Six Big Stakeholder Opportunities in Planning Strategy

Taking the potential for stress out of planning isn’t easy. In fact, though it’s usually unnecessary, anxiety is a reasonable thing to expect.

Hot Docs, Strategy, Brett Hendrie
Hot Docs Three-Year Plan video

Here’s an example of where an organization engaged various stakeholders in a series of collaborative events, collected feedback, insights, and suggestions and then turned them into a dynamic 3-year plan.

What are the 6 opportunities to dismiss anxiety and, instead, engage in collaborative goal setting?

  • Engage to identify the needs and aspirations of stakeholders, in particular, customers. Don’t forget the staff are stakeholders too.
  • Put time and resources aside to prepare for participation; collect insights and suggestions.
  • Set organizational goals in collaboration with the stakeholders.
  • Foster greater acceptance by staff of the need to take responsibility for developing and implementing plans that work in the rough and tumble of the real world.
  • Follow through on the learning and insights by sharing the plan widely.
  • Help stakeholders achieve value from the collaborative learning – you’ll need them as you implement the plan.

More tips:

Avoid SWOT thinking that emphasizes analyzing the weaknesses and threats.

We have been indoctrinated to believe that you must know the cause before you can do something about the problem – Insoo Kim Berg

Listen empathetically to people’s complaints about the problems they perceive, acknowledge them and move on.

Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices – William James

Build on the momentum of progress the organization is already making.

The purpose of each successive session is to assess change and to help to maintain it – de Shazer

Remember that when you are implementing the plan and unexpected complications arise, you’ll have the stakeholders on your side.

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans – Allen Saunders

More on using Solution Focus in strategic planning: 4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits


The endorsement:

Hot Docs Town Hall
Hot Docs Town Hall

“So many of our most successful initiatives have come from the unlikeliest sources, but always in the context of robust planning. Alan’s process has focused on collaborative conversations, mixing together our diverse stakeholders whose different perspectives often combine to create wonderful and spontaneous new ideas. What we’ve learned is that having our partners, customers and staff directly involved in the genesis of plans only amplifies their ability (and motivation) to support the final goals.”  – Brett Hendrie, ED, Hot Docs


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A Change Influencer in Public Sector Co-ordination Agencies

Jonas Wells, Solution Focus, SwedenInterview: Jonas Wells is a developer at Sweden’s National Association of Coordination Agencies and local coordinating manager for the Coordination Agency of South Dalecarlia. He came across SF in 2002 and since 2006 he’s worked with politicians and leaders from four different sectors in the health sector to enable people with coordinated needs to enhance their work abilities.

Jonas, as a developer and trainer in Sweden’s public sector and thinking of your efforts in helping the organizations what pleases you most about the work?

Earning the trust and confidence of others so that I can be in a position of influence is something I value very highly. I do not take his for granted and I am deeply grateful that I get to be in the room when policies and practices on various levels (politically, between leaders and between professionals) are being discussed and (re)routed forward.

What would the organizations where you help facilitate change tell us worked best for them?

Primarily I like to think that they talk about getting the work done, in the sense that they are getting meaningful outcomes that they hoped for, especially for people who are really dependent on the services they can provide. I also like to think that they are getting a sense of clearer direction which they very much believe in. And also enabling the development of deeper and more meaningful relations between themselves internally in the hierarchy (thereby in a way flattening and making the organization more flexible, elastic and resilient), and between the various organisations involved.

You have placed Solution Focus at the center of your work. How do your client organizations benefit?

Hopefully that their clients, whoever they may be, gather momentum for their respective directions. I also hope that they go home after a day’s work feeling happy and proud of having been useful to others in need.

Coordinate, silos, public serviceMany organizations are consciously trying to de-silo yet practice expertise is hard to let go of in complex environments. In particular, the public sector is subject to political, policy, program planning and budget influences that are hard to co-ordinate (Jonas, you call this paradoxical!). Despite this, what have you seen done to build capacity and create large-scale change?

Gathering different leaders and professionals together (sometimes with client organizations and others) around common issues, joint training in SF enhancing environments, and the building of common platforms or teams where different organizations or professions work together. The bottom line is people talking in different and more useful ways to each other. That is something I really enjoy witnessing. It signals capacity, passion and anticipation of large-scale change.

How else does SF move those practices forward?

Treating the organization as “already SF” helps a lot. By this I mean that by expressing and being-in-the-organization with wholly lived SF presuppositions helps to enhance trust in their own organization’s way of delivering co-created services and coping with different circumstances and conditions that come their way. I believe that they are already doing this at least sometimes and somewhere. What SF does is make these practices and talking about it, more self-evident and connects it to whatever the organization is trying to achieve.

SF in organizations is often seen as a coaching model. You seem to applying SF in other new ways. What’s one application that you have created or used?

Yes, I don’t really see myself as a coach, even if I do that sometimes. I see myself more as a change agent, and I see them, the people working in and around public sector organizations as change agents too. I am also aware that I am in the “system”, in wont of a better word, not neutral and doing my bit to enhance change talk wherever I am invited to do so. I am not sure that is an application by itself that is original in itself, but a lot of practices evolve from these types of interactions which are original for the people involved, where we co-construct and push forward the capacities of the involved public sector organizations. I do think that this is in many ways different to SF practice say in coaching, therapy or say in a school setting. The main difference is the setting, the context and that the groups are bigger. However the main principles of SF still apply.

You are an ethnographer by training. What’s the value of this background in your work?

Well, I can be comfortable with going native for one! Ethnography is very much expressed as a tool or a mode for collecting data in the field of anthropology. It is done by living in a space, with people or in my case public sector organizations, engaging in talk, finding your place in it, making sense of how they work/tick/live etc and being able, at least occasionally, to pull yourself out of it to explain and translate the experience in an academic or analytic setting. This is very useful of course, especially in organizations who tend to overlook what’s already working well and also tend to move a little too fast forward. It helps to be able to slow down and share stories of whatever’s needed at that space and time.

Suppose we make even more progress in finding a way forward in public sector co-ordination, what will be the thing that pleases you most in the future?

I think being able to read and make sense of these topics: The politics and practices of public sector co-ordination, useful joined-up services from the client’s perspective, and how SF (or any other useful practice) is helpful in combining the three going forward, that would be something I would value highly. I am constantly looking for material that ties these three things together yet I haven’t really found it yet. Probably I would have to write it myself! Writing it would certainly please me immensely! My own thoughts might be made a little clearer in the process and hopefully others might find some use in it.

Another thing would be finding people interested in similar explorations. I am really looking for people to learn from, discuss with and connect to. I know from other sources that Canada, EU, UK, US, New Zealand and Australia as well as in other places, even in Scandinavia, have been working on these issues for a long time. I would very much like to share ideas and expand my network and get in touch with similarly interested minds. I am very sure that a network feeding on and working in ways to deal with complexity, better public services and exploring the use of SF practice in this field can make a meaningful contribution to a better world. Just thinking about the levels of inspiration we could get to, and what that might lead to, is just mind-boggling and so wonderfully exciting! I would really like to be a part of that!

Jonas’s academic background is in Anthropology. He is also a board member of the Swedish Association for Solution Focus Brief Therapy.



4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits

Strategic co-creation planning…what’s that?

Co-creation to speed up understanding, buy-in, implementation

Many organizations, particularly those in the for-profit SME and the NFP sectors have, until now, operated well on the outdated annual programme/budget basis. Now, downward pressure on income and/or funding is revealing the lack of organizational skills in both management and programme development and delivery. They are ineffective and/or inefficient for new complex market conditions. Change has come calling at the door and the need for strategic outcomes-driven planning is overdue. Some even argue that strategic planning is outdated…

Traditionally, strategic planning takes time and requires expertise, often delivered from the outside. The experts examine the problems and devise solutions, goals, strategies, etc. The plan they deliver may be somewhere between ideal and flawed, but we can’t know until it’s been implemented. The risk is in people, (staff/partners/stakeholders/funders/customers) taking their time to become engaged in the strategic plan. It’s often difficult to get them to stop doing what is supposed to change. It’s a slow process.

You can take the horse to water, but can’t make the horse drink it.

What’s the option? How does a Solution Focused co-created planning process speed up the process of planning change, especially in looking at long-term outcomes?

It asks three simple questions you’ve heard before on these pages: What is working that we don’t need to change? What do we do more of/ instead of the problem? What do we need to do to see immediate progress?

The approach is used to engage many stakeholder perspectives in assessing

What’s working (that we don’t want to change)? There’s always more than we realize. Benefit: Moves people from hopeless to hopeful

What needs to be different/better? We clarify the problem, but do not make it central to the solution Benefit: It’s easier to see what we will stop doing.

What will it look like when the problem is no longer present? When asked this way, people discover what they have in common. Benefit: build a plan that leverages input and insight of all parties.

What would we see ourselves doing to initiate the change? Benefit: The change can begin at the start of the planning.

Engage the horse in getting it to the water it will drink.


Yes, but what if the people engaged are wrong about what needs to be done? They may be wrong, but no more so than the planning experts. If they own it, they will make it work flaws and all. If they don’t own it, they will take more time to engage.

Yes, but what if the staff (and others) are resistant to any change? Start by asking them (and their customers) what’s working and what needs to be better. Watch the change start happening. It may have to slow down a bit if they are deeply entrenched.

Key ingredient: early cross-stakeholder alignment (everyone is a stakeholder) and the above solution focused better questions. When everyone is aligned around the new desired outcomes, the plan falls in place more naturally.

It is a co-creation planning process. 

More on the better questions that Solution Focus brings to co-creation

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Autonomy Mastery Purpose: Engage them with Solution Focus

Autonomy Mastery Purpose, moneyIt’s not money that motivates people to better performance and satisfaction … according to Dan Pink.

He says money is a motivator, but in a limited way. Surprisingly, it doesn’t encourage anything beyond getting the work done.


Autonomy Mastery Purpose Bad adviceIf in the first place you don’t pay people enough, they won’t be motivated at all. When was the last time you met a highly motivated and engaged employee in a place like your Internet telco supplier, let alone Walmart or McDonalds? They are likely working hard, but are not engaged.

This phenomenon is not restricted to front-line people in the service industry. Have you ever been treated indifferently by a well-compensated lawyer or doctor?


Autonomy Mastery PurposeDan Pink tells us that when we take money as an incentive off the table, higher engagement comes from three things – autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Easy to say, hard to practice?

So, how do we turn these three potentially abstract ideas into action?

Autonomy Mastery Purpose EngagementHow do we make it viable for the individual, then the teams in which they operate?

How do we achieve greater engagement through autonomy, mastery and purpose?

Solution Focus offers one approach and some tools with which to develop the practice. It’s not too complicated to apply the Solution Focus framework of:

  • What’s already working that we don’t need to change (in each of the three elements)?
  • Suppose each element was working really well, what would that look like?
  • Suppose people started to notice a difference right away, what would that look like?

Could autonomy, mastery and purpose become foundational aspects of all organizational improvement? They can certainly help the people in organizations contribute more to better outcomes. It might even mean that the staff increase profit thereby allowing them better compensation.

A big thank you to Dan Pink and the fountain of insights at RSA. The mission of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is to enrich society through ideas and action.


Solution Focus in a Large Complex Organization


“Now we can see the cheese, not only the holes!” – Head of Strategy Project

Susanne Burgstaller SF headshot

Interview with Susanne Burgstaller who is a Solution-Focused consultant, coach, and facilitator. She is founder and managing director of usolvit consultants GmbH and has just brought out her new book “Solution Focus in Organisations. Consulting and leading from the Future” in German. She is an ICF PCC and does mostly organisational and HR development and change projects in Vienna and the CEE region.

Thinking of your recent project for a high profile public organization, what pleases you most about the work?

What pleases me most is the fact that it was possible to create a work alliance between the 3 presidents, the 40 different leaders of the organization, and a large chunk of the staff members in order to head in a joint direction. Previously, the “strategy” had been something that “those up there” had decided upon and no one else was interested. Through the joint work with everyone in the organisation, it became possible to make it clear to people what the presidents meant by “strategy”… that this “strategy” involved a lot of interactional goals which improved the cooperation in the organisation and was thus “good for them”, and included potentially all members of the organisation in determining future steps for the organisation.

What would the client organization tell us worked best for them?

Recently the vice-head of the organization said during a workshop with all the leaders: “Now we can see the cheese, not only the holes!” and the head of the Strategy Project told me that “the moaners clearly have less space now”. So obviously, people have learnt to watch out for what works, rather than focus on mistakes.

The leaders all agreed that the atmosphere in the organization had improved considerably and that the leaders´ workshop in Jan 2015 had been the best ever. The situation is tough for them, but they are in an optimistic mode. Somebody said half-jokingly: “The mood is better than the situation!” People are communicating more and more cooperatively with each other and during several critical moments in 2014 and early 2015 it was – and still is – possible to observe the members of the organization pulling together to face their challenges rather than going into conflict or accusing one another as was the case before the start of the project.

Their preferred future originally was described thusly:

  1. People work together across departments, divisions and political allegiances: ONE bureaucracy.
  2. People take decisions much lower down in the hierarchy.
  3. People communicate with more focus on outcomes and express appreciation more often.
  4. Staff members can rely on a more consistent standard of leadership behavior and decision making.
  5. They cope with pending huge changes (“de-canting” their historic building, moving into a new location for 2-3 years, and then moving back).

By now a detailed description of their preferred future has found its way into a “mission-vision-values“ statement, which has been defined jointly with all members of staff and is being published as we speak.

You have placed Solution Focus at the centre of your work. How does your client benefit?

I think they benefit by incurring relatively low consulting costs considering that it is quite a big endeavor. This is achieved by keeping the project as simple and slim as possible. This means avoiding grand “consulting designs”, mobilizing and utilizing internal resources as much as possible, using existing channels or platforms of communication, and working very cooperatively and hands-on with the leaders and a group of staff representatives called the “Task Force”. This also means that the people involved take on much more ownership of the initiative. Obviously the fact that we avoid problem-analysis and focus on what is wanted straight away, taking small steps that no one needs to stumble over, and doing all this in a light-hearted atmosphere of confidence and hopefulness also helps. And they also get to learn quite a bit about SF without ever spending a cent on an official training day!

Some other useful differences that were noticed:

  • There is less just talking or writing about preferred behaviours and more doing;
  • Simpler language so that “non-academics” can also follow;
  • More (highly) interactive workshops and meetings;
  • And more colour and “playfulness” instead of fear of mistakes and guardedness against conflicts and attacks.

Outcomes both the customer and myself were pleased about:

  • Unexpectedly big turnout and good feedback for the staff dialogue events in 2013 and 2014.
  • The Task Force volunteered to continue into 2014 and part of 2015.
  • The initiatives in 2014 and 2015 are driven by the people themselves.
  • The Leadership Curriculum has been well-attended and has produced a different attitude of more confidence among the leaders.
  • The new “Mission Statement” has been published.
  • More constructive and appreciative communication and MUCH more cooperation!
  • “Non-academic” staff speak more and show up more.
  • The staff council is positive about the whole endeavor.

You recently spoke at SOLWorld about the near demise of traditional change management approaches. What elements of those traditional approaches still work?

My colleagues at usolvit and myself did a survey in 2013-2014 where we asked approximately 100 managers and staff members within organizations about what behaviours of “change agents” they felt were most effective. Even though these people had not been confronted with SF before, they gave us lots of descriptions of behaviours that we identified as “Solution-Focused”.

They also emphasized some elements of the more traditional approaches to change. These were, for example, “implementation power & perseverance”, meaning that demonstrating continuity and consistency and being able to cope with frustrations and bouncing back from them was extremely important. Also, the traditional focus on “planning & organizing” came up again. Our customers felt that it was important that change champions would get a good picture of the current situation, be very clear about the desired outcomes, inform all parties continuously, demonstrate a systematic approach, and consider all parties or stakeholders affected.

How does SF move those practices forward?

I feel that SF is not necessarily in contradiction to these more traditional ideas, but that it transforms them in a productive way. When I work in change projects I of course emphasize SF behaviours, such as jointly generating an image of the preferred future in much detail, or identifying signs or steps of progress. When more “traditional” elements come into play I include them in an SF way by, for example, communicating respectfully and cooperatively with lots of SF questions, showing a collaborative and respectful attitude, or including stakeholders in the process as much as possible.

SF is essentially a coaching model for organizations. You seem to applying SF in new ways. What’s one application that you have created or used?

Susanne Burgstaller Solution-Focused wheelI am using this metaphor of the “Solution-Focused wheel” as a guideline for my change and OD consulting processes in organisations. It symbolizes that there are certain “stations” that are important to touch upon (the connecting points of the wheel) but that you can move in all directions depending on how things emerge in the situation and everything is connected.


Susanne Burgstaller Solution Focus SCOP-PortfolioI have also adapted the classic “SWOT” Portfolio in the more SF-focused “SCOP” Portfolio. In my experience, it helps avoid “analysis-paralysis” and get groups to move forward much more quickly.



What pleases you most about your book that has just come out on the German-speaking market?

The thing that pleases me most is that it has increased my communication and cooperation with my treasured international colleagues who have contributed to it! Also, I have learnt such a lot by having to write about my practice of SF.

Susanne Burgstaller Solution Focus bookMy best hope for the book is that it will make Solution Focus and the benefits it can bring to work in organisations better known in the German-speaking world. Particularly, I hope that it will show the useful differences SF organizational consulting has to offer in comparison to other consulting disciplines by providing faster and more direct routes to outcomes while at the same time generating more motivation and cooperation. (English edition to follow).

Connect with usolvit



Explaining Solution Focus to an insurance actuary

Insurance actuary Solution FocusMy colleague Promod Sharma of Taxevity* is an insurance actuary. He wanted to hear via a typical client story about how I personally use the Solution Focus approach to help support change in organizations. I was keen to give him a good example of the excellence of SF!

Main topic: Small-steps lead to big change

For the interview we used the small-steps theme featured in my last blog post.

A professional development tool for managers

I also talked about where I think SF fits as a professional development tool for managers, namely that they already have a practice skill (like Promod’s actuarial capability) and how SF will add a powerful extra change leadership dimension to their capabilities.

*Promod Sharma of Taxevity

Small-Steps and Prototypes To Create Better, then Bigger Change

Now that people are used to seeking change – correction, demanding it – we often find ourselves like the dog chasing and catching the car’s tailpipe. How do we manage big expectations and actually make something happen?

You've caught the car's tailpipe. What now?
You’ve caught the car’s tailpipe. What now?

I draw your attention to an article by one of my favourite big-picture thinkers, Matt Ridley*. In this one he tackles making government IT better by stepping back from the ‘Big Software’ approach to building the right solution.

…the BBC wrote off £100 million last year after five years of failing to make its “digital media initiative” work.

…big projects in the past consisted of “writing most when you know least”.

Against all odds, it seems common sense stepped in.

…instead, Mr Maude and Mr Bracken are teaching the civil service to start small, fail fast, get feedback from users early, and evolve the thing as you go along. 

How do we apply learning from this ‘Big IT’ small-steps prototype to our universe and everyday non-IT change projects?

One of the most useful tools of the solution focus approach comes when people want to see progress right away.

…life is constantly changing…it means the more we look for small changes, the more we will notice the changes…paying attention to small changes can set in motion more and more changes…the focus is on how to direct our attention to more positive changes that are already occurring – Insoo Kim Berg & Arnoud Huibers

We can view these small changes as a prototype for larger changes.

Prototype: a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied – Dictionary

A case example:

In a recent client project on improving the workplace, the change planning team had established what people wanted to see happening right away. Under near-crisis conditions, the change team had helped the larger team calm down enough to: a) listen to each other, b) think about what they wanted to be better. But, the demand for big change was still loud and clear. And, the list of changes was long.

Causes of problems may be extremely complex, their solutions do not necessarily need to be.’ – Steve de Shazer

The team then took some 40+ change ideas and shortlisted them to four. Of the four, several were identified as implementable within several weeks.

Of note, the team was new to leading change, but were very adept at producing quality programs. They knew how to make a deadline happen, but wondered how to make a significant people-change process happen.

The team was asked, ‘What do we need to do to make the small changes visible to the larger group and live up to our commitment them?’ Plus, ‘How do we implement them in a way where we are focused on prototype learning vs. carefully produced (and therefore time-consuming) signs of change?’

Having addressed these last questions with some small-steps prototype projects, the team immediately communicated the plans to the larger team and within a week set a date to evaluate progress and next steps.

How do you see the small-steps prototype change planning working for your larger change needs?

*Matt Ridley article…


Value Creation: Develop Solutions That Work for Clients

If you are an expert inside an organization or a consultant / supplier of knowledge services, you probably find it hard to resist offering opinions informed by your skills or process.The Expert. Value Proposition

All the more so when you are among your fellow experts. If you are preparing for a meeting, or debriefing at the end of a meeting, you are likely talking about the issue largely in the context of your skill/ knowledge. After all, that’s why they pay you!!

How do we purposefully think beyond our perception of value – what we do – and think of the value for the user of our services?

A value proposition is the marriage of our skills (the product or service features we produce) and the needs and perceptions of the user/client. It’s about the benefits they acquire, not just the process in which both sides engage. At its best, it is a collaboration that results in good outcomes for the buyer (who are equally a colleague or a boss).

‘Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.’ – Viktor Frankl

What if every outcome is determined by the client and/or is different every time? Sure, we are not producing a widget, but an infinitely variable set of possibilities. Every interaction is a prototype.

‘A powerful question alters all thinking and behaving that occurs afterwards.’ – Marilee Goldberg

Here’s some solution focused approaches to make sure the client is getting value – all the time.

Is it possible for the client to know exactly what they want? Rarely.

Ask: Suppose the problem/issue goes away, how do you see us (the supplier) being valuable / useful to you? What else?

Should the expert surrender their skills simply to please the customer? Probably not. So, start with the desired outcomes.

Ask: Suppose the project is a success, what will you see yourselves doing (better, differently, more of)? What else?

Should the expert be thinking beyond the immediate pressures of the process? For sure.

Ask: When you have worked on this sort of project in the past, what worked? What else was of value?

Is it the role of the expert to help the client to constantly clarify their goals as the work unfolds? For sure.

Ask: Now that we’ve achieved X, how do you see that helping with the project goals? What else? What needs to be better / different? What one or two barriers to success remain and what would you see us doing differently to continue making progress and creating value? What else?

Is it the role of the expert to constantly listen to the client and show they are listening? Absolutely.

Ask: You asked us to do X, Y and Z. I’ve noticed that you stated you are making progress. How do you see that being of value to you so far? What else?

How do you define value for your client / boss while practicing your expertise?


Sales Shadowing in Pharma Sales. An Application of Solution Focus

Solution FocusAn interview:

Olympia, we last heard from you about using SF to achieve and measure ROI in working with bank branch managers.

The following project involved working with pharmaceutical sales people in the field, i.e., during client visits.

1. The project role involved shadowing the team. How was that useful to the sales team during visits?

A “shadow” can be useful when it is a “good” shadow, an empowering one. While I was there, I first had to play the role of the little invisible doctor so that I wouldn’t attract the lights and stop being a shadow. My role was to detect what each medical rep was doing well during each visit and tell them what I saw. So after each visit, I would let them know of all the elements of the sales visit that had impressed me. Amongst these were their in-depth know-how of the products, their resilience present despite the limited time with the doctor, the ingenious links between the doctor’s needs and their products, and lots of others.

I suppose you can imagine their initial surprise when we came out of the first visit (I did four visits with each one) and I started telling them what I noticed and was impressed by and nothing else! So they all looked at me and asked “And what else? What should I do better?” And I said, “I don’t know. I am just here to tell you what I see you doing well.” Then we continued to the second visit and all I asked was “what would be an indication that this visit is going in their desired direction?” Then, again, I gave them my resource feedback and this is how we rolled out the whole day. At the end we had a coaching conversation with each person about what they wanted to work on and how they will “experiment” with this until our next session.

2. While sales people have products and services to sell, they also build relationships and trust by listening to the customer. How do you see Solution Focus being useful in the sales person’s role?

Atom Wave, Solution Focus behavioral sales coaching SF is liberating sales people from the inside Gremlins haunting a sales visit. The element of noting small positive changes can help a sales person on what they are doing towards the desired sales direction instead of self-whipping and eventually losing one’s motivation.

The “traditional” sales coaching is around feedback that points out some positive behaviors (they usually have to be outstanding to receive positive feedback points) and then emphasis is placed upon things that need to change ie. More open questions, better listening, handling objections, etc. So in order to get a “good” grade, a sales person has to score a list of points running a sales presentation – Opening / Need Questions / Presenting, etc. But again, how predictable can a sales visit be? And even if the doctor allocates the desired 20 minutes to them, how productive is it to have a sales person who acts like a live robot? I don’t argue that sales steps are not required, we all find good use for them, but Pharma selling has overdone it. It seems like the strict scientific nature of the product has influenced the nature of the selling process itself to more “rigid.”

So, SF behavioral sales coaching addresses experienced sales people who wish to move a step further in their sales results. It is about how to talk to the doctor with genuine curiosity and ask real questions, questions for which answers are not known.

3. If I were interviewing the manager of your client’s sales team, what would this person tell me was most useful for the team about your Solution Focus shadowing?

The manager was impressed by the power of resource feedback and how this enabled his team to open up within a couple of hours. Although he was the project champion, he was also a little sceptical about this SF project. It was quite different from anything they had done before, it was not traditional training and the process was not clear.

The project is not completed yet, but I had the chance to ask the manager about his thoughts so far and he reported that his people said that what they experienced was completely different from what they expected – they thought that I, as a coach, would TELL them what to do and of course this did not happen. AND they said that this conversation with me, during which they were “talking so much,” was thought-provoking and insightful.

They have all started changing and experimenting with new approaches to their sales as reported by the manager.

4. In both the banking and in the pharma cases, what pleased you most about using Solution Focus to help the clients make progress in their work?

  • I enjoy the joy of the client when we have the resource talk and get so much detail about what I notice them doing well.
  • I enjoy the surprise when they expect to get the “BUT… “ after our resource discussion and they don’t get it.
  • I enjoy my client’s transformation when they get “infected” by the SF way of thinking from negative focus to strengths.
  • I enjoy the gleaming eyes of people who finally feel appreciated for things they do well that are usually taken for granted.
  • I enjoy when the participants said they became a better person and better parents by applying the SF principles to their children!

Finally, I enjoy that, through the work as an SF practitioner, we can bring visible business results and ROI.

Atom Wave, Solution Focus

Olympia Mitsopoulou, Atom-Wave, solution focus, mentoring




ROI in the Application of Solution Focus in Banking

ROI, banking, solution focusAn interview: Olympia, welcome back. We’ve already heard from you about Solution Focus Mentoring in organizations. You work with a variety of organizations on projects using the Solution Focus approach to change and growth. You’ve been designing tailored leadership development programs blending coaching and mentoring in order to bring proven ROI (Return on Investment).

Let’s focus on two recent cases in banking and pharmaceuticals. First, we’ll cover the bank case.

ROI, Atom Wave banking solution focus1. The ROI of working with a bank’s branch managers and their teams. What pleased the client most about the outcomes of the project?

In this case the client is a. the organization, b. the participating bank branch managers and c. the teams of the participating branch managers. So I will try to describe what outcomes pleased each group.

a. The organization was represented by the Training Dept of the bank and the Retail Dept. We are talking about a bank with more than 12,000 employees with more than 350 branches and an international network in 7 countries.

Despite the severe financial crisis that Greece suffered, the Training Department of the bank managed to continue this SF project and so far, it has been introduced to 300 of its branches in the last 7 years.

Latest ECB (European Central Bank) stress tests (Oct 2014) brought this bank in the first position amongst all other Greek Banks and amongst the 20 strongest banks in Europe!

In 2013, this bank was the most profitable corporation in Greece.

This organization is hard to impress and as a provider, you need to bring tangible results to keep a project alive. The ROI case study provided the Training Department with the hard data facts to support that the investment is worth it. What also worked, was the word of mouth from participating managers saying that they were impressed by the organization investing in such a high quality program amidst these times. The bank management could prove to people that they have not forgotten their people despite the financial problems.

b. the participating managers – through SF, managers said that they found a way to become “better people.” They found how to motivate their people beyond the usual incentives (bonuses) which have now been slashed and salaries have been reduced. So for them, SF was like a new window of looking at their people, focusing on their resources, and listening to them more openly. They also said that having the chance to talk to our team of coaches (they each had four individual sessions) was something new and a welcome relief.Atom-Wave key ideas, solution focus

c. Each participating manager initially chose a team member to develop further and then, the SF way of working was extended to the rest of the team. Within the program framework, the first step was a performance development session between the branch manager and the selected team member. The meeting was an SF “resource feedback” session during which the manager was telling his/her report all the resources he/she had detected and NOTHING else. Half of the participants reported that significant progress took place immediately after this meeting. The relationship level between the two improved and they both said that it felt so good to speak and hear something positive for once!

2. What were the distinguishing aspects of using Solution Focus within the project that made a difference for the branch managers?

According to what they said, one of the most challenging and intriguing elements was asking questions without knowing the answer! This is counterintuitive to being a banker where everything needs to be concrete and risk minimized. They found out that they needed to put on another hat when it is about people development, because people are not linear, and manuals are not available in order to manage them.

The other SF element that was impactful was the concept of looking at resources versus looking for gaps. Initially there was a lot of doubt as to how you develop somebody if you don’t focus on what’s missing. Our program design, which had a 6-month time frame, incorporated a workshop and 1-to-1 coaching meetings aimed at instilling this resource focus and we really witnessed a metamorphosis. Our major method for achieving this was simply us being focused on their resources. In the beginning, we had them ask us for more “concrete” feedback in the sense of what they were not doing correctly. In the end, when we would ask a question about one of their people, there was always a list of resources which was hard to stop…

3. Demonstrating ROI on projects is helpful to the client. How did you use Solution Focus in setting up and having people respond to the evaluation process?

SF is by itself focused on action and differences and this is what we based our ROI measurement.

Each participating manager drafted a set of development objectives. These objectives referred to their own development as coach-managers and their team members.

Each objective was described in a SF Preferred Future format detailing actions that will take place when things have reached a specific state with an emphasis on what will be different.

Then we used the Scaling to position progress, which we were tracking at each of the four coaching meetings.

Our SF questions for each objective were: What went better in relation to the last time? What are you doing differently? How do others know that you are doing something differently? How did you manage?

And all we did was just take note of all the wonderful outcomes delivered and then calculate their worth in order to find out the ROI of this project!


Thanks Olympia. We look forward to our next blog where we’ll be hearing about your shadowing work using Solution Focus with pharmaceutical sales people 

Atom Wave, Solution FocusOlympia Mitsopoulou, Atom-Wave, solution focus, mentoring