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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Do you set goals or ask questions?

In the past week or so, I have had the benefit of some good quality ideas and challenges to my thinking, which I want to share with you. 

At The Open Channel we take a positive approach to the work we do with individuals and organisations, building on their strengths, so recent workshops by Action for Happiness and Quakers and Business have chimed well with our style.

I'm going to start in reverse chronological order with a workshop given by Vanessa King of Action for Happiness on the Great Dream - Ten Keys to Happier Living. I don't know how many of you will have come across this, but I recommend you have a look.

You'll find that the Great Dream is a mnemonic for the Ten Keys which are:

Giving Relating Exercising Appreciating Trying Out
Direction Resilience Emotion Acceptance Meaning

There isn't anything new in each of the words, but putting them together and looking at ourselves in the round can be very powerful. The first five keys are actions which we do externally to others, and which reward us with satisfaction and progress inwardly. The second five are things we do inwardly which have the potential for positive impact on others.

A couple of simple examples:

Giving - there is a well known business epithet 'Givers Gain' which is based on the experiential view that if you give a business lead or referral you're more likely to get one back. The key of 'Giving' in Action for Happiness' scheme is based on the belief that other people matter, and is underpinned by psychological research (which you don't have to believe if you don't want to) that giving lights up reward centres in our brain. This is parallelled in other business focused research on the success of Givers, Matchers (who only give in relation to what they get) and Takers which seems to demonstrate that Givers are the most successful group. 

So, giving may be good for our well-being and good for business. And the giving doesn't have to be massive - a small kindness or just being pleasant tends to have at least three degrees of separation. If you're nice to your partner in the morning, and they are smiling when they buy a paper, the news vendor is more likely to give a smile to the next customer. Other research suggests that five small acts of kindness in one day can have a positive impact which lasts up to eight weeks.

Direction - this is about having goals to look forward to. Action for Happiness says this is how happiness happens, through the power of small wins and the sense of progress which goals produce. I like this approach, it is of human scale.

Sometimes we can get caught up in developing long term strategies with lofty goals that are ambitious but probably never achievable. There is no doubt that these kind of goals can inspire and energise people, but probably only for a short time. They need to be broken down into steps and personal goals which people can recognise as something they can personally achieve within a visible time line.

I have a goal to write a novel (I might as well say to climb a mountain, its seems as daunting). But I can make steps toward this goal. I can practise writing in my comfort zone by producing another poem or two. I could send these to a competition or to magazines or put them on my writing blog to see if anybody has any feedback for me. I could try writing some prose, I could aim for 2000 words a week. With these smaller steps I can build up confidence and practise my skills.

Within organisations, goals are often articulated at both the visionary and practical levels and people need to feel a sense of progress by identifying with the part of the goal or steps that they can achieve. Appreciative Inquiry is a technique which involves people in producing a vision of the future together and designing the steps which need to be taken to deliver the vision. This co-production of goals works at a strategic level, but also at the personal level, for instance in setting goals with individuals making progress on a care path or towards a health improvement. At The Open Channel we have experience of using these techniques in a range of contexts. We are also experts at using Action Learning and Coaching techniques to help teams and individuals to find ways to overcome the barriers which make their goals difficult to achieve.

So yes, I am sold on goals both personally and for organisations, but I am conscious of the risks. I have plenty of personal and professional goals which I have not achieved and it is important to be aware of the negative impact that failure can have on people and organisations.

Which brings me to my second recent experience of hearing wise words from people who know things. Last weekend I went to a Quaker and Business Coaching Skills workshop where people from the excellent Sheffield Hallam University (I declare my interest I am a governor there and was trained in coaching by SHU) led an interactive morning where we learned and practised simple coaching skills. We were a mixed bunch of practising coaches and people who wanted to learn about coaching and how to use it at work or in a group they belonged to. We used the GROW model and the Three Stage Process as models to play with, but the general value was in learning how to use open questions powerfully. 

In the afternoon, we had the privilege of a discussion led by David Megginson, Emeritus Professor and world-renowned coach. His use of poems and quotations to illustrate his points was delightful, but it was his insight into the use of goals which has stayed with me. David and his colleagues are publishing a new book on goals in the autumn, so look out for it. 

For now, consider this. What would happen if, instead of setting yourself a goal, you didn't, but asked yourself the question, will I do that? It might be writing a novel, climbing a mountain, or in David Megginson's case a more simple and immediate goal of taking a run on a Saturday morning. What is the effect of changing I will go for a run, into Will I go for a run?

Well, it gives you the choice, to say no, I won't, I'll choose to stay at home and read the papers or do the garden or get the shopping done. And it means you cannot fail. If you make a choice not to do something, that's as positive as a choice to do something else. You don't fail if you have a choice. So you don't  have to burden yourself with a sense of something not done, a lack of achievement.

Is it worth a try? Shouldn't a goal always be a matter of choice anyway? Try framing your goals as questions, as choices and let me know how you get on.

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