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Many organizations, particularly those in the for-profit SME and the NFP sectors have, until now, operated well on the outdated annual programme/budget basis.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 Some even argue that strategic planning is outdated…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

Fry The Monkeys is now the official book of www.betternxt.com

Betternxt 2.0 tiny




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



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?


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


Why is it Comforting to Listen to Problem-focused Media

Problem-focused Media, TransparentThe job of the journalist is to create transparency.

So, why do we pay so much attention to the media’s incessant drumbeat about the world, our country and our city falling apart?

Why do we turn on the online news before breakfast and again for the 6 o’clock TV news to hear the latest list of situations and issues presented as catastrophes? Why is it that journalists dutifully ask a politician who is problem-focused ask questions about the problem that the politician has divined as critical to our well-being (when it’s actually, a vote gathering tactic)?

As Lyndon Johnson, a media observer, says: Journalism, largely, has become a battle for clicks and attention, and there is little in the way of true investigative journalism anymore.  In part, it’s because solutions aren’t interesting to the masses.  The train wreck is far more interesting than how to avoid its recurrence.

Suppose the media turned to solutions journalism – would it necessarily mean less engaging, ‘happy news’ would become the norm? No. Instead we’d see more of the story. Can we totally avoid problem-focused news? No, some catastrophes need to be reported the way they are, e.g., the recent unexpected volcano eruption in Japan that killed nearly 50 people. Or, when a bomb explodes in a crowded market. That said…

The job of the good journalist is to create transparency…from all sides!

Can Solution Focus help the journalist (and their editor) do a better job creating transparency? Here’s a framework that might help:

  • What’s the problem/issue we are investigating and reporting?
  • How can we clarify the nature of the issue without focusing on only one part?
  • What’s the other side of the problem story, i.e., what about the part of the story that is not a problem, and/or what’s being learned from this change that we are reporting?
  • What questions can we ask the person explaining the problem, (e.g., the politician) that can help them highlight where progress can be made?

More video on Solutions Journalism

Adding lightness in order to get your team to take flight

In the world of aviation design, there’s a practice of removing weight so an aircraft requires less energy to fly higher, faster and further.Aircraft, reduce weight

It seems simple, but it takes considerable skill to know where to remove the things that matter. Retaining an aircraft’s structural integrity and building its backup systems are critical for the sake of avoiding risk.

In organizations, this practice works in reverse – we add simply weight to avoid risk. Organizations are full of leaders, departments and individuals unconsciously weighing down the vehicle and preventing forward momentum. The organization may also be burdened by external legislation that leaves people twisting in the wind. We neglect to ask how we may move faster and further.

How do we add lightness to people’s work in organizations?

How do we lighten up the load and make the organization’s people more productive and stronger?

Workarounds are the traditional route and they’re helpful, but they simply reinforce the trap of living with, or adding, unnecessary weight. They avoid the obvious need for real change.

We can free up excess weight by clarifying the problems that people tackle, but do not take them on board.

Here are several tools from my colleagues who use Solution Focus. Use them to shed the weight that will get your team in the air.

John Brooker of Yes!and… How to Trigger Creative Ideas http://www.yesand.eu/173-how-to-trigger-creative-ideas/

Coert Visser of The Progress-Focused Approach: The curse of Knowledge http://www.progressfocused.com/2014/09/the-curse-of-knowledge.html

Michael Cardus of Create Learning: 7 questions to solve problems and innovate http://create-learning.com/article/manager-training/7-questions-to-solve-problems-and-innovate

Still not convinced? Of douse, you could wait for a certain Brazilian billionaire businessman buy your organization and eliminate jobs with the stroke of a pen. There’s a lot less problem talk on those organizations!


To Improve Engagement, Eliminate Your Problem Analysis Virus.

Much good work is being done to create organizations that have engaged leadership, employees, and customers through non-hierarchical (even holacratic*) approaches. Increasingly driven by creativity and self-governing processes, these businesses stand out in intensely competitive markets or sectors.

Meanwhile, in some organizations – even those with an eye on the engagement approach – the problem analysis approach lives on. After all, civilization was built on solving problems, wasn’t it?!

Virus problem monkey
The problem virus monkey

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

If we want more enlightened leadership, employee engagement, non-hierarchical structures, creativity, etc., there’s one more thing to put on the forefront of the organization’s agenda – developing a solutions culture. The goal is to move away from, or at least reframe, the people who are experts in defining the problem, fascinating though they may be.

Problem focused experts in your organization are a virus.

Here’s an example to illustrate the virus at work – think about global climate change. The glaciers are melting. Scientists have captured, examined and analyzed the data they need to help explain the root of the problem and its consequences. These scientific experts have also shared their insight into the problem with the general public, we’re well aware of what’s happening. Yet, with all that information, understanding and concern, we are not making much progress. We’re driving the scientists crazy. Why? Because we’re not clear on what we want collectively. The solution to global warming, for some, is to simply reduce our carbon emissions. Others suggest the solution is to increase forest density or put a stop to our consumption mania. Of course, there are others who simply deny the existence of the problem – their solution is to extract more oil faster so they can pay for proof that the scientists are wrong. And so on…

So, you’ve figured out the problem. Don’t build the wrong solution.

The problem focused folks came up with green energy – wind farms, solar power generation – but that’s proven to be an expensive mistake.

Now that you’ve analyzed the problem, assume that the perfect solution will become obvious.

Actually, no. Solutions built on problems are almost always less than optimal. In the problem solving quest, problem analysis is not the issue – it’s assuming that the situation is dire because the experts in the defining problem must be right. They may well be right, but so what?! That’s what slows down progress, especially in human systems. The problem experts:

  • Take credit for defining the problem and force solutions that work exclusively for them
  • Prevent listening and blame others for the situation
  • View people with alternative solutions as less competent than themselves
  • Undermine strategic efforts at engaged leadership and employee motivation and customer focus

What’s the option to the problem virus? And why is a Solutions Culture preferable?

1. Think this way all the time, namely: a) Ask ‘what’s working?’ b) Ask ‘what do we want to be better/different in the future?’ c) Pick some small visible action steps towards that future (see yourself learning).

2. Be clear, this is NOT superficial positive thinking. It’s purposeful thinking about what you want instead of the problem.

3. By all means do the problem analysis. Take it seriously, not literally. Think of it as, a) clarification of what you don’t want to happen and, b) a light to help guide you to decide on what you want to do instead.

4. The most stubborn problem experts will protest. They’ve got a lot to give up, so don’t expect miracles. They will learn something new, but not at the same pace as those building solutions.

5. Avoid worrying if what we want is wrong. It’s more useful to fail-forward and learn early than to chew up significant time and resources with analytics that can be equally wrong. There’s plenty of thinking on the value of making mistakes.

The path to success is paved with mistakes. Great mistake-makers win. Lousy mistake-makers lose. – Dan Rockwell

6. Get unstuck and move forward towards even greater organizational engagement.


So, in building the engaged organization, how do you show the problem virus out the door?



Just do it: Making Risk Easier

Risk avoidance is easy. Risk assessment and action is harder.

'We need to check one more time!'
‘We need to check one more time!’

The CMO had stuck his head in the marketing team’s door. They were anxiously discussing the merits of the organization’s proposed brand and customer experience position. He said, ‘Stop the discussion and get on with implementing it…now!’ One of the team said, ‘But the research people are worried that we can’t verify that it will work.’ With a hint of irritation, the CMO responded, ‘Please, just do it!’

Manage change and conflict or it will manage you. – Terry Paulson

It’s normal for organizations to think that, despite extensive development and testing time, a decision of this nature requires debate, consensus and verification. They think that they need to reduce the risk that a major programme may not work, even when deadlines are looming – deadlines that can always be extended for something that might not yet be ideal.

Noting G.K. Chesterton’s line, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” Michael Hyatt advocates, doing is better than not doing perfectly. If it’s worth doing at all, we should keep going.

Hence risk avoidance is easier than risk assessment that leads to decisions.

To see your drama clearly is to be liberated from it. – Ken Keyes, Jr.

History proved that the CMO’s act of doing something made a difference. 10+ years later, the effort propelled the organization – including an acquisition of a smaller organization – to a consistent #1 spot in brand valuation and customer experience.

Can we use Solution Focus to take action when people want to ‘check one more time’?

How can we get the team to make a decision without being told what to do?

1. State empathetically: You’ve done a lot of hard work. It’s very normal that with so much information you’d want to check that you’ve not made a mistake.

2. Ask: Suppose we were to implement this activity, what would we see as some of the useful outcomes for (name the key stakeholders)? Examine each stakeholder scenario in detail. Keep them focused on ‘useful’

3. Ask: What are the key barriers to success? Get a short list. Ask: Suppose we are successful with #2 (above), what would we have done to overcome those barriers?

4. Ask: Suppose our choice encounters some issues in our implementation, a) what would they likely be?, b) What would we be doing instead?, and c) How will we use the learning to move forward? Keep them focused on ‘learning’ vs. avoiding

5. Ask: Suppose we are successful in the future and we are looking back to today, what will we see ourselves doing to get started right away? Develop lots of small immediate and concrete steps that are visible to the organization

Will this approach guarantee success? No. But, it will guarantee that there is forward momentum and learning from action.

Will this keep the leader and the team awake at night? Possibly, but they’ll have done something that moves the organization forward vs. double-checking to avoid doing something.