January 4, 2012

Six ways solution focus speeds up organizational change (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Alan Kay, The Glasgow Group

What are the practicalities of solution focused organizational change? Working with them for over 12 years using the solution focus framework at center of my client offering demonstrates why it’s one of the best ways to help organizations make progress on change. This thinking applies to all organizations and all functions therein…from bankers to children’s aid, from actuaries to architects.

1. Solution Focus asks, it does not tell. The consultant does not present the solution – the client arrives at the change via the consultant’s better questions 
Why? I tell clients they know what to do, it’s just not clear to them because they’ve become muddled in their thinking through problem focus in both strategic and tactical discussions. Solution focus pares away the non-productive discussion, helps understand what they want to be better (vs. the problem). 
"In business we all know we have problems, but it is progress on the problems we need. Solution Focus is very effective at getting people to think and act on the right things, the possible solutions. It is a wonderful tool at getting people unstuck and making progress happen." ~ Tim Hammond, General Manager, Fuel 
2. The client is the expert in the change they want 
Why? I have watched many clients realize that they already have expertise in making change happen by surfacing consciousness of what they already do well. That’s the platform of expertise they have to build upon.  
"I realized that there are so many smart, creative people around the table, and when you give people the opportunity to come up with their own solutions, you get much better and richer solutions.’ ~ Margaret Eaton, President, ABC Life Literacy Canada  
3. The client has the answers to make progress. They work with what they have in order for change to present itself 
Why? In getting stuck discussing the problem, my clients can lose sight of the answers that sit in front of them. They may see the answers, but can’t be decisive because the research or SWOT analysis about threats and weaknesses make them fearful. 
"The outcomes were extremely positive for the organizations involved and for the management teams within them." ~ Norm Bolen, President, Canadian Media & Production Association  
4. By self-identifying the resources for change, the client can scope out a preferred future. From this, the small steps will appear 
Why? When the client (vs. consultant) identifies what they want to be different from the problem, they paint a clearer picture of the future they do want. They make progress right away, often implementing change immediately. 
"…You give people the opportunity to come up with their own solutions…you get much better and richer solutions." ~ Margaret Eaton, President, ABC Life Literacy Canada  
5. When the client sees small steps happening right away the bigger change has begun 
Why? When a client experiences immediate change – sometimes large, often small – they start heading down a decision-making and learning path. Not everything will work, but it will be progress. More often than not it becomes not only sustainable, but often substantial. 
"There are big wins in the small steps." ~ Anthony Alfred, ABC Life Literacy Canada  
6. Change as little as possible
Why? Many clients who become clear about where they want to get to discover that the huge change they previously felt was necessary was simply a construct and that the small changes they have made lead to much bigger, real change. 
"Instead what we have is understanding – if not always agreement – and an environment of trust and knowledge on which to move forward." ~ Valerie Creighton, President & CEO, Canada Media Fund 
Does solution focus produce miracles? Actually, some clients literally say it does. Is it a miracle cure for every client who feels stuck? No, but it produces lots of tiny miracles that at least do no harm and often simply give the client confidence that they are on the right track.

Alan Kay is a solution-focused specialist in strategic organizational and people change. His clients cover a broad range of sectors including financial services, industrial, consumer goods, media and education. He teaches executive development students at Schulich School of Business. His provocatively titled book Fry a Monkey, Create a Solution has been well received.