Alex Chiri's Blog

Solutions focus in personal development

Performance what?

Permalink to “Performance what?”

I am not a big fan of the so-called “performance review” or “personal development” or whatever-name-they-have meetings. I think the idea is good in principle, but I don’t like that many companies make them mandatory. If they are for the employees, then let it be their choice if they have them or not.

And second, many companies come with all kind of forms that need to be filled in during these meetings and submitted in random internal platforms with a horrible user experience. It’s good to suggest a format, but again give the possibility to the employee to shape the it, or refuse it altogether.

Focus on the positive

Permalink to “Focus on the positive”

Rant about performance review meetings finished, one format that I liked to suggest (when I used to have these meetings with people reporting to me) is one inspired by “The Solutions Focus” approach to driving positive change. This is something I learned about from Paul Z. Jackson and Mark McKergow’s great book “The Solutions Focus: Making Coaching & Change SIMPLE”.

I find that it is constructive to focus on the positive and where we want to get rather than dwelling on what is wrong now or was in the past. Especially in this kind of discussions.

The format I came up based on “The Solutions Focus” is simple and has 3 steps:

  1. The miracle question.
  2. Rate the present.
  3. Step up the game

This format would be used during the meetings between the employee and a trusted facilitator, between the coached and the coach. The facilitator could be the direct manager, but it is not necessary. A manager could directly help in the last step by providing access to resources needed in the development of the employee, but if the facilitator is not the person’s manager, help can be requested from the manager later on, if required. The focus is on “trusted” in order to provide the most value, otherwise it is a waste of time, since the discussion would be superficial and would not have the impact it could have.

First discussion is longer because it is setting the ground, while the follow-ups are building upon it. Here’s what each component is about:

1. The miracle question

Permalink to “1. The miracle question”

It is easy to get stuck in what is not working or the negative. It’s good to acknowledge these and move on quickly to the positive. Or even better, to the ideal.

A great way to do that is for the facilitator to ask “the miracle question”. It goes somewhat like this: “What if a miracle happens while you are sleeping during the night and the next day all your problems are gone? What would be the first things you would notice? How could you tell the miracle has happened?”

The purpose of this question(s) is to step away from the current things that hold one back and focus on the perfect future. I took it further here and framed it that this perfect future can even be in a different company or field. Many people keep a job that they don’t like, while dreaming at becoming someone else in their free time. I find that there are always synergies between these personas and there can be things that could get the person further on both sides, even while doing a job they don’t like that much. Either way, it helps to have an honest conversation and you cannot do that without discussing the coached’s deepest ambitions.

It is easy here to describe the perfect future in terms of what it isn’t wanted. This would turn again towards the problems, which is not constructive to focus on. The facilitator should try to steer the discussion towards what it IS wanted from the perfect future. In as many details as possible. The more details, the easier is for the coached to visualize it and find ways to materialize it.

2. Rate the present

Permalink to “2. Rate the present”

This step’s goal is to acknowledge that it is not all bad right now and try to identify the good things.

The facilitator asks the coached to give a rating between 0 and 10 of the current state, where 10 is the perfect future described in the first step. Most people would give a rating somewhat close to the middle, I doubt anyone would say 0. If they do, they aren’t thinking deep enough, in most cases.

Let’s say the coached rates the present to be a 6. Next step is for the facilitator to say: “I see you didn’t say 0, so there are things that you are currently doing towards your ideal future. What are those?”The result is a list of things we want to encourage the coached to do more of, but about that, in the next step.

3. Step up the game

Permalink to “3. Step up the game”

To move things further, the final step is identifying what things the coached can start doing now to get them closer to their ideal. And sometimes it is overwhelming to focus directly on the final state, because the difference could be considerable. Which is why the facilitator frames it like this: “You mentioned that the present is a 6, what could you do to make it a 7 or a 8?” This makes the coached to try to imagine intermediary steps and goals, steps and goals that are more achievable on a short or medium term. The result is a list of actionable items.

One thing to note here is that although the question is focused on the coached, they don’t have to achieve everything on their own. They can ask for help from a colleague, manager, friend, or whomever.

Second, this is where the list made at the previous step comes in handy. That list is filled with things that they are already doing and could potentially help the person achieve their goals. It is not mandatory to use those, but I would be surprised if that list is not useful at this stage.

Finally, the coach and coached agree for a follow-up meeting.


Permalink to “Follow-up”

The follow-up meetings have the same structure, but there will be less time spent on each step. It is highly unlikely the perfect future to change radically in a few months. If it does, follow it through. Rating the present will give an indication if progress has been made. And stepping up the game will give the opportunity to review the previous action points and decide for the next ones.

Side notes

Permalink to “Side notes”

It is ok for people to not have anything to improve. They can be in situations that doesn’t give them much mental power or energy to take things further. That is perfectly fine. There is a tendency to push for these actionable items at the end no matter what. That will not achieve anything. Which is why it is important for the coached to be in the driver’s seat. If they are in a position where they want and can take things further, then they can setup a meeting with a facilitator.

I found many of these discussions energizing and the format simple enough, which maximize the impact of these kind of discussions.