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.



How to get a notoriously siloed industry to speak bluntly

It takes a lot of trust to have an open dialogue among fiercely competitive leaders. Here’s how: York University, Toronto - ON, Canada

Interview with Jim Danahy: Application of Solution Focus in a Kitchen Table Roundtable

Jim, you recently organized a roundtable for the RAC as part of your Centre for Retail Leadership (CRL) featuring three senior marketing leaders from large retailers like Home Depot, Loblaws and Canadian Tire. Can we have your views on the session facilitation using a Solution Focused version of Rick Wolfe’s Kitchen Table model.

Thinking of the dynamic dialogue (among a great panel including yourself) that took place at the table, what pleased you most about the conversation?

Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

In a notoriously siloed, secretive and competitive industry, three of its most influential leaders avoided the temptation to spew platitudes and chose instead to speak bluntly on some very thorny industry topics and identify a few specific ways they can elevate their profession together. It was the real deal.

Can you point to one or two aspects of the Solution Focus facilitation approach that added value to what the audience experienced?

They spoke about current relevant issues and gave examples of ways each will immediately make things better both within their organizations and in better future industry collaborations.

At the Kitchen Table we come to share news, ideas, have a laugh and to disagree. We want the panel to engage in rambunctious interaction with each other. How does that set it apart from the traditional panel moderation approach?

It prevents scripted messages and brings out candour.

If I were a prospective participant at the Centre for Retail Leadership, what would I have enjoyed most when the main themes of the panel were offered to the audience for discussion?

No one was stuck ‘on message.’ You heard uncommonly candid opinions from senior executives. You should take comfort that the people ‘on the bridge of the ship of retail’ appreciate their own leadership responsibilities, and that recruiting, training and rewards systems must change dramatically to get retail results – starting today.

If I were a panel member how would I have benefitted from the dialogue?

We’re not alone and there is much we can do, and have committed to do, as an industry to advance our profession. Some panelists made specific new plans for staff interactions later the same day. Not bad for 90 minutes over eggs and coffee.

What three things please you most about your work in making the Centre for Retail Leadership happen?

All three things revolve around a real hunger to build professionalism in our industry. 1) As a 3rd generation member of “the accidental profession,” I was especially encouraged to see some of the country’s biggest retailers were first to bring their senior and high potential executives in to the Centre for Retail Leadership to help them tackle specific objectives 2) Mid-sized retailers and major consumer products vendors are now reaching out to us to help them build retail best practices 3) Individual retail professionals have begun to ask for open enrolment programs to build their careers with retail-specific skills and leadership courses.

the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

About Jim: A third generation retailer, Jim Danahy is director of the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He is also CEO of CustomerLAB, a retail productivity firm serving retailers across North America since 1994.



When collaboration ‘kills innovation’ try co-creation

Finally, collaboration is in vogue! So why is someone saying that it kills innovation?

I’m sick of collaboration. It makes things mushy and kills innovation

So spoke a participant impatient for change at a recent planning session.

It could be that, in this person’s field, some of the collaborators are actually more interested in the politics, or the lowest common denominator, or worse … compromise!

…this means bringing diverse groups together to deal with ambiguity and complexity. Leaders must be adept at the use of influence as they will most likely be operating without power and authority over many of the participants.  Crossen and Olivera

Yes, innovators … you do have to be patient with the status quo. But, stop for a minute! How do you maintain your standard for moving forward, being ahead of the pack and collaborate through co-creation?

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.   Oliver Wendell Holmes

How do you get others to buy into your ideas without having to circumvent others and make progress faster then they appreciate? Avoid assuming that people are not ready for your idea, but instead they are:

  • Moving at a slower pace than you
  • In a different place, but are interested in similar outcomes as you are
  • Wanting to cooperate with you, just not your way
  • Not resisting your idea, but your impatience

Remember, that your innovative idea will come alive through test and learn practices. Why not co-create with those who might not actually be your detractors?

Solution focused co-creation ideas for the naturally impatient innovator:

Sell the benefit to them, not the idea itself. Ask yourself:

‘Suppose people were to buy in to my idea and engaged in its use, how would it be working for them? What would they be saying that they appreciate about it?’

Help them understand the idea by first asking:

‘Suppose it worked for you, what parts of it would please you most?’

When they raised objections to your idea ask:

‘Imagine that were no longer a problem, what would we be doing that works?’

‘What one thing do you see that might be done better and how would that be useful?’

Innovators, make your solution part of everyone’s solution by co-creating the Solution Focus way.