November 29, 2011

Focus on usefulness and progress in solution-focused organizational change

Evaluation of organizational change is important. Evaluation helps us to get an idea of how successful something has been, what went right and what went wrong which is essential to determine further steps. But, in practice, evaluation is often problematic in the sense that it lacks precision, overaccentuates numbers and/or financial outcomes, focuses too much on problem causes, and is not found useful both to the people who provided the information and those who gathered it. The solution-focused approach to organizational change which focuses closely on progress and usefulness, seems to work better.

Focus on progress: monitoring progress
In solution-focused change there is an ongoing focus on monitoring progress. Solution-focused facilitators do this by asking questions like: "What is better?", "What progress have we/you made since we last spoke?", and "What have we/you done that worked?" After these questions have been asked they are typically followed by the question: "What else?" In addition to these questions, several solution-focused techniques may be used to monitor progress such as scaling questions, the circle technique, and visualisation of progress (more about that here and here). 

This focus on monitoring progress fits logically with the solution-focused approach because the approach follows a test and learn approach to change. After some small steps have been taken it is very useful to take evaluate what has worked and progress has been made. One advantage of this way of monitoring progress is that it makes it easier to notice what has worked. Also, it makes it possible to make some adjustments in the direction taken, if necessary. Another advantage is that focusing on progress is highly motivating. When employees become more aware of the progress they are making they are generally encouraged to go on. A recent book by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer confirms the crucial rol of progress showing that it: leads to a better inner worklife and to better performance.

Focus on usefulness: activating evaluations
As solution-focused facilitators, we also use an approach we have called activating evaluations. Briefly the approach consists of four steps along the following lines:
  1. Was this useful? (if not, how can/could it be more useful?) 
  2. If yes, which of the following elements did you find most useful? a) ..., b) ..., c) ..., etc. 
  3. How were these useful for you? 
  4. What do you see as a good step forward?
The interesting thing about this way of evaluating is that both the recipients of the information and the people providing the information benefit. The recipients of the information get detailed insight into what was found useful and what not and they can use this to determine further steps forward. The providers of the information benefit from answering these questions, too, because they too get an insight into what was useful to them so that they can choose their next steps forward.

Change often works well when frequent attention is paid to to progress made, to what has worked well and to how individuals have made that happen.

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