Learn cultural change from the experts: your positive deviants

By William Seidman Stephen Paskoff’s recent blog post  about cultural change on the Conference Board’s “Human Capital Exchange” got me to thinking about true cultural change and how to achieve it. Like Paskoff, I was also at an all-male college, Dartmouth, in the late 60’s. When it begain to admit women, our culture also changed rapidly. We were very motivated to do anything that would make it easier to get along with the women! More seriously, I very much agree with Paskoff’s notion that positive images are a great driving force for cultural change. But not just any images, not from just any source and not as “incentives.” In our 15 years of work changing organizational cultures, we have found that images associated with creating a greater social good (similar to Dan Pink’s “purpose” concept), are the most powerful for causing an organization to rethink itself into a new and better culture. The best source of these images is, somewhat surprisingly, not usually the organization’s executives, but their “positive deviants” – the few people in the organization who are consistently the top performers. Positive deviants are motivated by a profound sense of purpose that can be articulated in a way that is compelling enough to drive rapid cultural change. We have had considerable success at changing cultures focusing on these two things – purpose and positive deviants.]]>

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