Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Focus on the Negative

A client recently asked me about my Breaking Barriers brand and related programs that, in his words, "focus on the negative." After learning about several strength-based management strategies, including techniques like Appreciative Inquiry, he was right to recognize the frame of barriers. I appreciated his question and here’s how I responded and ultimately why I think it matters:

The reason for the focus on barriers is because they offer the most efficient path toward constructive improvement. This is based upon an inherent assumption that identifying and potentially reducing barriers may directly or indirectly improve the probability of successful workplace learning and performance. The primary foundation of this assumption comes from Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis. In Force Field
Analysis, one can either: 1) reduce the strength of the forces opposing a desired change (e.g. barriers); or 2) increase the enhancing forces that drive change so that both opposing forces are brought into balance. In other words, it is believed that for an individual, team or organization that wishes to improve upon learning and performance, the successful identification and reduction of barriers is a key factor that enables movement toward the desired change to take effect.

Perhaps what is most powerful about the focus on transforming barriers is that it works in both of these directions simultaneously. While a concerted effort is made to reduce the strength of the barrier (opposing force), the capacity to build learning and performance capacity is also enhanced.

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