Reviewed pieces of work: 1
Acted as reviewer: 0
This submission explains an eight month long programme for The Consultancy, a part of Gwynedd Council responsible for a range of building and engineering contracts and services for the Authority and for other clients in North Wales. The events included all of the management team of 35.
I was asked to address the very real concerns of the management team in the engagement and improving of morale of the 130 staff. Emerging from a staff focus group were issues around future direction, quality of performance management, a perceived lack of developmental or supportive conversations with management and concerns over poor performance not being addressed. Organisationally, it was estimated that less than 10% of the appraisals were being done effectively in this part of the organisation. There was no culture of regular supportive feedback, only when things went wrong.
A performance coaching programme, with Solution Focus as the “Intelchip” at its heart, was seen as the way forward:
It invited traditionally trained engineers to use their inquiring minds to become “Progress Detectives” rather than “Problem Detectives”, thus moving from “problem” talk to “progress” talk when working with their teams
- Language: how positive questions invite positive change
- Looking for resources and strengths in situations, rather than what’s wrong
- The challenge of expertise, learning you don’t need to know how to do someone’s job or be an expert to be helpful and have helpful conversations
- Positioning of scaling as a “skeleton key”, a multi faceted tool, with acknowledgement of the debt to Steve DeShazer and Insoo Kim Berg
- Introduction of a visual aid to offer a twist to “scaling”: the “dial” metaphor, set in a flight cockpit metaphor of setting up the dials and then “Flying the plane by exception”. Specifically, the creation of a balanced dashboard of 10 dials or scales, to be used as a tool for reflection and discernment of the conversations that will make the difference.
- Introducing the HØPES coaching framework as a means of using scaling in a practical and memorable way in coaching conversations and to encourage the “first small step”
- More controversially, placing a semantic scale on the dial and deconstructing the meanings of those labels, in their context and in their language
I was very grateful to colleagues John Brooker and Peter Roehrig for their considered questions. We found ourselves noticing the care taken to ensure that the systemic demands of the client – their existing appraisal, performance management programme and language had needed to be blended in with SF to create an integrated approach. How important the support of senior management was to this programme.My reflection is how as SF practitioners we need to keep it simple – but not simplistic. How such a simple tool as a “scale”, or in this instance a “dial”, can stimulate such effective and meaningful conversations. Indeed, the exercise was not to create the “perfect set of measures” but to have the conversation that talks the dial into existence. In that conversation the team member can find what is expected but also the purpose and ultimately the meaning of the work.
And by keeping it simple a group of very practical, very busy, skilled engineers got some tools and techniques to make a difference in their world.
We have found this piece of work particularly helpful:
- Clearer links to our Corporate competence framework. They have been re-emphasized and made real.
- Use of positive questions and creating a “progress” and “solution” discussion
- Observations, developmental, dialogue and perceptions are constructive
- “I want you to succeed” thinking is the subtle message behind the management approach. Managers as supporters as opposed to trying to catch people out.
- It has encouraged openness and honest dialogue
- Staff alignment with the Departmental Business Plan, which can have a positive impact on the business logic (quality, time and cost improvements)
- We see positive benefits to the bottom line.
What impressed me about this piece of work was the application of SF in an organization that has provided tangible benefits such as improvement in the number and quality of appraisals and the movement of people from a negative viewpoint to a much more positive one. It should be an inspiration to others tackling such difficult challenges.
Another interesting challenge was the need to fit SF with the client language. Jeff’s suggestion to move from the negative “Weak” to “Needs much development” is a good example of how a simple word can influence attitude.
I was also impressed that Jeff has taken the SF approach and developed it:
- The use of dials for scaling (which provoked some useful discussion in our review call)
- The HØPES approach, which I trust we will see in wider use as an addition to the OSKAR model
Overall, this is an excellent example and I look forward to seeing a fuller article on the case study to provide wider learning for the community.
Jeff Matthews was challenged with an opportunity to work for a client facing very tough times. Instead of playing the “fire brigade” he followed clearly the aims of sustainability: He built up good contact and trust by taking the clients situation and problem view seriously. By doing so, he produced a good chance for embedding the programme into the structure of the client organisation.
I was impressed by the successful combination of personal and organisational development in one project. There are a lot of indicators and feedback that make clear for me that useful change happened in the organisation.
Lead reviewer: John Brooker
Second reviewer: Peter Röhrig
About The Candidate:
Jeff Matthews is a coach and facilitator with his own consultancy company, The Madison Group. He has been practising as a coach for nearly 20 years across a very wide range of UK and European organisations and sectors from banks to retail, from local authorities to health and charities. He styles himself as a “tax deductible excuse for a great conversation”. His particular interests at the moment, are applying SF to the challenging world of performance coaching and appraisals and also in developing an integrated model of coaching.