Solution Focus applications. Beyond theory and coaching

Solution Focus applications. Beyond theory and coaching

At a recent conference in Athens some Solution Focused enthusiasts from the world of HR said: ‘I love it, but how do I get the people around me using it?’

My response: ‘Try applying it in your projects, not on the people’.  

Solution focus (SF) has been around for about 30 years. First, in the world of family therapy and more recently, in organizations. Deeply researched, it is an approach to help people find ways to move beyond the things they believe are preventing them from making progress, i.e., when they are stuck. One of the unique aspects of SF is that the client is in charge of the change – the changes they want to make.

Resisting the temptation to know better than your client. The toughest challenge in Solution Focus – Brief Solutions

There is a great body of knowledge about how SF works, both in theory and in practice. The SF therapists are especially strong in the research they do, constantly finding new ways to make their understanding of why SF works and, particularly how to make its applications work even better.

Focusing on clients’ failings invites denial and co-constructs resistance. Build preferred future instead – Brief Solutions

Something of a contrast lies in the example of an increasingly popular psychotherapy model, Positive Psychology (PS). It enjoys a vast body of research on how it works, but less so in the applications sense. Interestingly, Tony Hsieh of fame used the PS body of research to rationalize and operationalize the emotional intelligence he developed called ‘Delivering Happiness.’

Today, a growing body of organizational consultants, trainers and coaches apply the SF model in a wide variety of situations.

Solution focused therapy comes from a different starting point. If any therapy works it leads to the client ‘doing something different’ – Brief Solutions

People who use SF in organizational work are now developing more definitive applications. Some clients and individuals find the idea of SF interesting, at least intriguing. Yet they still have trouble conceptualizing how to use it. Back to that question; ‘I love it, but how do I get the people around me using it?’

There is an emerging body of SF applications. Here are some of the SF applications I have been using for some time with great success among a wide range of client organization types, namely:

and so on…

When presented in this fashion to organizations, the clients (or your colleagues) will see something they can buy into that relates to the issues they face and are therefore willing to try something new and different. Let them see SF working in this form and draw them into it on an individual basis, e.g., coaching.

What are some of the SF applications you use, or would be willing to buy into?


Betternxt is the Canadian centre learning for Solution Focus in organizations.
Betternxt Academy, solution focus, Toronto




Ways to Help Employees Self-engage!

Employee engagement, solution focusIf you aren’t a regular Apple store or Zappos’ customer, you may not have experienced one of the higher forms of the engaged employee.

More often than not, you may have experienced the opposite.

Many employers still don’t recognize the multitude of valuable aspects of having employees who are interested in their work and the customer – internal or external.

And, the engaged employee doesn’t have to come from reading a manual.

Employee engagement is actually a two-way street.

You can help people realize and own the choices they have – you don’t need to have all the answers.

I recently overheard this comment: ‘When you focus on the problem, you get no engagement. When you focus on solutions you get progress and engagement.’

One of the simple keys to employee engagement is to ask them better questions. Of the many employee engagement roundtables that I have conducted, close to 100% of them worked well when people are asked the following simple questions:

‘What works in this organization?’

Why? Instead of probing for the problems, most of which we already know and certainly will provide little insight, have them notice what they are doing right.

Build on each of their points with either, ‘tell me more,’ or how did you manage to do that?’   

Start with the little things – dig deep on them. Then, watch the bigger ideas and insights emerge.

Once you’ve exhausted the questions in this part of the conversation, you can move to the next one, which is:

‘Even though, like most businesses, things can get messy, it does sound like a lot’s working around here. So, what could we do better, more of, or slightly differently?’

Why? While this may sound like you are going to get in trouble with a load of complaints, you’re not. The first section will reframe the dialogue so that people want to be constructive in what ‘needs to get better.’ Notice that you’re not asking, ‘what’s wrong?’ which looks backwards. You’re asking them to look forward to things getting better.

You’ll find that their former complaints start to sound more reasonable. You are now ready to ask them, Suppose we made progress on some of these issues, what would be happening?

Followed by, What would you see management doing to help make that happen?’

Followed by, ‘What would you see yourself doing to engage in that change?’ 

And, ‘What would one small step forward look like?’

Why? Because staff can self-engage in the solutions.

Will this change staff engagement overnight? Possibly. Better to keep asking these questions over time and watch what happens. It’s all about fully engaging staff in the solutions they want.

This article was a redux of a blog I wrote for Shawn Murphy and Ted Coiné in 2012.

Employee satisfaction video

More on employee satisfaction (click picture)






How to Help Immovable Objects Move

Benjamin Franklin understood the 1/3 change rule. 

‘All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.’ – Benjamin Franklin 

Why do we pay so much attention to the ‘Immovables’? They don’t listen. They blame others. They slander the opposition. They repeat their mantra endlessly: ‘This is about the taxpayer, freedom to bear arms, stop the oil pipelines, etc., etc. They wouldn’t know how to let go even if we put a metaphorical gun to their head.

The Movable middle third sit on the fence glancing either way, but wishing to move forward.

Those that move and are already living the future they want often go unnoticed. They are risking nothing because they are used to making progress and mistakes and learning from the process. It is to them that we must pay attention.

Yet the media, managers, and the fearful focus on the Immovables. They make good headlines that feed them the attention they crave.

How to work on change with the three groups:

1. Those ‘On the move’:

Ask: What works when you move forward? Let the next group interact with them.

2. The ‘Movables’:

Ask: What do you like about the ‘on-the-movers’? Which part of their work can you see yourself adapting? What small first steps would you see yourself taking right away? How would you see that being useful to yourself?

3. The ‘Immovables:

Ask: ‘If your nose hairs were on fire would your nose hurt?’ In other words, ignore their ideas and opinions. Try a good old-fashioned passive-aggressive, ‘Sure, we’ll do that.’ But, don’t.

Work with the first two to let them see how they are moving forward towards solution, albeit at a different rate.

This will irritate or anger the ‘Immovables.’ Remember that’s their problem. You are not going to change their behaviour. Our problem with the ‘Immovables’ is our impatience with them … that they won’t listen to us.

But, you can change your behaviour towards them. Be patient and let them live with their frustration until gradually they become less relevant.

The better systems of #1 and #2 people will help the larger group move forward.

More on ignoring the immovables


Solution Focused dialogue via disagreement at the ‘Kitchen Table’

How do you make sense of negative dialogue during strategic planning?

Changing the dialogue at the Kitchen Table

During a strategic planning project the client agreed to roundtable dialogue sessions. The organization was successful, but elements of its old culture made change difficult. We decided on three groups of roundtables: the customers, distributors and staff. In all three areas the client was worried that there would be disagreement and negativity. Hence, the use of ‘Kitchen table’ dialogue to overcome the negative perceptions.

My colleague Coert Visser kindly a blog that examines this interesting case where the organization had thought there was disagreement and resistance to change, and instead they created purposeful dialogue and progress.

Click here to view case

How do you handle negative dialogue in your organization?

More on ‘Kitchen table’ dialogue



Six ways to banish monkeys from meetings

It’s a productivity issue, not just a matter of either bursting blood vessels or falling asleep over time-wasting meetings.

But first, you know these meeting behaviours, don’t you?

Still, win-win, collaborative meetings do not need to be a feel-good fantasy!

They are entirely within your reach

Just try one of these recipes in the book Monkey-Free Meetings.

Not only do you get…

Meeting Tenderizer: Soften up your prospective client and make a sale without being an expert sales person.

Meeting Resuscitator: When you want to make sure your organization will implement the plan.

Teams at War: Get the angry / frustrated / in-denial teams collaborating before that next big meeting.

The Roundtable Model: Maximize the thinking of the organization in an alternative and highly productive meeting framework.

Better First Impressions: Ask questions to show your listening skills in your first meeting with a client, your new boss, or that important networking meeting.

Questions to Move People off Problem Monkeys: Become the master of asking questions that chase the monkeys out of the meeting room.

But also…

Email templates for pre-session input, Win-Win scenario set-up tools, Agenda templates, Action plan templates, Cheat sheet questions, and much more.

The outcome of your investment:

Will this make you a meeting hero over night? Possibly!

Will this demonstrate to people that you are leader in running productive meetings? Yes!

Download a free preview of the book’s introduction section here

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

Get Yourself and Your Stakeholders in Front of Change

We have to be out front of change much of the time. Reacting to change as it happens is the old normal. The new normal is to anticipate, to not know exactly what will happen yet still have a plan.

Stakeholders ready to share their opinion

Part of the new normal is working with stakeholders who may or may not want what you, the organization, have in mind. Until now we have either patronized stakeholders by ‘listening’ to them, or let the loudest voice dominate, (usually a self-interested party or a complainer who doesn’t know what they want).

Why do we have to work with stakeholders if we want to stay ahead of change? It’s simple: in an inter-connected world if our fellow stakeholders are not with us, they will keep us in reactionary mode.

Here are some barriers that keep our stakeholders and us from staying ahead of change:

  • Stakeholders can never fully align with us, or among themselves
  • Stakeholders have unique needs, many of which we can’t fully understand
  • Stakeholders have discrete goals, but may not always be able to articulate them fully
  • As soon as we, the stakeholders and our organization, align, we quickly drift

If you have ever wondered where business politics originate, just revisit the last four points. Enough of that…

What can we do with our stakeholders to get ahead of change?

Here’s four easy, well-proven ways to have a stakeholder conversation about getting in front

  • Encourage only a brief conversation on problems and barriers. Use the dialogue only to define what you want to be different when you are ahead. Ensure all stakeholders have their say and don’t let one dominate.
  • Find out what’s already working for you and each stakeholder. Don’t skimp on this conversation. These are opportunities that you want to build on to get to the future. It’s the resource platform for the changes you do want to make happen.
  • Get everyone to imagine the future they want (based on the change you want to see).  Describe this in even greater detail and from various stakeholder perspectives. Decide on the key goals and measurables.
  • Pick a bunch of small action steps which both your team the stakeholders can see happening right away (literally!).
  • Write the plan. Communicate. Update. Communicate. Update. Communicate.

Here’s video evidence that this approach works. In this case, it shows a leading stakeholder in a sector building its reputation for making change happen among a newly formed community.

The traditional reason for consulting with stakeholders is to make our strategic and tactical decisions more effective and efficient. The goal now is create conversations about doing things differently ahead of change and on a sustainable basis.

Project Management: What’s the opportunity in Solution Focus (SF)?

Guest blog post by Ujjwal Daga, a fine MBA student at Schulich School of Business. Ujjwal has an engineering background and spent several years in software development before signing up with Schulich.


Most organizations have a comprehensive Change Management Plan to address the changes to scope, schedule or budget of a project. Using this framework, the Project Managers try to quantify the impact of the changes and make decisions accordingly.

However, to succeed, they also need to have a clear picture of what is it they want to accomplish, engage the customers in the process, and address the ‘human side’ of change management. Steps forward in these areas will supplement the existing change tools and protocols and utilize the best of already working change approaches within the organization.

Projects initiate change and Project Managers can be considered as the change agents. We are seeing many examples of organizations collaborating with change partners, also known as ‘change management experts’ to facilitate the changes required to deliver projects. Solution Focus (which is the approach in ‘Fry the Monkeys – Create a Solution’ can be used to accelerate the Project Management changes – both strategic and human. It can help on a number of fronts:

  • Help the Project Managers create a vision of the preferred future by asking the right questions
  • Identify the elements (strengths, abilities and resources) of the desired future that are already present
  • Help them take the small steps in the direction of the desired change, and achieve visible progress right away
  • Seek innovative ways to engage the customers and external stakeholders
  • Enable the individual groups of silos to discover the common goals, collaborate on the key priorities and arrive at shared solutions for change

What are your thoughts and comments on the emerging opportunity?

Tips for Solutions Driven Strategic Planning

Want to get more out of strategic planning? Much more!

Want to make it a creative, concrete way to move the organization move forward right away?

How many times have you seen a SWOT analysis tilting to one side because the Threats and Weaknesses outweighed the Strengths and Opportunities? Why do planners, bless them, love to focus on the first two and skip lightly over the latter? Why do teams build their plans on the things they already know are not working?

Let’s not even bother answering those problem focused questions. Instead…

Here’s some of the solutions-driven questions used at the recent AMA Toronto strategic planning session:

What’s already working?

VIDEO: AMA Strategic Planning July 2011

What does the research tell us needs to be different?

What are the 5-6 most useful questions we need to answer in the planning work?

Suppose be made progress in the next three years, what would be better?

What outcomes would our key stakeholders, especially the various member groups be doing as a result?

How would do we see that be useful to our partners?

Suppose we focused on 5-6 strategic priorities, what would they look like?

Suppose our plan was communicated widely, what people see us doing?

View the outcome of using this approach: (Video)

Want details on using Solution Focus (and a pinch of process) to power up your planning? See page 62 of my book; Fry the Monkeys – Create a Solution

Everybody’s an expert in change. What’s your experience?

Gregory Bateson said, “Change is happening all the time…our role is to find useful change and amplify it.”

Change management is a growing field. Even individuals are starting to think about personal change plans.

My book, Fry the Monkeys – Create a Solution advocates that because change is happening so fast, managers and staff have to stop talking about problems and move to solutions. It’s a productivity issue.

What are your observations about change? What have you personally experienced?

The first two responses will receive a free copy of Fry the Monkeys – Create a Solution

Here’s an example of what I have noticed:

One change opportunity is to move beyond the popular notion that 90% of change fails. Sure, but it all depends on what you measure and who’s doing the measuring. Within ‘failure’ there are lessons to be learned. Ask any social media-driven marketer and they will tell you that they are looking to learn fast lessons from failure because it will tell them what to do instead.

So, what have you noticed?