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Ward and Sandidge: Scaling can put problems in focus

One of our favorite methodologies for helping people through seemingly impossible situations is the Solutions Focus. The Solutions Focus is a series of questions that help people move quickly from problem to solutions.

Its history dates back to the early 1980s when a group of psychologists in Milwaukee integrated several brief therapy approaches and discovered a method that worked both more quickly and more thoroughly than the therapies they learned in graduate school. Steve deShazer and his wife, Insoo Kim Berg, founders of the Milwaukee group, decided to teach their approach to other therapists at conferences and seminars around the country. They also published several books detailing their process.

As more and more practitioners picked up Solution-Focused therapy, several noticed how well it could be adapted to organizational development work, the heart of which involves learning how people work together when they’re accomplishing their best work.

One of the best-known elements of Solutions Focus is the technique of scaling. A deceptively simple practice, scaling takes advantage of our brain’s ability to quantify what would typically seem like psychological states that are difficult to measure, for example: subjective feelings, degrees of comfort or pain, how close or far we feel from our ideal selves.

We frequently use scaling when a problem feels intractable because it can quickly offer a sense of forward movement.

Here’s an example where scaling, all by itself, helped solve a long-standing problem. A colleague consulted us about a challenging employee. Our friend was at wit’s end after months of trying to get her sales associate to follow up on sales calls our colleague made.

When our friend attended trade shows, she would return with several promising leads. Often, she would make the initial sales call herself because she had already met the buyer, knew something about their situation and why they were interested in the product. Then she would hand over the lead to her sales associate for follow-up. When we met with her, she knew she was losing thousands in potential business because of languishing leads. 

We asked her, “On a scale of zero to 10, where 10 is your ideal finely-tuned sales machine and zero is no sales follow up whatsoever, where are you now?”

She thought for a minute. “It’s really bad at this point. I’d say we’re about three.”

That made us curious. “You say you’re at a three now. What has helped you get that far? What has kept you from being lower on the scale?” She thought a bit longer, and then said that she could think of two types of sales situations where her sales associate had picked up the ball and made significant progress.

First, he had several accounts where he had made the initial contact himself, either at a trade show or through his own research. The second type of situation hadn’t even occurred to her until she thought through her answer. She realized that there were accounts he took on even when she had initiated the leads. With those, she had introduced him to the potential customers, either in person or on the phone. Afterward, the associate took over, frequently with excellent results.

That one realization gave our colleague something to work with. She decided that, on returning from her next trade show, leads in hand, she would invite her associate into the next conversation she had with her important prospective customers.

After a few months, she called to let us know that her sales associate’s newfound sense of ownership had turned the business around. She laughed and said that her associate came to her recently thanking her for trusting him with her best contacts.

• Anne Ward and Bob Sandidge, of CreativeCore Media in Algonquin, are marketing, communication, management and training consultants. Reach them at annebob@CreativeCore.com or visit www.nlpeople.com.

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