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Optimum Interventions

Do you really want to make a sustainable difference?

It’s over ten years now that I have been using appreciative and strengths-based approaches in individual and organisational development settings. I have been working with a number of coaching clients recently who spend a good deal of time describing the problems and challenges they face and how their organisations tend to respond quite elaborately to these aspects, paying particular attention to the problems and looking for the quickest fixes. This concentration or perhaps over-concentration on the ‘deficit’ view, speaks to the enduring and maturing debate around the merits of taking a strengths-focused approach to change and improvement, compared to the deficit-centred starting point.

Many of our actions as managers and leaders seem to be prompted by a failure or ‘deficit’ somewhere in our systems. Too often we are encouraged to believe that action to reduce those deficits is the key purpose of or value to be delivered by these roles, i.e. the need ‘to put things right’ over the opportunity to identify, define and optimise our strengths as the basis for addressing these systemic challenges. Indeed, our coaching client’s own senior managers and leaders almost demand that they demonstrate value by the number of ‘fixes’ and solutions they implement. Unfortunately, too often what goes around comes around – the fix lasts for a period of time but does not fundamentally alter the predominant model of operation, or provide sustainable progress.

A highly capable and achieving leader recently described to me how after an extended period in their role, they were seeing a definite and worrying trend, whereby the actions that appeared to provide progress across the years were not working; that improvement in service and operational quality were not linear but felt episodic, almost discontinuous in nature. This troubled my client, because the received wisdom simply didn’t cut it to the degree required in today’s environment. What might make that differerence?

Our work with the strengths approaches suggests there is another way; that by concentrating more on the organisation’s talents and strengths plus those of the individuals in the organisation; by recognising and nurturing those strengths and using them in an environment that appreciates what works well; you will cope better with most of the deficits that you face. You will cope in a more calm and organised manner when the inevitable ‘crises’ hit too.

Strengths-led organisations don’t ignore problems or ‘wicked issues’, they recognise, record and act on them. What’s different in these systems is that people’s talents are identified and put to work. Strengths are developed to address and reduce the deficits as part of a much healthier, comprehensive approach to improvement. For instance, the comprehensiveness that comes from using SOAR models of strategic planning in addition to SWOT.

The evidence is mounting; having a strengths and talent focus also builds employee engagement in ways that simple consultation, cascading and simplistic reward models never do nor will achieve. As we know, intuitively and evidentially, engaged employees are more productive, are safer, happier and more loyal. These things follow a concentration on strengths rather than lead to strengths being identified.

It’s not always an easy decision to make or route to take; if it was, even more organisations would consciously be acting in this way. It demands an almost counter-intuitive investment in strengths at a time of tight resources; a persistence of effort and displaying consistently appreciative behaviours, sometimes under the pressure to act very differently. All of this set in the context of having a clear and compelling vision – a vision that demands of leaders and senior managers a concentration on the important and significant over the immediate.

Yet, it can be done and is being done in many places. We have the case-studies to show how our clients have introduced these approaches with both immediate and enduring outcomes. We consistently recommend and use coaching for strengths, SOAR planning models and creative visions to mine the talents in an organisation, at a time when our clients cannot go out and ‘buy’ that talent. They are so often surprised by the release of energy, innovation and engagement from quite brief and highly cost-efficient interventions.

This entry was posted in AI, appreciative, Appreciative Change, Appreciative Inquiry, Appreciative planning, Behaviours, change, Culture change, Deficit, Make a difference, productivity, SOAR, Strategic Planning, Strengths and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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Steve Lorraine