Wednesday 26 November 2014

Positive deviance in a business context

The concept of positive deviance is a powerful and attractive concept in the Development sector, involving looking for those individuals who succeed the best, and allowing others to learn from them. This works in business too!

The Positive Deviance Initiative is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviours and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.

Wikipedia gives us this example;

At the start of the pilot 64% of children weighed in the pilot villages were malnourished 
 Through a Positive Deviance inquiry, the villagers found poor peers in the community that through their uncommon but successful strategies, had well-nourished children. These families were collecting foods typically considered inappropriate for children (sweet potato greens, shrimp, and crabs) washed their children’s hands before meals, and actively fed them three to four times a day instead of the typical two meals a day provided to children.

Without knowing it, PDs had incorporated foods already found in their community that provided important nutrients: protein, iron, and calcium. A nutrition program based on these insights was created. Instead of simply telling participants what to do differently, they designed the program to help them act their way into a new way of thinking. To attend a feeding session, parents were required to bring one of the newly identified foods. They brought their children and while sharing nutritious meals, learned to cook the new foods. 
At the end of the two year pilot, malnutrition fell by 85%. Results were sustained, and transferred to the younger siblings of participants.
We can apply the same approach in business, as part of our Knowledge Management program (perhaps as a KM pilot). It works this way.

  1. Identify your critical knowledge areas, and critical activities
  2. Look for the teams that perform best in these areas (best sales team, best bid team, safest factory, most engaged staff, fastest production, lowest energy use etc etc)
  3. Proactively learn from them. Use interviews, knowledge visits, knowledge exchange etc to understand the secrets of their success
  4. Share these with others (through peer assist, perhaps, or knowledge handover), and challenge the others to deliver the same results

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