4 Better Questions When People are Stuck in Blaming

You’ll have noticed how people complain about things without realizing what they are doing, i.e., blaming.

Once started, they don’t know how to stop complaining and blaming. When asked about a solution it’s built on their complaint and as such it’s not likely to happen. At its worst think Kyoto climate ‘agreement’ – the people with a vision to change things only know how to complain and blame about those with a different perspective. They get stuck in their complaint and little changes.

How do we help people who are stuck move out of blaming and go forward?

In our efforts to help people we some times ask questions that may or may not be helpful to them. As Marie Goldberg said, ‘A powerful question changes all thinking and behaving afterwards’.

If we change the language and framework of our questions we can help people speed up progress, often right away.

Typical question when they blame others – How do you propose to get them to change their ways?

Better question – Suppose they were helping you, what small things would they be doing to help (e.g., listening)? Suppose they saw you doing small things to help them, (e.g., listening), what would they first see you doing to help them?

Why? Helps them open up to possibilities by seeing what they need to do to make things happen

Typical question – Why can’t you fix this problem?

Better question – Suppose the problem went away and things were better, what would be happening instead? How would that work for others?

Why? Helps them see where they want to get to and, importantly, be open to listening and create ideas to make progress

Typical question – How do you propose they fix the problem?

Better question – Suppose things were working, what would you have done to make that happen? What might others have done to help you?

Why? Helps them see what they might do to get moving

Typical question about changing a habit – Why don’t you just stop doing it, (e.g., blaming)?

Better question – When is the habit not present? Suppose you did more of that, what would you be doing instead of the habit?

Why? Gets them to think of what they actually want to happen

Don’t look for earth-shattering changes, just help them speed up progress towards what they actually want.

More on people ruminating about problems and what to do.

How to Learn from Failure

When will we stop using the words ‘post-mortem’ in business? Examining ‘cause of death’ is interesting on Law & Order. In business it’s a wasteful, unproductive exercise. Why? Because it focuses solely on the problems and causes. Helplessness ensues.

Fortunately, there’s now a lot of talk about learning from failure.

The Harvard Business Review is on to it with the entire April 2011 issue containing many great articles. Professor Amy Edmonston writes about Strategies for Learning from Failure

The NGO world is onto it with David Damberger asking, What happens when an NGO admits failure. David even points to a website that touts failure as good practice, Admitting Failure.
My colleague Couert Visser also challenges assumptions with Why do 80% of organizational change initiatives fail? Or do they?

Still, real or perceived failure can be painful. Should we criticize failure as a black mark against an individual or team? Or, should we tolerate it through rose-tinted spectacles? It really doesn’t matter as long as we extract value from the learning. Negativity isn’t the issue. Nor is it about lowering standards or accountability.

Failure is inevitable. As someone has said, When people try things they almost always get it wrong before they get it right. Letting them get it wrong while they’re learning is one of the leadership arts.

What to do! How do we get from failure to solutions?

Here’s some process (better questions) to begin to capitalize on post-failure trauma:

  • What were our goals? On a scale of 1-10 how far did we get towards the goal? (the learning is in the number between 1 and x)
  • What worked, despite the apparent failure? (it may be a host of micro actions / outcomes obscured by the perceived failure)
  • What’s the value in that learning (it’s the platform for moving forward)
  • Based on the apparent failure, what do we want to be different next time?
  • Suppose we did more of what already worked, and the problem went away, what would be happening?
  • How can we re-frame our project goals? (within the larger goals)
  • Suppose we are successful in achieving the goals, what will we have done to get started right away?

This is a simple approach, but it’s not simplistic. Unlike the post-mortem, learning from mistakes should be done quickly and action taken in order to keep moving forward.

More on better questions

How to make Seth Godin’s ‘Q&A’ work for you

Seth Godin says, ‘A great question is one you can ask yourself, one that disturbs your status quo and scares you a little bit.’

There’s no need to scare yourself. Just ask better questions.  Marilee Goldberg said, ‘A powerful question changes all thinking and behaving afterwards’. By changing the approach in our questions we can help people make progress…right away.

Here’s some typical and better questions

Typical question: Why can’t you fix this problem?

Better question: Suppose the problem went away and you had a wish, what would be happening instead?

Why: Helps them see where they want to get to and be open to ideas to make progress

Typical question: How do you propose to fix the problem?

Better question: Suppose things were working, what will you have done to make that happen? What might others have done to help you?

Why: Helps them see what they might do to get moving?

Typical question: Who’s to blame?

Better question: Suppose they were helping you, what small things would they be doing to help you (e.g., listening)? Suppose they saw you doing small things to help them, (e.g., listening), what would they first see you doing to help them?

Why: Helps them open up to possibilities by seeing what they need to do to make things happen?

Typical question: Why can’t you stop your bad habit?

Better question: When is the habit not present? Suppose you did more of that, what would you be doing instead of the habit?

Why: Get them to think of what they want

For another take on better questions:  7 Questions for Making a Better First Impression Plus, Better interview questions

3 Ways to Use ‘Less is More’ in 2012

Want to make your 2012 business (and personal) life easier – without making simplistic New Year’s pledges that don’t go anywhere? Simplify and take action.

How? Simplify things with heuristic thinking, more commonly know as ‘rule of thumb’.  The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley offers us the blindingly obvious, but often ignored advice When less means more

Matt notes; ‘Sometimes detailed analysis makes for worse decision making than simple rules of thumb’

In Solution Focus we’ve been saying for a long time, ignore the detailed problem analysis.

It’s easy to understand why people like the problem analysis approach – we do it endlessly in our day-to-day conversation, never mind in formal analysis. It’s comforting to unpack the details of why something appears to be wrong. But, it slows us down, often when the intuitive solution is right in front of us.

So, as Matt points out, we ignore intuition at out cost.

‘How do I do it?’, I hear you asking impatiently!!

When tempted to dive into a problem analysis that has presented itself, be counter-intuitive and ask:

1. WHAT WORKS?

When is it not a problem? What already works? What did we learn (that worked) in arriving at the so-called problem? What did we learn that we want to do more of?

2. WHAT DO WE WANT?

Instead of the problem, what is it that we want to have happen? Given that more is working than we realized (see analysis #1 above), what would happen if we did more of that? If we were doing things differently (from the problem), what sort of things would be happening?

3. WHAT SMALL STEPS SHOULD WE TAKE?

Suppose we were successful, what would be the first steps that would move us in the direction of the solution?

So, think of something you’d like to be better in 2012 and give your intuitive skills a dust-off and use them to do something different.

More about Solution Focus

Focusing people’s attention on the desired situation rather than asking them to admit they were wrong

5 Ways to Live With Silos & Leverage Customer Focus

Organizational silos have been getting bad press!

So you have your hot-off-the-press strategic plan full of customer focused ideas and you’re ready to hit the ground running; your operational plans are about to be developed, and you’re feeling pretty confident that you’re ready to start giving your customers what they want.

Wait, you’re not completely ready. A new level of planning is still required to start making good things happen for the customer: organizational planning at the department / team level.

Why? Because the silo driven structure that got us here isn’t going to let us implement today’s plans effectively. Like it or not, organizations are still driven by silos created in the pre-digital era – those silos are still alive and cooking.

Many organizations just aren’t structured to serve the customer. And, creatures of habit that we are, that’s not going to change. It’s just not practical to reshape the organization the way some might demand.

Silo busting on behalf of the customer isn’t new and efforts are under way to make progress, but it can be seen as too complex. With the best of intentions, bureaucracy can get in the way.

Technology is one approach, but the way we organize the humans also matters. Hence, the opportunity of organizational planning as an integrated element of customer strategy.

OK. How do we organize our behaviours in ways that make sense for more efficient and effective customer focus?

Here are 5 strategic questions you want the silos to answer:

  • Suppose we were constantly cross-functionally checking the strategy to measure success and make adjustments to market demand and competition. What positive customer outcomes would we be achieving?
  • Suppose all the silos were regularly cross-communicating their successes and learning from their failures. What improvements would we achieve through our programmes?
  • Suppose the silos were no longer making arbitrary decisions and instead, they were proactively communicating the mandatory decisions, and seeking pre-input on the rest. How much more profitable would we be?
  • Suppose every planning meeting, large and small, started with the discussion: ‘How will this project help the customer and what do we need to do cross-functionally to make that happen?’
  • Suppose each team had to produce a regular organizational plan that included targets to help staff increase their effectiveness through collaboration, effective communication and leadership. How would that improve productivity?

Does this sound theoretical and/or intimidating in the face of pressure to get things done? How do we make progress?

  • Slow down programme implementation to make just enough time for this approach.
  • Watch implementation speed up.

Slowing things down to speed them up is a Solution Focus approach.

Five purposeful ways to societal change (by not teaching a pig to sing)

I’m a fan of Michael Hyatt’s blog on which I often comment and tweet his articles, especially those on leadership.

Michael’s blog on the ‘stand up movement’ hit a nerve for me. Michael was sharing a message from what I generically call the unenlightened protesters movement, i.e., people who have some valuable information to share, but loudly insist that they are right and that everyone else must change immediately.  As Shakespeare might have said, “The protestors doth protest too much, methinks.”

I totally agree that standing up and taking exercise is necessary for our short and long-term health. That said, discovering that sitting down is ‘killing’ us is another example of how we humans, when faced with a perceived crisis go into overdrive to prove that we must change our ways.

The ‘stand up’ message is communicated in a black and white, do-or-die, alarmist fashion. It will convince a proportion of people to change (I’m going to buy a stand up desk asap), yet fly over the heads of many, and likely create a group of resisters, a la the climate change deniers. We know that putting health warnings about cigarette smoking changed the habits of millions of former smokers, but that took an extraordinary amount of time and it still remains a habit of too many.

What’s my point? How we communicate the need for change matters. The climate change fanatics have been over-stating the case and using bad information for over 20-30 years and not a lot of substantive change has happened. They have de-legitimized their claim. We still don’t know how much of an issue / problem global warming is – we’re arguing if it exists instead of doing something. Sadly, the government of my country, Canada appears to be in reverse gear on climate change.

The agents of change have not done their job! They are unaware of the line, ‘Never try teach a pig to sing. It will frustrate you and irritate the pig’.

What’s the solution?  I suggest (not insist) some strategies from the world of change management and solution focus.

  • Expect societal change to happen slowly

Why: Not everyone can agree with you all at once. Everyone changes in different ways.

  • Clarify your passion (fixing the problem), but don’t ‘prove’ your point by ranting with statistics that can be challenged or ignored.

Why: Making people feel bad about themselves for non-compliance to your point of view simply deepens their resistance

  • Dramatize the problem message and what could be different, i.e., sell the outcomes from which people will benefit – take the long view

Why: If they can see a future mutual benefit, they will more likely buy into your assertion that things have to change. In the process, you may also hear what’s legitimately troubling them

  • Help people make small steps towards the solution

Why: Everyone changes in different ways. Radical change is almost impossible

  • Remain passionate but calm when inevitably some don’t listen to you. Go back and take a look at what needs to change in your messaging

Why: Everyone changes in different ways

As Covey puts it, to change other’s behavior we must first change ours.

Back, to the ‘stand up’ movement. I actually like what they are doing because they are also talking about the benefits. I could see them moving balancing the problem / benefit message.

Needless to say, for those interested in speeding up change I thoroughly recommend my easy to read and apply handbook for solutions facilitators, i.e., Fry a Monkey, Create a Solution.

How to Make the Most of Change – Now!

“Organizations need to be nimble so that they can better manage and adapt to the changes that are going to happen anyway” – Kevin Aguanno

A while ago I wrote that we have to not only adapt to change, but get in front of change. I also frequently advocate Solution Focus is the way to do it. It’s not the only way, but the best way to make change happen.

As Kevin Aguanno says, change is going to happen anyway. We don’t have much of a say in that, do we!

Or, do we?

Solution focus is the smart way to change. The approach is surprisingly simple, if counter intuitive. But, by leveraging our intuitive and our rational mind we can achieve a lot in a shorter period than we expect. How?

Two of the founders of the approach, Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer noticed the following approach (not necessarily in this order), helped people’s problems better right away:

  • What’s already working (that we don’t have to change)
  • Suppose the problem we face went away, what would be happening instead?
  • Suppose we were successful, what small steps would we see ourselves taking right way

While there is nothing startling about these ideas, it’s the application of them without stopping to examine the problem that makes the difference. Overlooking the problem is often the hard part. But, by setting aside our curiosity about problems in favour of these three perspectives we open up great possibilities. Sustainable possibilities!

Where can we apply this in business? Almost anywhere. It as a simple and stable platform for initiating progress everywhere we seek to deal with change.

To look at how this approach works and where we might apply it in our day-to-day practices, more on Solution Focus

Why you should care about the stakeholder experience

It’s past time to master stakeholder engagement and experience.

It’s simply not enough that many organizations now pay more attention to the customer, even employee engagement. The stakeholder’s experience also has to come to the fore.

Why bother to master the stakeholder experience?

The previously revered hierarchical, one decision-maker (CEO) organizational model meant that we didn’t have to pay much attention to the customer, never mind stakeholders.

Steve Jobs was a brilliant exception because he made all the decisions and everyone knew what he wanted. He made Apple a closed system so that he could ignore the needs of everyone except the customers, and only the customers he cared about.

Other organizations don’t have that luxury. This is the age of the sustainability and the multi-stakeholder environment. No organization can operate as a stand-alone island. Leaders who think that staff and stakeholders have to follow their orders are deluding themselves.

Multi-stakeholder engagement and alignment is a ‘must-do’ for organizations of all stripes. People who say stakeholder consultation is elaborate self-deception against reality are simply change resistant.

Similarly, stakeholders who see it simply as an opportunity to impose their goals and ideology (the complainers) are also in denial about change on their side.

What’s the opportunity?

Change happens all the time, particularly when the economy is changing as significantly as it now. Many organizations have no choice but to change. While difficult to deal with change should present an opportunity to re-shape the organizational strategy around new realities. It’s an opportunity to engage stakeholders on a new level, in particular around co-creation of strategy with the stakeholders that leads to implementation outcomes delivered on a more efficient and effective basis.

Therefore the goal of stakeholder consultation (vs pressure tactics) is to evolve strategy through participatory dialogue, transparency and action-oriented processes.

Won’t this take up a lot of time and simply frustrate people?

It probably will (see below to speed up the process). It will definitely will confound those with a purely competitive or combative mindset. But, the time taken for engagement will make plan implementation work much better.

Can any organization ignore this factor?

No. It applies to corporations, SME’S, not-for-profit, government (particularly local). It also applies between the departments or divisions of organizations.

Easy to say. Hard to do.

How does the host or lead organization make the stakeholder ‘experience’ better?

How about these proven solution driven approaches:

  • Think first at the sector level while seeking individual perspectives
  • Move from parochial perspectives towards input that embodies addressing the needs of the end user, buyer / customers that the stakeholders share
  • Understand each stakeholders’ strengths and resources individually and as a group
  • Come to a common understanding of the larger future needs of each organization
  • Take seriously the complex issues of the stakeholders, but do not engage deeply in the problems inevitably put forward. Remember, the stakeholders are not there to tell you what to do.
  • Instead, move from parochial perspectives towards identifying what the group has in common and what they want
  • Take the dialogue (not debate) to a level where creative solutions occur spontaneously and effectively
  • Help the prospective members / stakeholders understand that the evolving plan is a beginning point and that the outcomes over time may lead to a larger or broader expression of the idea
  • Create ideas for action that will be useful at two levels; the host organization and the stakeholders
  • Create a strong sense of both opportunity and accountability to make it work
  • Don’t bring in the project planners / implementers, legal council and finance after the consultations. Engage them up front.

Want a tool to help make this happen? Find out about solution focus here

Finally, to the consultants who facilitate stakeholder consultations and planning. Try making it a less complicated process. Make it the client’s process, not yours.

Make the Most of Change with Solution Focus. Now!

“Organizations need to be nimble so that they can better manage and adapt to the changes that are going to happen anyway” Kevin Aguanno

A while ago I wrote that we have to not only adapt to change, but get in front of change. I advocate that Solution Focus is the way to do it. It’s not the only way, but the best way to make things happen.

As Kevin Aguanno says, change is going to happen anyway. We don’t have much of a say in that, do we! Or, do we?

Solution focus is the smart way to change. The approach is surprisingly simple, if counter intuitive. But, by leveraging our intuitive and our rational mind we can achieve a lot in a shorter period than we expect. How?

Two of the founders of the approach, Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer noticed the following approach (not necessarily in this order), helped people’s problems better right away:

What’s already working (that we don’t have to change)

Suppose the problem we face went away, what would be happening instead?

Suppose we were successful, what small steps would we see ourselves taking right way

While there is nothing startling about these ideas, it’s the application of them without stopping to examine the problem that makes the difference. Overlooking the problem is often the hard part. But, by setting aside our curiosity about problems in favour of these three perspectives we open up great possibilities.

Where can we apply this in business? Unless the building is burning down, it is a stable platform for progress everywhere we seek to deal with change.

Join us November 10 (details available soon) at SFBiz to look at how this approach works and where we might apply it in our day-to-day practices.

Meantime, more on Solution Focus

White papers

Applying Solution Focus for Creating Sustainable Businesses

Challenges for Sustainability v3.0 in businesses:

Guest blog post by my colleague: Venkat Subramanian Somasundaram BEng,MBA, Business & Sustainability Consultant and a supporter of Solution Focus.

My latest paper on Sustainability v3.0 attempts to define the forthcoming Sustainability initiatives in businesses organizations, Sustainability 3.0. The paper also identifies the three anticipated key challenges for Sustainability 3.0 and initiates discussion on how can we collectively solve them using Solution Focused change techniques.

Sustainability v3.0:

So, how does Sustainability 3.0 look like? It is a state in which all employees in the organization realize the importance of sustainable business practices and make decisions while coordinating with all relevant stakeholders. The key challenge for Sustainability 3.0 is Engagement.

After analyzing global reports and white papers during 2011, the three key challenges for sustainability 3.0 were identified:

1.  Creating Change Leaders (tribal leaders) for total engagement:

Building an enduring corporate culture of sustainability in the business organization, where all employees are totally engaged in the formulation and implementation of sustainability initiatives, is the greatest challenge for sustainability in businesses. How can we create change leaders or influencers at all levels of the organization to promote sustainability?

2.  Communicating the Value Proposition to businesses

How did companies end up embracing “Quality” as an organization wide norm “Total Quality Management (TQM)”? How can thevalue proposition of “sustainability” be communicated so that it becomes a cultural norm or policy within businesses?

3.  Co-creating policies that promote Good Growth:

How can the businesses, governments and all related stakeholders co-create policies that promote good growth (financially, socially and environmentally sustainable)?

Need for Solutions Focus Change:

It’s high time we stop speaking about problems faced by companies, environmentalists, consumers, and governments in the field of sustainability. The repeated recession strikes on the economy should accelerate our actions in making the world more sustainable and arrive at comprehensive solutions quickly.

My question: How do we solve these 3 key challenges for sustainability initiatives in businesses using solution focus change techniques?

For an in-depth version of Venkat’s blog post click here