The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Approach To Pursuing Your Purpose During Your Time On The Planet

There are many ways to live life. One approach is to choose to have a positive attitude. You can then pursue your purpose, principles and picture of success. It is to keep following this approach during your time on the planet.

People who take this approach are often positive realists. They have a positive attitude but are also good at reading reality. They are good at seeing patterns and anticipating what may happen. They then build on what they can control and manage what they can’t.

Such people develop a sense of purpose. Sometimes it means following a spiritual faith, a vocation or serving something greater than themselves. Sometimes it means focusing on short-term goals. Sometimes it means working towards their life goals.

They believe in following their principles and expressing these in their daily lives and work. They may choose to do this by, for example, encouraging people, doing satisfying work or helping to build a better world.

Such people sometimes translate their purpose and principles into achieving specific aims. They focus on the real results they want to achieve. They then translate these into working towards a clear picture of success.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you chose to take some of these steps? You may have chosen to overcome a setback, pursue a stimulating project, tackle a challenge or do another activity that gave you satisfaction.

What did you do then to have a positive attitude? What did you to focus on the specific purpose, follow your principles and achieve your picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you pursued a specific purpose, followed your principles and worked to achieve a picture of success.  

Describe the specific things you did to take these steps. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

Imagine that you want to maintain a sense of purpose and pursue this in future. Let’s explore how you can take some of these steps in your own way. 

Choosing To Have
A Positive Attitude

People make choices every day. They can choose to be positive or negative, to be creators or complainers, to take responsibility or avoid responsibility. The choices they make have consequences, both for themselves and other people.

Alice Herz-Sommer was somebody who chose to be positive. A pianist and survivor of Nazi concentration camps, she continued to enjoy life well past the age of 100.

Alice’s view of life reached a wider audience after an interview she gave to the BBC became popular on the web. Here are some things she said in the interview.

Life is beautiful

I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son.

Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.

And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.

Life brings pain and beauty, said Alice, but she focused on gratitude, love, kindness, nature, music and the joyful things in life. She said the secret of happiness is:

To focus on what is really important in life.

Caroline Stoessinger gave an insight to Alice’s approach in her book A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer. She provided a series of quotes in which Alice explained her philosophy. These included the following.

Gratitude is essential for happiness. Only when we are old do we realise the beauty of life.  

When I play Bach, I am in the sky. My world is music. Music is a dream. It takes you to paradise. 

I am richer than the world’s richest people, because I am a musician. Music saved my life. Music is God.

Every day is a miracle. No matter how bad my circumstances, I have the freedom to choose my attitude to life, even to find joy.  

Evil is not new. It is up to us how we deal with both good and bad. No one can take this power away from us.

My optimism has helped me through my darkest days. The more I read, think and speak with people, the more I realise just how happy I am.

When I die I can have a good feeling. I have done my best. I believe I lived my life the right way.

Here is a video in which Alice talks about her life and philosophy.

I learned a similar lesson about choosing to be positive during my early twenties when I was caring for older people in hospital. Jacko, as he wished to be called, was one of the people I looked after. He had lost the use of his lower body but he loved his food and continued to enjoy each day.

Part of my duties involved dragging small pieces of faeces from his bottom. Jacko asked me to count each piece during the process and he took great delight in reaching a certain number. Procedure over, he then looked forward to the food he was going to enjoy that day. He taught me about the joy of being alive each day.

Choosing To
Develop A Purpose

People love to have a sense of purpose. They love to do something they believe in and work towards achieving a stimulating goal.

Sometimes this can involve pursuing a short-term purpose, such as completing a satisfying task. Sometimes it can involve doing something each day towards achieving their life goals.

Some people seem to know their purpose at an early age, whilst for others it is a lifetime quest. Here are some of the approaches that people take towards developing a sense of purpose. We will then explore some of these approaches.

One view is that finding a sense of purpose can happen in a Eureka Moment. Another view is that it is more likely to develop over time. Let’s explore several approaches you can take towards making this happen.

Clarifying the things that
give you positive energy

One approach is to focus on doing things that give you positive energy. This can lead to exploring many themes and sometimes result in developing a compelling purpose.

Energy is life. Bearing this in mind, what are the things that give you positive energy? Here are some of the answers that people give when doing this exercise.

The things that give
me positive energy are:

Encouraging people … Spending time with our children … Cooking for friends … Caring for animals … Showing kindness … Nurturing gardens … Building boats … Teaching wellbeing.  

Helping people to find satisfying work … Fixing certain kinds of problems … Making things better … Working on new ways to treat cancer … Mediating disputes … Leading pioneering companies.

If you wish, try tacking the exercise on this theme. This invites you to explore the following themes.

Describe the things that give you positive energy in your personal and professional life.

Describe the specific things you can do to do more of these things in the future.

Clarifying the positive things
you want to give to people
during your time on the planet

Another approach is to explore the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet. Different people mention different themes when doing this exercise. Here are some of the answers they give.

I want: 

To give my family a loving home … To give people encouragement … To give my students hope … To give people nourishing food … To show people how they can take care of their health … To show people how to make use of their talents.

To give people tools they can use to build great organisations … To give people models they can use to build successful and sustainable systems … To pass on knowledge that helps both present and future generations.

Some people experience an interesting realisation when answering this question. They realise that the things they want to give to others may mirror the things they have been given in life. Some build on what they have written and translate this into a clear purpose.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet. 

Describe the specific steps you can take to give these things to people.  

Describe the specific benefits of giving these things to people.

Clarifying something you really
believe in and serving
something greater than yourself

People often gain strength by doing something they really believe in. This often involves choosing to serve something greater than themselves. A person will aim to serve their loved ones and they may also choose:

To serve a spiritual faith, a set of values or a philosophy

To serve a purpose, a mission or a cause

To serve a vocation, a creative drive or a project

People often want to serve a cause even though they may be not around to see the fruits of their labours. Doing what they believe in helps them to feel alive and able to give to other people.

Different people choose to different things to serve. Here are some examples.

A spiritual follower may serve their faith … A nurse may help people to regain their health … A medical scientist may aim to find a breakthrough cure … A counsellor may help people to manage problems successfully.

A singer may serve the songs they sing … An architect may aim to make beautiful buildings … An environmentalist may make TV films that encourage people to appreciate the beauty of the Earth.

An educator may help students to shape their futures … A social entrepreneur may improve the quality of people’s lives … A mediator may find positive solutions to conflicts … A trusted advisor may pass on knowledge that helps other people to succeed.

A person who serves something greater than themselves is more able to withstand outside pressures. They keep focusing on what they really value in life. When in doubt, they go back to their inner compass and ask:

What do I believe in? How can I keep following these beliefs – even during difficult times? How can I take steps to translate these beliefs into action?

Such people also gain strength from recognising their tradition. Many people have followed this path in the past and others will follow it in the future.

Bearing this in mind, they realise they are not alone. They are part of something greater than themselves. Being aware of this tradition can help people to feel humbler yet stronger. It can encourage them to keep following this path in their own way.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Is there something that you really believe in doing? You may want to follow a particular faith, pursue your vocation or do a specific project. How can you translate this into action?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things. 

Describe the specific thing you really believe in doing. 

Describe the specific things you can do to do what you believe in. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

Clarifying your
positive goals

People often get a sense of purpose by choosing to work towards specific goals. Here are some of the aims that people mention when exploring this theme.

My positive goals are:

To appreciate life and maintain a sense of gratitude … To provide a happy childhood for our children … To help our teenage children to find and do work they love … To do satisfying work that helps other people.

To build a pioneering company … To keep stretching myself and achieve peak performance … To pass on knowledge that helps people to shape their future lives … To do work that helps to build a better world.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you do to the following things.

Start by brainstorming ideas and then whittle these down to the top three positive goals you want to focus on in life. If appropriate, write these in headline terms and then add examples that bring these to life.

Move on to describing the benefits of achieving these goals – both for other people and yourself. It can be useful to keep focusing on the benefits, especially when you need to motivate yourself. Here is the exercise.

Clarifying
your purpose

Imagine that you have done some of the earlier exercises. It can then be useful to focus on clarifying your purpose.

Many people’s primary purpose, of course, is simply to get access to the basics of life. They spend their days focusing on how to get food and be healthy.

Many other people have access to these basics. Some then simply want to accumulate money, but some want to go further. They want to give to others and pursue a satisfying purpose.

Here are some of the ways that individuals describe their sense of purpose. They may, however, express these in different ways.

I want to be kind in my daily life and work … I want to help people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success … I want to show people the power of slow thinking … I want to spread positive news across the planet.

I want to enable people to shape their futures … I want to create enriching environments in which people can grow … I want to create beautiful things that bring people joy and give them positive memories for life.

I want to help people to see what they have in common and find peaceful solutions to conflicts … I want to ensure that as many people as possible have access to clean water … I want to develop pioneering technology that provides people with cheap renewable energy.

Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, spent much of his life helping people to find their meaning in life. Below is a video from 1972 in which he explores this theme. He said:

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment.

Some people may have a number of overlapping purposes. This is important to bear in mind if a person starts agonising about trying to find the one big thing they should focus on in their life.

Seth Godin underlined another key point. He said that it could sometimes be more fruitful to focus on what we care about rather than being too concerned with our calling. Here is a short piece he wrote on this topic.

Seth Godin

In search of your calling

I don’t think we have a calling. I do think it’s possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do. 

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

As we have seen, there are many ways to begin developing your purpose. We will soon move on to the exercise that invites you to take this step.

Before doing this, it can be useful to revisit several of the earlier exercises. These have invited you:

To clarify the things that give you positive energy. 

To clarify the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet.

To clarify the things you really believe in and to serve something greater than yourself.

To clarify your positive goals.

There are, of course, many other themes you can explore to develop  a sense of purpose.

Looking at the answers that you have given, can you see any recurring theme or themes? Bearing these in mind, what may be one of the things you feel really compelled to do in your life? Can you summarise this in a one-liner?

Different people give different answers to this question. The answer I give, for example, is:

I want to be a positive encourager and help to build a positive planet.

Some individuals answer by describing the philosophy they want to follow in their personal and professional life. Some describe a personal strength they want to use to serve others. Some describe a specific passion they want to pursue.

As mentioned earlier, there are some things to bear in mind when describing your purpose. It is important:

To focus on something you feel really compelled to do. 

To begin clarifying your purpose by writing a one-liner that begins with the words ‘I want to …’ 

To recognise that it may take a lifetime to get the wording right, but this one-liner can give a pointer to your purpose.

Here is the exercise on defining a purpose. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific thing you really want to do. 

Describe the specific things you want to do to translate this purpose into action.

We will revisit this second part – translating the theme into action – later in the article. For the moment, however, it can be useful to begin thinking about the specific things you can do to follow your purpose. Here is the exercise.

Choosing To Follow
Your Principles

Imagine that you have begun to clarify your purpose. You may want to encourage other people, create beauty, help people find satisfying work, pass on a positive legacy or pursue another activity.

How you can you translate this into action? One approach is to clarify the principles you want to follow in your daily life and work. The Dalai Lama says, for example:

My religion is kindness.

He therefore tries to express kindness in his daily life when communicating with people, giving television interviews and doing other activities. He keeps focusing on the core drivers in his life.

Many individuals take this approach. They clarify their purpose and the principles they want to follow to translate this into action. They aim to express these principles in personal and professional situations.

Such individuals then return to their centre. They relax, re-centre and refocus. This enables them to keep drawing strength from the central beliefs in their life. They then explore how they can follow their principles in the next situation.

A person who takes this approach is more likely to be centred. They keep returning to their inner compass. They then focus on how they can follow their chosen principles in the different situations they encounter in life.

Looking at my own life, for example, there are several principles I aim to follow in situations. These are:

To be a positive encourager.

To help people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success. 

To help to build a positive planet.

I try to follow these principles when meeting people, mentoring, running super team workshops and writing. The aim is to provide practical tools that people can use to achieve their picture of success.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Imagine that you have done some work on clarifying your purpose. What are the principles you want to follow to translate this purpose into action?

If you wish, you can try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe your purpose – the specific thing you want to focus on doing. 

Describe the principles you want to follow to translate this purpose into action.

Describe the specific things you can do to translate these principles into action.

Clarifying Your
Picture Of Success

Imagine you are clear on your purpose and the principles you want to follow. What are the goals you want to achieve by taking these steps? What is your picture of success? Let’s look at the path that one person took to pursue his aims.

Richard St. Barbe Baker chose to dedicate his life to showing people the value of planting trees. This epiphany came about at a young age.

Writing in his book My Life My Trees, he describes how in 1894, at the age of five, he had an unforgettable experience that charted his future path.

After much coaxing, his nurse allowed him to explore the woods by himself. He continues:

No explorer of space probing the secrets of other planets could have felt more exultation that I did at that moment.

Soon I was completely isolated in the luxuriant, tangled growth of ferns which were well above my head. In my infant mind I seemed to have entered a fairyland of my dreams.  

I wandered on as in a dream, all sense of time and space lost. I became intoxicated with the beauty all around me, immersed in the joyousness and exultation of feeling part of it all.

I had entered the temple of the wood. I sank to the ground in a state of ecstasy; everything was intensely vivid – the call of a distant cuckoo seemed just for me. The overpowering beauty of it all entered my very being.

At that moment my heart brimmed over with a sense of unspeakable thankfulness which has followed me through the years since that woodland re-birth. 

I was in love with life: I was indeed born again, although I could not have explained what had happened to me then. 

Richard was a changed person. Returning from his walk in the woods, he found the commonplace things in life had a new beauty.

The bread he ate tasted crustier and more delicious. The grumpy old gardener looked like a favourite uncle. His parents gave him even more affection than they had done the previous day.

At least, that was how it seemed. Twenty-six years later he translated this passion into his life’s work.

He visited Kenya in 1920. Enlisting the backing of chiefs and elders, he started a programme that led to planting over one million trees. He then co-founded The Men of Trees and was invited to speak around the world.

After helping President Roosevelt to establish the Civil Conservation Corp, he instigated the Save The Redwoods campaign in California. He also started the Green Front action group, returning to Africa to develop re-forestation work in the Sahara. During his life Richard is believed to have personally planted many millions of trees.

He focused on a crystal clear vision. He wanted to save the Californian Redwoods. After crossing America and seeing the trees for the first time in 1931, he wrote:

It was here that I came upon superb trees representing the supreme achievement of tree growth in the world today. Here it seemed that my search for the beautiful had ended.  

This, I decided must be known as the ‘Grove of Understanding’. It was here that I visualised international plays and youth gatherings. What better setting could there be in which to plan the better world of tomorrow?

Richard then set three goals that he worked towards during the rest of his life. These were the following.

To save the trees for posterity.  

To provide a magnificent backdrop where young people could meet and marvel at the beauty of the Redwoods and the planet.  

To inspire young people to work together to hand over this legacy to future generations.

Here is the first part of an interview with Richard. This was filmed in 1981.

Some people, like Richard, have a grand vision. Many people, however, set shorter-term goals. They then translate these into a clear picture of success.

Imagine that you have begun to develop a sense of purpose and the principles you want to follow. It can be useful to look ahead and translate these into specific goals.

You may want to keep building a loving family, help students to take charge of shaping their futures or enable people to find satisfying careers. You may want to write a book, make films, build a pioneering company or deliver a stimulating project.

Looking ahead, what are the real results you want to achieve? What will be the benefits – both for yourself and other people?

Describe your purpose – the specific thing you really want to do.

Describe the specific results you want to achieve by pursuing your purpose and following your chosen principles.

Describe the specific benefits of achieving these results.

Super Teams Often Pursue
Their Purpose, Principles
And Picture Of Success

Great teams also focus on their aims. There are many models for building such teams and the following section looks at one approach.

Super teams create a positive environment in which motivated people can achieve peak performance. They believe that people work best if they have context and can see the big picture. Bearing this in mind, they make sure that everybody understands the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

Such teams then give people the chance to reflect and decide if they want to contribute. If so, they encourage people to build on their strengths and clarify their best contributions.

Super teams are made up of people who choose to have a positive attitude and be professional. They also want to perform superb work and do their best to help the team to succeed.

Such teams make clear contracts with people about the results they will deliver towards achieving the goals. They also give people the support they need to deliver the goods.

Super teams then manage by outcomes rather than by tasks. They encourage people to co-ordinate their strengths, perform superb work and find solutions to challenges. People then do whatever is required to achieve the picture of success.

Imagine that you lead a team. The following sections provide a framework that you can use to clarify and communicate the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success. People can then make clear contracts about their best contributions towards achieving the goals.

This is an approach that I have used hundreds of times with teams in organisations. There we have used the framework of focusing on the 3 Ps – Profits, Products and People. But you may use another framework for clarifying your team’s aims.

As mentioned earlier, there are many ways to live life. Some people choose to have a positive attitude. They then focus on their purpose, principles and picture of success.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to take this approach? You may want to do this when encouraging a person, managing a transition, tackling a challenge or doing another project.

Looking at the situation, what can you do then to have a positive attitude? How can you clarify the purpose – the specific thing you really want to do? How can you follow your chosen principles? How can you do your best to achieve your picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to pursue a specific purpose, follow your principles and work to achieve a picture of success. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to take these steps.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

S is for The Strengths Approach To Focusing On People’s Strengths, Successful Style And Success

There are many ways to help people. The strengths approach provides practical tools they can use to build on their strengths and follow their successful style to achieve success.

This is an approach that I have drawn upon since the early 1970s. At the time I was running programmes that helped people to build on their strengths and do satisfying work. Since then I have used it with many individuals, teams and organisations.

The starting point is always to clarify their picture of success. Different people will, of course, have different definitions of success.

Some people may simply aim to be happy. Some may aim to do satisfying work that pays a salary. Some may aim to achieve peak performance. Some may aim to encourage other people.

Some may aim to build a super team that pursues a clear story, strategy and road to success. Some may aim to build a pioneering business that becomes a pacesetter in its chosen field. Some may aim to build a superb organisation that continues to develop its profits, products and people.

Some may aim to regain a sense of control, overcome setbacks and refocus on their life goals. Some may aim to find creative solutions to challenges. Some may aim to leave a positive legacy.

Clarity is crucial. At the start of a session it can be useful to set the scene by clarifying the topics that an individual, for example, wants to explore. One approach is to say some of the following things. You will, of course, do this in your own way.

Imagine that a person has clarified their goals. One approach is to go straight into exploring strategies they can follow to achieve their aims. Another approach is to focus on how they can build on their strengths and follow their successful style to achieve success.

Here are some of the themes I cover when helping individuals to take these steps. These can be adapted when working with teams and organisations. You will, of course, have your own approach to helping people to achieve their goals.

Below is one example of how the strengths approach translates into action. There are, of course, many other types of scenarios and ways that can be used to take these steps.

Building On Strengths
To Deliver Success

Dave and I met three months after he had joined a company. He had been hired for his positive energy, business savvy and track record of delivering success.

During our session Dave outlined some of the challenges he faced when aiming to bring about change in the company. Here are some of the things he said.

The company needs to change quickly, but I am having difficulty in persuading people to accept this fact. People keep reverting to their old ways of doing things. This is not helped by the reality that:

a) We must, for a while, maintain the old way of doing business;

b) We must also develop the new way.

My Board agree we must change, but sometimes they give mixed messages. People at senior levels keep interfering.  

Some directors fly underneath my radar and go straight to my people. They put forward their individual demands and instruct people how to make the old system work better. Managing these interventions can be exhausting. 

Certainly we must maintain the present system for a while. This will manage the decline of older products that still appeal to some customers.

But hungry competitors are targeting our key markets, so we must develop the new ways of doing business. This is now a matter of urgency.

I spend my time trying to balance both the old and new approaches. But this is not delivering what is required to build a successful future. Have you any suggestions?

The Specific Challenge

Dave gave some more background about the situation. Three months previously the Board had asked him to lead a key part of the business.

The aim was to change the way the company sold to customers and provided on-going service. But there were several complicating factors.

First, the present way of doing business had to be maintained and made more efficient in the medium term. This was necessary to maintain cash flow and customers.

Second, the present employees had an entrenched way of working. This might be difficult to change.

Dave wanted to create the new business, but most of his time was spent firefighting. He described what he saw as the main challenges. These were:

How can I make sure the present model is run properly, but not get caught up in the daily problems? 

How can I get people to change and adopt the new way of doing business?

How can I get some of the Board members to stop interfering? 

How can I get the freedom and resources required to implement the change? 

How can I enjoy the job, rather than it feeling like it’s an uphill battle?

Clarifying Strengths
And Successful Style

Before going further I invited Dave to revisit his strengths. Looking back at the times when he had done satisfying work, we soon found his successful style. Dave often worked best when he was able:

To focus on something he felt passionately about and translate this into a specific project;

To do pioneering work that made the new rules for the game and showed people a better way;

To build on his strengths as a leader but also work with a good co-ordinator – often a strong matriarch – who could translate the ideas into action;

To build successful prototypes that produced better results or profits; 

To coach others to take over running the proven model and for him to move on to the next stimulating project.

How could Dave use these strengths to tackle the challenge? What other skills would he need to add? What were the key strategies he could follow to achieve success?

Before answering these questions, we needed to revisit the goals to achieve. This meant taking the next step. 

Clarifying The
Picture Of Success

Looking at Dave’s situation, it was easy to get caught in the company’s internal machinations. It was also tempting to focus on the wrong target.

People who are charged with shifting a culture, for example, often believe it is important to persuade employees to change, but is not the aim.

The real aim is to build a successful and sustainable business. There are many ways to achieve this picture of success.

Bearing this in mind, Dave and I began to clarify his goals. He listed these in order go priority.

The real results I want to achieve are:

To deliver a new business model that enables the company to achieve future success;

To ensure the existing business model is run effectively and enables its present customers to achieve success; 

To enjoy my work and get a feeling of success.

These were good starting points, but we needed to be more specific. Bearing this in mind, I invited Dave to look 9 months into future towards the end of the financial year. What would be happening then that would show he had reached the goals? Here are some of the things that would be delivered. 

The Picture of Success By
The End Of The Financial Year 

The new business model will be successful. Thirty customers will have signed up for the new approach and this will be helping them to achieve their goals.  

The new business will have produced five customer success stories that have been published in the Trade Press. The new approach will be on course to make more profit than the older model. 

The new business will have a different culture. People will be energetic, self-managing and spend 80%+ of their time focusing on customers.  

Meetings will revolve around customer issues and how we can help them to succeed. The office will have been designed in a way that gives people freedom and flexibility. People will enjoy coming to work each day. 

The older model will retain some customers, but we will be migrating these to the new approach. Ten percent of our employees will remain in the older part of the business.  

Looking to the future, some of these people will have new roles in our company, but others will move on. We will be helping them to make this transition. 

The Board will be happy with the profits and success stories. They will have signed-off the budget to expand the new business.  

I will have built a good leadership team in the department, including my potential successor. This will provides the platform for me eventually moving on to the next challenge.

The Potential Strategies

Looking at these goals, Dave and I began exploring the possible ways forwards. Some options could be ruled out straight away, but it was good to get them on the table. The routes were as follows.

a) To continue with the present work style of spending lots of time managing the old business, whilst also trying to build the new business.

The pluses would be:

It was hard to see any, except perhaps the old business getting lots of attention.

The minuses would be:

The new business being neglected, which would have negative consequences for the company. He would continue feel frustrated and probably fail to deliver the goods.

Attractiveness rating: 2/10

b) To re-contract with the Board about the goals, get the required backing and do our best to deliver success.

The pluses would be:

The new model would be delivered and help to build a successful future. There would be increased enthusiasm and energy from everybody involved in developing the new business. There would be increased customer satisfaction and profitability.

The minuses would be:

This would require the proper backing and resources. The company needed to invest money, so the Board might refuse and tell Dave: “You have to be more efficient.” Dave would be left with sorting out how to manage both the old and new businesses.

Attractiveness rating: 7/10

c) To get the required backing from the Board and also get a business manager to run the old business, which would release me to concentrate on building the new business. 

The pluses would be:

The new business would definitely be delivered. This would produce increased customer satisfaction and profitability. It would also provide a template for the future business.

The older business – and the employees within it – would get the required time and attention. Dave and other people would be able to focus their energies on the respective parts of the business.

The minuses would be:

The company would have to invest in hiring such a manager or move a key person from elsewhere in the business. This could have knock-on effects, but these could be anticipated and minimised.

Attractiveness rating: 9/10

Dave was obviously attracted to the third option. This approach would also help him to build on his strengths and successful style. Bearing this in mind, we focused on one approach that has often worked when creating a different culture.

Shifting A Culture By Building A
New House That Shows A New Way

Dave had been given the brief to rebuild parts of a struggling organisation. There were many ways to make this happen. Sometimes the different approaches can be likened to building a house.

Some people renovate an old house. Some build a new house that is connected to an old house. It is vital for a person to choose a route that matches their strengths. So let’s explore these ways of trying to deliver success.

Renovating an old house

Revitalising an existing house – or a team or organisation – can be challenging. Changing a system often meets resistance. Systems tend to revert to their old way of doing things.

It is possible to regenerate a system, such as a team or organisation. But it is necessary to implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. This calls for making many tough decisions along the way.

Even if the house is renovated, there can be a personal price to pay. Too much time may be spent trying to persuade people rather than delivering the required results. This means the whole process can become exhausting.

Building a new house that is
connected to an old house

This is an approach used by many people who want to help an organisation to develop. They may aim to introduce a new way of doing business, delivering customer service or whatever.

They build a new house – a new way of doing things – that has a long connecting corridor to the existing organisation. The new method may differ radically from the previous approach, so they need distance from the old house.

The new approach may also a different culture with different people. There is no point in continually rushing back along the corridor, for example, to get permission for every decision.

The old system may react badly and try to crush the new approach. It is important to have the autonomy to deliver success.

Clear contracting is vital. So before signing up for the project, for example, a person may take the following steps to lay the foundations for success.

They make clear contracts with their employers about the ‘What’. They agree on the picture of success.

They make sure their employers understand and want to achieve the ‘Why’. They clarify and agree on the benefits of achieving the picture of success.  

They make clear contracts with their employers about the ‘How’. They agree on the key principles they will follow to achieve the picture of success.  

They have freedom to follow these principles their own way, providing they deliver the goods. They do not have bosses who interfere and micro manage every move.

They make clear contracts with their employers about the ‘When’. They agree on the specific date for achieving the picture of success.

Success provides its own arguments. So it is vital that the person then gets on with the work, builds the new house and delivers success.

This is often the most effective way of shaping the future. Once the new way is established, the existing house – the old way of doing things – is sometimes demolished.

Dave liked this approach. He was attracted to building a new house – a new way of doing business – with a long connecting corridor to the main business. But there was a challenge. He explained this in the following way.

At the moment I spend my life rushing up and down the corridor. This is exhausting. It also means neither job gets done properly.

Looking ahead, I need to have a business manager who manages the old business and makes sure it keeps working. This would enable me to develop the new model and make it profitable.  

I will also need to hire a good co-ordinator who helps me to translate the new approach into action. The person I would like to hire is Kate, who has worked with me many times before. She knows how to get things done and also knows how to manage me.

This is the most attractive route. It would stand an 8+/10 chance of success. 

Delivering Success

Dave settled on his action plan, which included re-contracting with the Board. Certainly he could deliver success, but he required backing.

It was, of course, up to the Board to decide the best way forward. If they did not back his chosen option, then he would have another decision to take.

Dave spent time crafting his script for the presentation. He aimed to be positive and show the possible ways forward. He also aimed to emphasise the benefits of achieving the picture of success. This was necessary in order to get commitment from the Board.

People often need to cross an emotional line before they buy something. They need to see, feel and, if possible, experience the benefits. They are then more ready to pay the price required to achieve success.

Some people, of course, may never cross that line. This may be because they get more rewards by retaining the status quo.

Dave needed to be careful in his presentation. He could be positive, professional but, paradoxically, not try to persuade. He could simply set out the strategic options for going forward.

Bearing this in mind, he aimed to cover the following themes when presenting to the Board.

To revisit the previously agreed goal – building the new business – and emphasise the benefits of achieving this picture of success;

To outline the options for going forward – together with the pluses and minuses of each option – and also invite their suggestions regarding any other possible options;

To, if appropriate, state his preferred option – the strategy most likely to achieve the goal – and the tangible results he would deliver on the road to achieving success; 

To describe the resources that would be required to guarantee the greatest chance of success;

To reassure the Board that, given their backing, he would proactively keep them informed, produce early wins and ensure the new business delivered success.

What would be the reaction? Providing he made a good business case, Dave believed the Board would probably back his preferred option. But he needed a back-up plan.

What if the Board chose another option, such as telling him to continue balancing the jobs? He would be totally professional and reassure them he would do his best.

Whilst continuing to do good work, he would buy time and consider his future. He would explore the best way forward – both for the company and for himself – and then get back to the Board.

He set aside time to practice his presentation, but also began exploring a back-up plan. Dave did not want to leave the company, but he needed an alternative professional way forward. This would boost his confidence when presenting the options for building the new business.

Dave settled on one final part of his action plan. Before making the presentation, he planned to run it past key members of the Board.

He was close to the Managing Director, who had originally asked him to build the new business. Dave would talk with him, outline the possible options and ask for advice. He would have similar chats with other Board members. This included some who had been interfering.

Dave would spend quality time with them, clarify their needs and show how these could be met. He aimed to cultivate the ground properly before making the actual presentation.

Postscript

The presentation went well, much better than Dave expected, and the Board accepted his recommendations. He had follow-up meetings with several individuals, however, just to ensure their concerns were addressed.

Dave then went into action and hired Kate who ensured that things got done. They were able to take the following steps.

To appoint a business manager who ran the old business and kept it working properly; 

To build the new business, produce success stories and show healthy profits; 

To provide a template for how the company could do business in the future; 

To build a leadership team that could take over the new business should he want to move on to another position.

Dave did in fact move on, but within the company. He launched the new approach to running the business in several European countries. Paradoxically, this had a beneficial effect on his home life. He later explained this in the following way.

Interestingly, I spend more time at home in this role than I did when working full time in the UK. Previously I had gone into the office every day, frequently getting home late. 

Launching the European businesses, I spend Monday morning at home or in the London office, before flying out that night. This gives me three solid days working with colleagues and clients in specific countries.

Flying home on Thursday, I often work from home on Friday. This gives me more time with the family.

Dave continues to play a valuable part in helping to shape the company’s future. This involves him building successful prototypes – new houses – that show a better way.

There are many ways to help people to build on their strengths and follow their successful style. They can then aim to do superb work on the way towards achieve their picture of success.

This approach can help people to follow their passions, be professional and achieve peak performance. It can also help teams to build on their strengths, provide great service to customers and achieve ongoing success.

Looking at your own life and work, can you think of a situation where you may want to use some elements of this approach? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to do a stimulating project, do satisfying work or tackle a specific challenge. You may want to encourage people, lead a team or pass on knowledge that can help others to achieve success.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to use elements of the strengths approach either in your own life or to encourage people. 

Describe the specific things you can do to focus on your own or other people’s strengths, successful style and the picture of success.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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