November 18, 2011

Focusing on what works in organizational change

Doing what works, one of the core principles of solution-focused practice, can be very useful in organizational change. Briefly put, doing what works means that, when you try to accomplish something, you pay careful attention to what is working in the present, or has worked before in a more or less comparable situation, and do more of that. Four aspects may help to explain how the focus on what works can be applied:
  1. Focus on what brings the desired situation closer rather than on identifying problem causes. The solution-focused approach assumes that (1) understanding why a problem evolved is not likely to be very useful for building solutions because it is unlikely that from your understanding about what caused a problem will follow knowledge about what to do instead. Also, (2) analyzing why and how problems have evolved may elicit negative emotions in people such as defensiveness, hopelessness, anger and a feeling of being misunderstood which may prevent people from becoming creative and from thinking in term of possibilities. Focusing on amplifying what works is more likely to create hope, energy, cooperation, and progress. 
  2. Situational focus rather than on personalistic explanations: Focusing on what works is focusing on process. It is focusing on what people have done that has worked for them in specific relevant circumstances. It is situational and allows for a dynamic view on people. An assumption in solution-focused change is that it is not useful or necessary to label people ("You are a typical introvert"). Also, solution-focused practitioners are very reluctant to think in terms of mental entities which cause behavior ("What are your basic strengths?"). The point is not per se to state that behavior causing mental agents or entities are non-existent but rather that there is no need in specific situations to try to understand and label these. 
  3. More focus on internal solutions than on external solutions: by focusing on what works and what has worked before it becomes possible to work with internal solutions, solutions that were generated within the organization itself. Using a solution-focused approach to organizational change implies a certain reluctance to rely strongly on external advice and solutions that were generated outside of the organization. By relying primarily on self-generated solutions, the organization strengthens its self-determination and autonomy. 
  4. Test and learn instead of understand and implement: Traditionally, change management tends to favor an approach which consists of sequences of steps like: 1) analysis, 2) understanding, 3) goal setting, 4) planning, 5) implementing. A solution-focused approach to change works rather different and focuses on experimentation and reflection. When following this approach, gradually understandable patterns will evolve. The solution-focused approach is more focused on doing, responding, and discovering and slightly less on understanding. 
Change is more likely to succeed when there is a strong focus on finding out what works is this specific context and do more of that.

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