One of the drawbacks of my profession is that I am frequently consulted when things go wrong. When companies, such as yours, realise that they have a problem, which may have resulted in a client complaint or grievance and disciplinary procedures. The next thought process is that “our people need training” to ensure our customers are satisfied and our working relationships are more positive. But is that the logical next step? I believe not. You can’t always throw a training solution at an organisational or management deficiency. Let me tell you why.

Choosing your evaluation time

The time to evaluate your company’s performance is when things are going well. When you have repeat customers, and high levels of satisfaction. That is the time to focus on your structure, skills, systems and procedures. What are your strengths? What are you doing right? How can you ensure its continuity? What are you doing about identifying and developing new talents?

In my experience, employers tend to leave well alone when business is booming. They assume that if things are going well, then that will somehow continue. They do not consider the reasons for their success. They avoid thinking of risk factors. They think “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. People of my profession are then consulted to resolve a problem. We listen to the negative reports. What is going wrong. What your clients have complained about. The tensions or squabbles between staff. Of inadequate leadership, management deficiencies and stress levels rising.

Sometimes, this first meeting between myself and a client almost leads me down the pit of despondency. It all sound so awful, I wonder how on earth I could usefully intervene. The account of the situation makes me think that all is doom and gloom and I find myself struggling to stay afloat, much like a whirlpool pulls the hapless swimmer into its core. That is why I am such a proponent of Solution Focussed interventions.

The difference between the two approaches is significant:

Problem talk:

• What’s wrong with what you are doing?
• Why are you doing so badly?
• What is the main cause of your difficulty?
• Whose fault is it?
• What are other others things that make it hard?
• Why will it be difficult for you to do any better?
• What are the barriers in your way?

Solutions Talk:

• What are you aiming to achieve?
• How will you know when we have achieved it?
• What has worked really well in the past?
• What skills and resources do you have right now?
• What will be the first signs that you are getting better?
• Who else will notice this improvement?
• What will they notice?

Essentially, one focus embroils us deeper into the problem and one focuses our attention on what our ideal solution will be. One will analyse the problem. One will look at the required outcome. As a previous quality control analyst, I found this concept initially hard to accept. After all, we are told that what can’t be measured, can’t be improved. I grappled with:

• How can we resolve a problem if we haven’t analyzed it?
• How do we put measures into place to avoid recurrence if we don’t understand what has gone wrong in the first place?

Solution Focussing

But there is some truth in the concept of “paralysis by analysis” and we can spend months analyzing a problem without moving towards the solution. We gain a complete understanding of the problem but we are no further forward as to what to do about it. Solution Focus works particularly well if you are called upon to resolve an interpersonal issue, or feud, between staff. State clearly that what happened in the past can’t be changed.

You are not concerned with who did what to whom and when. Your outcome is that they will work together professionally and amicably in the future. State what behaviour is acceptable in the workplace (not what is unacceptable!) and gain their commitment to keep to this agreement. Monitor copiously.

This approach will not work in cases of legal, moral or ethical transgressions. In such instances, people seek closure before being able to move on. However, you can progress to closure much more quickly if you avoid getting sucked into a whirlpool of blame and recrimination, and focus on the outcome you want. A solution focussed approach is not an unrealistic dream. It has worked for my clients. It can work for you.

To find out more about how this approach can help you, contact me at HodaLacey@aol.com or call 01923-828085.

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