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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Focus on Results, not Reasons

Note: Check out the book Enlightened Leadership: Getting to the Heart of Change by Ed Oakley and Doug Krug. Published in 1994, this book is still a great read for leaders.

The authors (Oakley and Krug) have developed a model that focuses on the power of goals. There simple theory—you get team energy by moving forward toward the goal, but you drain energy by staying focused primarily on the reasons things aren’t working 100%. They build their case based on goal theory—people hit what they aim at far more often than not. But it’s deciding what the goal is that’s tricky. These guys, rightly say, focus the goals on the “results” you want and not the “reasons” why you’re not hitting them. Again—focus on the track and not the wall, as they tell racecar drivers.

Asking the right kind of questions can keep team energy up by focusing on the results and hitting their goals.

In fact, when focused on the reasons “why” something is not working, team energy gets drained by constantly asking Why-based, problem focused, blame-tinted questions like:
--Why are we behind schedule?
--Why did you do it that way?
--What’s the problem here?
--Who did this?

Questions focused solely on the “reasons” why something’s not working, turns into a downward, vicious spiral. Teams keep searching for the errors and in doing so drain their energy. This is not to say that we never ask such questions, rather that they not be the sole focus or our questions. Rather, stay focused on the desired results.

The authors suggest a method for focusing on getting “results” by asking what they call Effective Questions (EQs). These questions focus on moving forward toward the results (goals). Here are typical EQs suggested that stay focused on results:
--What have you accomplished so far on the project that you’re pleased with?
--What about the accomplishment are you MOST pleased with?
--How would you describe the way you want this project to turn out?
--What are your specific objectives?

The authors also suggest a general template for asking Structured Effective Questions:
--What’s already working?
--What makes it work?
--What’s the objective?
--What are the benefits if we achieve this objective?
--What can we do to move closer to our objective?

Finally, here’s some of the best advice I ever got as a kid from my aging Italian mother, Margaret: When I complained about something not working out perfectly, she used to say to me: “Stevie, it ain’t a perfect world.”

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