovative ideas. Make the problem concrete; the community combats abstraction by stating uncomfortable truths. Leverage social proof; here the community looks to the larger society for examples of solutions that have worked in parallel situations. Finally, confound the immune defense response; solutions are introduced organically from within the group in a way that promotes acceptance. Throughout the steps, the leader must adopt a facilitatory role. The positive-deviance approach has unearthed solutions to such complicated and diverse problems as malnutrition in Mali and human trafficking in East Java. This methodology can help solve even the most extreme dilemmas.

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Abstract

Organizational change has traditionally come about through top-down initiatives such as hiring experts or importing best-of-breed practices. Such methods usually result in companywide rollouts of templates that do little to get people excited. But within every organization, there are a few individuals who find unique ways to look at problems that seem impossible to solve. Although these change agents start out with the same tools and access to resources as their peers, they are able to see solutions where others do not. These positive deviants are the key, the authors believe, to a better way of creating organizational change. Your company can make the most of their methods by following six steps: Make the group the guru - the members of the community are engaged in the process of their own evolution. Reframe through facts, which entails restating the problem in a way that opens minds to new possibilities. Make it safe to learn, creating an environment that supports innovative ideas. Make the problem concrete; the community combats abstraction by stating uncomfortable truths. Leverage social proof; here the community looks to the larger society for examples of solutions that have worked in parallel situations. Finally, confound the immune defense response; solutions are introduced organically from within the group in a way that promotes acceptance. Throughout the steps, the leader must adopt a facilitatory role. The positive-deviance approach has unearthed solutions to such complicated and diverse problems as malnutrition in Mali and human trafficking in East Java. This methodology can help solve even the most extreme dilemmas.

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