Working with executives
Responding to FAQ with DOQ
May 18, 2022
A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SESSION
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) from our executives have intrigued brilliant conversations as they are often on a quest to “make” positive differences in their life for themselves and others. We respond to many of the quests with a simple navigator called Dialogic Orientation Quadrant (DOQ) and you will be able to apply the tool immediately in your next dialogue.
Video of the session
The pace and urgency of the environments we work in feeds our desire to get to actions quickly, which informs the questions we ask most frequently as leaders. While well-intended and properly structured, many coaching/executive questions tend to focus on actionable next steps to reach a specific goal: “What would you need to do?” “How will you do that?” “What’s next?” Such questions can have leaders rush to action without deepening their understanding of the true goal, what success looks and feels like, why that goal is particularly important, or how the goal aligns with the broader strategy.
Constructing the Purpose
Here’s one excerpt from a coaching conversation with an executive at a local healthcare institution:
Coach: So, what are some areas of your work that you wanted to see some positive changes in?
Client: The Board. They need to stop getting in the way of the change we need to make. (C: mhm) They brought me in to make these changes, and quite frankly, there are so many changes we need to make (C: right), and they are just so slow. They are clinicians and their priority is different. The focus is on research and academic, not the operation of this big beast [meaning the institution]. (C: right, okay.)
And here is the choice point. The client is posing many signposts that we can follow: the Board, getting in the way, change, so slow, priority, focus, operations, the big beast. Where might you go? You can place the signposts of what the client presents contextually and temporarily in one of the four areas:
- Preferred Future
- Resourceful Past
- Regretful/Troubled Past
- Dreaded Future
What are some of the client utterances that we can place in each of the areas above? Based on what we read so far, what did the client say that they wanted?
Here’s where this particular coach went.
Coach: So the Board brought you in?
Client: Yeah, they usually do not hire from outside at this level. But they brought me in; it took eight months to go through all the hoops (C: wow) of the interview process. Yeah, it was intense. And after all that, they… [coach interrupts]
Coach: So, they selected you from outside (Cl: yeah) which is not usual (Cl: right) and it sounds like they were really thoughtful about this choice (Cl: yeah). And knowing that, what do you think they saw in you that gave them this idea that you are the right person for this particular job?
The client goes on to describe what the Board hope(d) to see; how the changes are beyond all of us but more for the next generation; and how the sense of urgency should be translated to the patients and their families, speaking the Board’s language. The client was invited to explore further what all those people (Board members, patients, families, her team(s), the next generation and herself) would notice and appreciate about her contribution.
Spotting the Relevant Progress
In Solution Focused Dialogue used in coaching, we are particularly interested in the progress that is in the direction of what the client says they want. We believe that clients make progress through iteration and discovery, and that dialogic tools like questions, formulations, and other visible and audible acts of meaning-making transform goal-setting and performance conversations.
For example, instead of spending time together with a leader identifying and determining steps to solve the ‘problem’ or reach the purpose, we invite leaders to consider and remember the moments in their life that are already aligning with their preferred direction. Here’s another example from the same excerpt later in the session:
Client: Whenever I show up on the floor, they all expect me to bring another change idea (C: mhm) and they don’t like that (C: huh). They hate change. And I bring that. They associate me with that, and I don’t like that. And…
Coach: So, you don’t like that association (Cl: no), so… what do you want them to associate you with instead?
Client: (pause) I don’t know. (C: mhm) They want stability. (C: okay) And at the same time, they want innovation. (C: right) That’s it. I want them to think of me as both stable and innovative.
Coach: Stable and innovative. (Cl: yeah) So, when was a recent time… people around you somehow experienced you that way? Stable (Cl: mhm) and innovative (Cl: right)?
Client: (pause) uh, two days ago at the Board meeting actually.
In this short excerpt, you may notice the shift in the client’s language moving from what is not wanted (troubled past and dreaded future) to what is wanted (preferred future). And the coach explored what is already happening in that direction (resourceful past) where the client started to articulate relevant progress.
Priming to Continue Noticing Progress
The client recalled many past examples that align with the description of what they want to see more of in their life, personally and professionally. On a scale of 10 to 1, the client indicated that during the session they had moved, from a 2 (where they were at the beginning of the session) to 6.5.
Coach: So, where would be a good enough number for you to continue on?
Client: At least a 7 for the next Board meeting. (C: 7, Cl: yeah)
Coach: When is your next Board meeting?
Client: In 3 weeks. (C: in 3 weeks, Cl: yeah)
Coach: So, how might you know that you are getting closer to that seven as you make your way to your next Board meeting in three weeks?
Client: Ha. [pause] I would probably not be rehearsing what I’ll say at the meeting in the hallway on my way. (C: hah) Yeah. I would probably not start with a PowerPoint. (C: okay) I think… I might get there early before the Board members arrive. (C: oh, okay) That way, I can host the space.
Coach: Host the space. (Cl: Oh yeah) That would put you at a 7.
Client: More than 7. That would be like a 9. [laugh] (C: wow, okay) Yeah.
This sequence may be familiar to those of us who practice Solution Focused Dialogue regularly. For those who come from other ways of working with people, this may look like a long-winded way of getting to where clients want to go. In our experience, priming the clients to continue noticing progress seemed to frame our follow-up sessions to focus on many signs of progress.
Coach: So, I would like to invite you to experiment with some ideas until our follow-up meeting. (Cl: okay) Because of our conversation today, you may start to notice a few things differently (Cl: sure) as you go back to work. (Cl: yeah) As you go about your day on the floor [Cl: nods] or hosting meetings (Cl: yeah) or simply going about doing what you do (Cl: mhm) simply notice some things that you would not like to change. (Cl: oh) Maybe it’s how people talk to each other (Cl: oh, okay), perhaps a piece of furniture, (Cl: mhm) how things are or how people work (Cl: okay) simply take note of the things that you want to keep as is. (Cl: okay) Can you do that?
Client: Yeah, I can do that. I don’t know how much I’d find, but I’ll try [laugh].
Coach: Okay. I would love to hear about how it goes.
When we met this client a month later for the follow-up session, they indicated that the work is going so much better: the Board somehow turned around and they are now in full support of the client’s ideas; the team members are much more open and transparent; the chaos has subsided and they feel respected and valued. And our favourite line was: “I don’t know what happened, but there aren’t that many things that need to change drastically as much as I anticipated. People are doing good work here.”
Many of our clients often do not come back after the follow-up session, which we take as a heartfelt compliment.
It was our pleasure to share our experience working with leaders at the SOLWorld Budapest. This session focuses on how to structure questions that help leaders deepen their understanding of themselves and connect to a personal, resonate definition of success. Also pursuing a quest of iterating their signs of progress through the lens of preferred future seems to keep them on the preferred track on their own. The DOQ tool is very useful in navigating in those conversations to fine-tune our curiosity to their progress, and we hope that you will be able to use this simple navigator in your next dialogue.
Editor’s note: We also share below an article and slides, written for the pre-conference, on ‘Making Progress Visible for learners of Solution Focused Dialogue’. This provides further information on the DOQ and we trust you find it helpful.