D is for The Development Approach Rather Than The Change Approach

The development approach believes that people already have the seeds of development within them. They already have strengths and successful patterns. They can be helped to build on these – plus sometimes add other skills – to achieve their desired results.

The change approach can imply that people need to change something about themselves. They need to change parts of their personality or learn new patterns. This sounds good, but people can find it difficult to follow these new habits.

This highlights an interesting paradox. The development approach, when done properly, is more likely to result in people producing an outcome that others see as positive change.

The development approach was one I first encountered during the late 1960s. The therapeutic communities I first worked in put the emphasis on people changing their lifestyles. This was effective with young people but proved more difficult with adults.

Bearing this in mind, I began focusing on helping people to build on their strengths and follow their successful patterns. This also included helping them to explore their positive history.

Everybody has a positive history. Everybody has worked to achieve certain goals or tackled challenges successfully. It can therefore be useful to explore the following themes when helping a person to achieve a goal.

Looking back, when have you tackled a similar challenge successfully? What did you do right then? What were the principles you followed? How did you translate these into action? How can you follow these successful principles – plus maybe add other skills – in the future?

Looking ahead, what are the real results you want to achieve? What are the key strategies you can follow to give yourself the greatest chance of success? How can you build on your strengths and follow your successful style? How can you do your best to achieve the picture of success? 

People often respond differently when being asked whether they want to develop or change. One type of question to ask a person is:

Would you like to develop?

Many people say yes, they would like to develop. They see development as a positive thing and want to keep growing – both as people and as professionals. Another type of question to ask a person is:

Would you like to change?

Some people say yes, but others are more hesitant – as if they are being told there is something wrong with them. Even those who say they want to change often find it difficult to maintain new habits.

As mentioned earlier, sometimes the paradox kicks in. By focusing on how they can develop, the outcome may be that a person changes things in their life or work.

Looking back, when have you used elements of this approach to achieve a goal? You may have done this when doing a creative project, managing a transition, leading a team or tackling a challenge.

How did you apply elements of the development approach? How did you build on your strengths or follow your successful style? What else did you do to deliver the desired results?

Describe a specific situation in the past when you used elements of the development approach to deliver the desired results.

Describe the specific things you did then to use elements of the development approach. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

During the 1970s and 80s it became popular to introduce change programmes into organisations. These had mixed results.

Many people were put in rooms and told they had to change. Whilst people often understood this on an intellectual level, they rebelled on an emotional level.

The development approach often proved more effective than telling people to change. People were encouraged to build on their strengths and follow their successful patterns – plus develop other skills – to shape the future.

This approach took many different forms. Here are some of the softer and tougher methods that seemed to work.

Building on when people in
the team perform brilliantly

This is an exercise often used at the start of team workshops. It invites people to find and follow some of their successful principles. People are invited to go through the following steps.

Describe a specific situation in the past when people in the team have performed brilliantly. 

People are invited to describe a specific situation when some or all of the team did fine work. They may have been providing great service, solving a customer problem, launching a product, improving morale in the team, managing a crisis or whatever. 

Describe the specific things that people did right then – the principles they followed and how they translated these into action – to perform brilliantly.

People are invited to describe what they did right then. They may have chosen, for example:

To have played to their strengths – such as by providing thought leadership, giving great customer service, building a successful prototype or doing another activity;  

To have worked with a specific kind of client – such a pacesetting customer who wanted to stay ahead of the game; 

To have agreed with the client about the specific goal – such as by showing the client they understood their aims, making clear contracts and getting the support required to achieve success;

To have put together the right team – such as by putting the right people with the right attitude and skills required to deliver the goods; 

To have done superb work – such as by getting a quick success, keeping all the stakeholders informed about the progress and delivering great service; 

To have helped the client to achieve success – such as by fulfilling the contract, finishing properly and also adding that touch of class.

Different teams highlight different principles they followed to perform brilliantly. They can then focus on the final part of the exercise. 

Describe the specific things that people can do to follow these principles in the future.  

They may, for example, aim to build on their strengths – the specific activities they do best – work with another pacesetting client and focus on how they can help that client to achieve success.

This is an exercise I have used many times in organisations. People often see they have many of the qualities required to deliver success in the future.  Here is the exercise.

Helping People In Teams
To Shape Their Future

People like to feel in control. How to help teams take this step? One approach is to help people to think ahead about shaping their future.

This section describes an exercise that people can use to be proactive and stay ahead of the game. It invites people to do the following things.

Describe the specific things they want to take forward from the past.  

One team I worked with that was moving into a bigger office wrote the following things.

The things we want to take
forwards from the past are:

The friendly atmosphere … The great coffee area … Being able to work wherever we wish – in cubby holes or in communal areas … The leadership team giving regular updates about our progress towards achieving the goals. 

The excellent induction programme … Working from home when appropriate … The work with some of our favourite customers … The team members continuing to live the values … The chance each year to contribute to setting our targets. 

Different teams describe different things when doing this part of the exercise. They then move on to the next part. 

Describe the specific things they can add, develop or do differently to shape a successful future.  

The team mentioned above wrote the following things.

The things we can add, develop or do
differently to shape a successful future are:

We can get more of the kinds of customers with whom we work best … We can be better at casting when putting together teams to work with certain clients … We can pass on our knowledge to local incubators and mentor young entrepreneurs … We can be better at managing upwards – especially managing our bosses in the USA. 

We can make sure meetings have a clear purpose … We can ensure there is a mission holder for carrying out agreed actions … … We can work alongside our customers to develop new products … We can produce more success stories that show how we have helped customers to achieve success.

The team then moved on to the final part of the exercise. This involved creating their action plan by focusing on the following theme.

Describe the specific things they can do to build on the best of the past and also take steps to shape a successful future.

The team created its action plan. They also appointed mission holders who would be responsible for ensuring each part of the plan was delivered. Here is the complete exercise.

Great organisations
continue to develop

Many organisations want to shape a successful future. How to make this happen? We know that change programmes bring mixed results. They can also produce change fatigue with people saying:

Not another change programme.

Bearing this in mind, what works? Great organisations keep developing. Different workplaces do this in different ways, but here are some of the themes they may pursue.

Great organisations build on their positive core. They focus on their strengths and what makes them special. They then translate this into a clear purpose, principles and picture of success. Such organisations communicate these to their people.

They describe the organisation’s positive core – its strengths and how it has followed successful principles in the past – and bring this to life by giving concrete examples of people delivering success.

They show how the organisation can build on these strengths and follow these principles – plus add other elements – to do superb work and achieve future success. 

They make sure that everybody knows the organisation’s purpose, the principles people can follow – together with the reasons for following these principles – and the picture of success.

They give people the chance to reflect and decide if they want to contribute towards achieving the goals. If so, they invite people to build on their strengths and make clear contracts about their contributions. They also give people the support they need to work toward achieving the picture of success.

Great organisations manage by outcomes rather than by task. They co-ordinate people’s strengths and enable them to do superb work. People keep encouraging each other, find solutions to challenges and do their best to deliver the picture of success.

There are many ways to help organisations to develop in this way. One of the most effective is Appreciative Inquiry. This helps organisations to build on their positive core and achieve ongoing success. You can discover more about this approach via the following link.

Appreciative Inquiry

Building on the positive
energy in the organisation

Great organisations build on the positive energy in the organisation. They believe it is important to be moral and give everybody the big picture. People can then decide if they want to opt in and help to make it happen.

Imagine that you lead an organisation and you have communicated the purpose, principles and picture of success. Looking around, it has become apparent that people are choosing either:

To be positive – yet also realistic – and do their best to achieve the goals;

To be positive some of the time whilst neutral or guarded at other times;

To be negative.

How do you want to work with the different kinds of people? In the old days organisations often concentrated on turning-around the negative people. But that did not work. Let’s explore how you can work with the different kinds of people.

The Positive People

Great organisations believe it is important to reward they behaviour they want repeated. Bearing this in mind, it can useful build on the people who are positive and professional

Such people  are the engine but they also need support. They frequently volunteer for tasks and do fine work but they can also get exhausted. You can encourage them:

To build on their strengths and make clear contracts about their best contributions to the organisation;

To provide them with the support they need and enable them to perform superb work; 

To produce success stories that show when they or their colleagues have followed the principles and delivered success.  

Such people can act as good models for others. It is vital to encourage them, however, rather than take them for granted. They will then continue to bring their positive energy to the organisation.

The Positive-Neutral People

Some people may swing between being positive and neutral. There can be many reasons for their behaviour. Whatever their reasons for being hesitant, however, they need to decide whether or not they want to make a professional contribution.

Each person must make their own decisions, but there are many things you can do to provide an encouraging environment. This can increase the chances of them choosing to give their best. It can be useful to spend time with these people to ensure that:

They know the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success;

They are given a sense of ownership in implementing their part of the strategy;

They are given the support they need to do their job and deliver success.  

Different leaders do this in different ways. One leader who took over the European arm of a multi-national company invested time in meeting all their people. He explained this approach in the following way.

I toured every country in the European region and did 2 hour sessions in which I literally met every person.

Meeting groups of around 20 people, I talked about last year’s achievements, before outlining the goals for the next year. I used a flip chart and a few slides, but the tone was mainly conversational.

Looking at the challenges ahead, I invited people to ask their questions and answered these as honestly as possible. 

Finally, I reiterated the organisation’s strategy and outlined what we could all do to get some quick successes. People seemed to appreciate the sessions.

Sounds hard work? Perhaps, but it can be harder if leaders do not connect with people. Given the right kind of support, they will do superb work and go that extra mile.

The Negative People

What to do about the people who still remain negative? That is their choice, but there are consequences. They need to make a decision. Do they want to be part of the organisation or not?

You can again describe the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success. Be positive but clear. Give people the opportunity to consider whether they want to opt in and make a positive contribution.

Great organisations explain the professional deal to people. This describes the organisation’s responsibilities and the individual’s responsibilities in working towards achieving the goals. Here is one example of such a deal.

Such organisations build on the people who choose to behave in a professional way. If a person chooses not to do so – or says they will be but then does not – they are choosing to move on. The organisation replaces them with people who are prepared to be professional.

Doing superb work and building successful
prototypes that help to shape future success

Great organisations encourage their people to follow the principles and maintain high professional standards. They enable them to perform superb work and deliver present day success.

They also keep developing the culture and laying the foundations for the future. One approach is to build successful prototypes that will help to achieve the future picture of success.

Different organisations choose different ways to take this step. One method is to use the three waves approach. Here is an overview of the approach.

Imagine you are a leader. You have been given the authority to do whatever is necessary to develop the organisation’s culture. Some leaders invite the employees to change, but this seldom works.

Another approach is to build successful prototypes that embody the desired culture. You then invite people to choose whether or not they want to be part of this future. Let’s explore this three waves approach.

The First Wave: Building
successful prototypes

You can start by clarifying your picture of success. Start from your destination – perhaps 18 months in the future. Describe what you want to see happening at that date.

Working backwards, describe the things that must be achieved by the end of each quarter and work back to the present day. That is your road map towards achieving the picture of success. Then move onto the next stage.

Looking around the organisation, identify where you can build prototypes that will embody the future culture. These must stand at least a 7+/10 chance of success. If you are running an organisation that covers a continent, for example, identify the country leaders who will support the approach.

Explain to everybody in the organisation that you are building the future business. You would like volunteers who want to act as models. But make sure you have already earmarked three such places. Others may want to join, but make sure these are prepared to work hard to succeed.

Do everything possible to help people to build the successful prototypes. Get people to share the success stories at an organisational event. Then go onto the next stage. 

The Second Wave: Working with volunteers
who follow the principles and deliver success

People have shared success stories that show that the approach works. So now ask for other volunteers to model the desired culture. There are certain Dos and Don’ts during this crucial stage. 


Do be certain you have the right leaders in place in each of the next wave of models. 

Do work with them on clarifying their picture of success. 

Do make sure they follow the principles embodied in the new way of doing business – rather than simply modify their present ways.  

Do encourage them to work through the potential tough decisions. 

Do provide the support they need to do the job and encourage them to get some early wins. 

Do help them to do whatever is required to achieve success.


Don’t back leaders who say the right words but don’t translate these into action.

Don’t be half-hearted – people need to be serious about making things happen.

Deadlines focus the mind. Give people a deadline for presenting their success stories at another organisational event in, for example, 6 months.

At the same time, encourage the first wave of prototypes to move onto a higher level. They can also present their new successes at the next organisational event.

The Third Wave: Making the successful principles
mandatory and building the desired culture

The first and second waves of prototypes present their success stories. You then give people clear messages about the behaviours that are necessary for the future culture, but the future is now. The message you are giving in the third wave is that:

The principles are now mandatory

People can choose whether or not they want to opt-into the new way of working. They are to communicate with you – or their manager – within a month to show how they would like to contribute to the organisation’s goals. You will also provide them with the support they need to achieve ongoing success.

If they do not want to take this route, then it may simply be a matter of fit. The organisation will do its best to find a good way for them to move-on.

Sounds tough? Perhaps – but not tackling this issue is even tougher. The future is beckoning, however, so you present the organisation’s new picture of success. People realise that you are announcing the next first wave. They can be part of shaping the future.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to use elements of the development approach? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to do this when encouraging a person, doing a creative project or leading a team. You may want to do so when managing a transition, dealing with a crisis or tackling a challenge.

How can you build on your inner strengths? How can you translate these into action? What else can you do to deliver the desired results?

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to use elements of the development approach to deliver the desired results. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to use elements of the development approach.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>