Monthly Archives: July 2007

Using Language to point people in the right direction

I have always loved the ‘why’ question, so I was quite confronted one day when an NLP colleague asked – “is that useful for you?” Since then I have spent a lot of time exploring the nature of the questions we ask and have realised that “why did this happen?” sends us back into the past to look for underlying causes in order to understand. This is a different direction to the question “how can we work together to make this happen?” which aims us toward the future into which we want to succeed.

Last month I was running a workshop for a group where the “why” word was quite attractive to them, so I had to think about the directon in which that word was aiming before I trotted out my usualy maxim “avoid using ‘why’, it only encourages people to go back into their past to find justification“.

This group was different. They were actually pointing their “why” in the direction of the future – they wanted to know “why” the initiative / project / task was important to aim for, which was their way of asking “what will this do for me and the team?”

It just goes to remind me that you don’t know what question they heard you ask, until you hear their answer.

Want to learn about more future-directed questions?

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Thinkers and Doers

I was telling a colleague on the weekend about my latest pet theory about “thinkers” and “doers” and the value of dialogue as a process.

Deep dialogue, or the U theory (as I understand them) are processes where participants delve deeply into a situation to the point where the “truth” or essence of the situation becomes apparent and then a solution / action or outcome naturally arises.

My theory is that thinkers already do this naturally but just because a solution or action arises doesn’t mean they will do it. Their development challenge is getting into action. Many thinkers I know (including me) don’t have trouble with insights but do have trouble acting on them.

Doers on the other hand may benefit more from such processes because they tend to only want to think a little and so some extended reflection can be beneficial. The other benefit is that once they have a really good insight, they are already primed to take action on it.

So, my question is “what is the equivalent process for thinkers to get into action around our many insights”?

Future Perfect – a direction rather than an end goal

I’ve just read that the new Solutions Focus book is getting a plug in the Australian Institute of Management’s “Management Today” monthly magazine under the heading “Best Books in the Business” – good for Mark McKergow and Paul Jackson.

My recent course participants would agree with the review “this uniquely simple way of working sidesteps the search for the causes of trouble and heads directly for the solution”. They enjoyed thinking about their ‘Future Perfect’ and then noticing what they were already doing that ‘counted’ towards their future, so that they are energised to take small steps rather than get daunted by grand development plans.

For some people the Future Perfect is depressing because we think we will never get there, so that’s where scaling is great – it shows early progress and we can decide what is ‘good enough’.

I’m looking forward to their coaching sessions to hear more about their successes (and to gain permission to share some of the great ideas they came up with for small steps).

New Starters – Getting fluent in your company lingo

I had lunch last week with educator Stephanie Burns and we chatted about the concept of fluency. Stephanie is literally getting fluent in Italian, while I am using the concept to talk with managers about the needs of their new employees.

What does it mean to be fluent in the language of an industry, the lingo and culture of an organisation, or the dialect of a team?

Some of our new starters are new to the industry and when they start they are immersed into another culture where some of the norms, practices and vocabulary can be quite strange. Even the business models (the grammar of the industry) may be very different. It is in manager’s best interests to provide some phrase books and support, so our employees don’t make fatal faux pas (and we don’t need a French phrase book to understand what that means).

Other new starters know the industry but need to translate their known vocabulary into the right phrases of your particular organisation and those transferring from one team to another, already know the organisational ‘phrase book’ but may need some help with the local team dialect and those pervasive TLAs.

The starting point, as Stephanie reminded me, is answering the “why become fluent quickly” question first.

And the answer is – because it makes good business sense. People who confirm to themselves that they have made a good decision by joining your company tend to stay longer, they are more positive and confident and they become more productive more quickly. The alternative – ‘drowning’ employees – are not good for the company and it is excruciating for the individual.

How do you do it? Get together a list of critical things and people to know and make sure there is support to help the person translate what they read and hear into what they need to do. Information and access to the people who impact their roles are equally important.

If you are interested in assessing or developing your New Starter programs, give us a call to discuss. And stay tuned for a further article on ‘Getting fluent in the language of leadership’.

Building a Solution Focussed Platform for Change

I have been using the Solutions Focus approach for a few years now in change and restructure work. It’s energising because it focuses on what people can and are already doing. Some or all of the following elements may be useful to consider in your own change processes. “They” refers to the group or organisation experiencing a change – ranging from retrenchment, to restructure to merger.

Current Platform – building an understanding of where they are currently at in relation to the change /merger – what’s solid about the present, that could be used as a foundation/springboard to the future. Participants cover part of the floor or wall with flipcharts that describe the platform from which they can move into the future.

Future perfect – a description of what they will be doing, saying, showing at some point in the future when the change / merger has been successful. Depending on the group’s preferences, we talk about it / draw it / create a storyboard for a 5 minute video of “a day in the life of the successful group”.

Counters – what they are already doing that is similar to the desired future behaviour (these “count” ). Participants to do a self reflection or pairs reflection, listing their personal resources, skills and examples of when the Future Perfect is already happening. The group can capture the information on coloured paper and it can be grouped. If the group is competitive, individuals can try and ‘win’ by scoring the most counters.

Compliments – affirm what is already happening – asking the group to affirm what they see or have seen in others (this provides an interactional view of what counts). Sometimes I ask the group to write secret compliments, other times they give public compliments. Sometimes they compliment individuals and other times they compliment teams / departments. In a competitive group, we give points to both the complimentor as well as the receiver, so they are all encouraged to compliment.

Scales – physical scaling in the room, where each person sees themselves in relation to the future perfect on a scale of 1-10. There can be various ways of framing the scales, depending on the trust in the group.

Small Actions – small steps they each can implement over the forthcoming weeks to move them one point up the scale. I often encourage them to think of secret actions, so there is less pressure to get it right and everyone has a task to notice and secretly compliment others – so it sets everyone’s attention on the behaviours they want to see.

If you want any more information about running such a session for your group, email me. My thanks to my mentors & teachers: Insoo, Peter, Mark, Harry, Svea, Michael, Paul, Janine & Jenny and their great resources – The Solutions Focus (1st & 2nd Editions), Paul Jackson & Mark McKergow, (2002 & 2007), Solutions Focus Working, Mark McKergow & Jenny Clarke (2007), Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions, Insoo Kim Berg & Peter Szabo, (2005).