SF Tool Appreciative observation
Areas of application
Preparation for appraisal interview
General feedback on leadership qualities
Setting goals Targets
Observing everyday situations with an appreciative attitude and giving corresponding feedback.
Compiling of a resource inventary
From one hour up to one working day
What you need
Questions and empathy
Number of participants
One to two people
participation by an additional manager was valuable
Requirements (rooms, aids, media)
Observation guidelines, keywords to different aspects of observation, writing pad, possibly a clip board
Flip charts for presentations
The observation should be designed that it is manageable for all and takes time restraints into consideration. The criteria must be relevant and acceptable. Good preparation with those who observe. The observed must know what will be observed. Allow time for a short feedback.
How to do it?
In the preparation define: What is to be observed?
Concentrate on three to four criteria; note keywords that show that the criterion is fulfilled. Who participates in the observation? Observe one to two persons. Discuss extent and duration of the observation. Fix an observation date. At the place of work give information concerning the observation.
During the observation, if possible do not interact with the observed person, stay in the background. Make notes continuously.
After the observation give the observed person a short feedback. If needed, ask clarifying questions. With several observations, making the results transparent and sharing them encourages reflection about the activity. Emphasize best practice. Also in the feedback always make sure that strengths that have impressed are mentioned. Especially when a person otherwise behaves differently, the observed behaviour gives the opportunity to point out that the observed behaviour fully corresponds to expectations and demonstrates the potential of the person.
How to observe solution-focused competences
1. Talking about solutions
People acknowledge the difficulties someone may have with a specific situation and focus on the solution instead of on the problem. If it isn’t broken, they don’t try to fix it, but if something is not working, they look for another way of doing things. They talk about solutions in¬stead of problems and encourage to find own solutions.
2. Respecting autonomy
People are seen as active, constructing their own sense of living; they are endowed with adequate resources, and autonomous behaviour. Solutions and decisions are developed to¬gether and not “commanded from above” or decreed. People are treated as experts of their life-situation.
3. Working with resource-orientation
The focus is build on what works, on strengths and qualifica¬tions of the people, instead of long discussions about failures and weaknesses. In difficult situations the focus is on past successes and exceptions (times when it was less difficult).
4. Extending the range of actions
People foster and expand the range of ac¬tions by creating a setting of positive general conditions. They encourage acting largely independently. The ability of making choices and decisions is supported.
5. Giving respect and appreciation
Respect is shown to the person: In discussions by listening to and accepting the individual perception of the person. The intention of the person to carry out his or her work successfully is supported by an appreciative feedback.
6. Reflecting one’s own attitude
People act in a constant process of learning and de¬velopment. They take time to reflect and adapt their behaviour and attitude to the particular situation.
7. Giving future-orientation
Future is something that is negotiated and created. Statements develop future scenarios and actions rather than analyze past failures. People initiate “act-as-if- experiments” and encourage others to think about what they can do to create a new and different future. They find elements of what the people want happening already.
8. Developing goals
People are helped to create their own goals. These are clear, realistic and reasonable for the person. A discussion about meaning and purpose of organizational and or individual goals is initiated. The emphasis is on concrete details and tangible evidence.
9. Solution-focused communication
A solution-focused communication enhances the discovery and development of solutions. Solution fo¬cused questions and communication styles are used to make the mutual under¬standing easier. People are enabled to find new possibilities for action by providing support through orientation and compliments.
10. Reflecting the context:
There is no rash focus on a sim¬plistic solution. General conditions, (side) effects and also the organiza¬tional interconnectedness are put into account. The perso¬nality is taken into consideration, as it’s specific personal situation.
Appreciative Observations in praxis – where solution orientation showed up
The observations were taken with managers from different departments. They had planned the results of the observations within a certain range and the description and feedback could be given without having the character of an assessment. To achieve this, a guideline for appreciative observation was developed. It consisted of three observation aspects with a number of keywords giving an indication of solution-focused behaviour. The aspects are:
1. How conversations are conducted
2. The interaction with employees and clients
3. How difficult situations are handled (see appendix 1)
The observers (managers) accompanied managers (different departments) during their jobs for about three hours. After the observations, the managers received feedback and the observers’ notes were compiled in written form. Finally the results of the observations were shared among all of the managers. This exchange led to a reflection of the activities observed as well as to a discussion about the understanding of solution focused work.
Results of these observations
In all observed situations, solutions and goals were developed instead of analyzing problems or asking “why questions”. The managers supported their employees and clients in finding solutions by themselves. They also showed respect and appreciation. The achievement of goals was always seen as the responsibility of the employee/client. A solution-focused attitude was observed especially in the interaction with clients.
As an example we chose a conversation with a client: The procedure was structured by a solution-focused guideline for conversations. After a short overview of the coming half-hour conversation the division manager referred to former conversations and asked what the client could remember. To start with, a scaling question about the well being of the client was asked. Again, a reference to the last evaluation was made. The manager explicitly passed the responsibility for taking the initiative and action to the client. She let her evaluate the current situation and her past successes and gave positive feedback about the achievements. The manager made sure that the client was setting the goals by herself and asked: „What will you do in order to achieve your goal?” They built up a short-term and a long-term goal. (E)
Interactions with the employees also displayed many solution-focused behaviours. In difficult situations it became apparent that the managers took responsibility and offered structure and orientation. The following observation exemplifies leadership:
An employee talked about a client whose sexual harassment of a patient in the hospital resulted in massive complaints. The employee was uncertain about the way he should react. The department manager informed him about the legal situation and asked which possibilities he had thought about and their consequences. They developed a strategy together and the department manager made sure that the employee felt able to act on his own. Afterwards the employee was asked to present his procedure in the next team report. The department manager supported the employee in this situation without taking away his autonomy.
Keywords for this appreciative observation at work, developed with the observers
The way discussions are held
• Discuss, negotiate, search for solutions, agree with someone, help/support, inspire, talk actively, observe, appreciate, give confidence, bolster, listen actively, point to exceptions
• To challenge someone to act independently, refer to strengths/skills, ask questions, involve all in the conversation, give positive feedback
• Express praise and recognition
• Show differences, instead of insisting on „truths“.
Interaction with employees or clients
• Show interest in people, the ability to empathize, interact in partnership, show feelings instantly, give critical information in a sensitive manner, motivate
• Develop possibilities for advancement adequate to the person, consider the person’s way of living (culture, language), give the person self-confidence
• Treat employees as experts
• Involve all concerned in decision making, reflect on own behaviour and decisions, trust in the person’s ability, refer to existing strengths
• Humanistic perspective, development of skills through self activity
The way difficult situations are managed
• Focus on the essential, keep the overview, give a feeling of trust, show a calm appearance, do clear planning
• Support the development of goals or small steps, make sure that goals can be achieved, orient at possible solutions, envisage the future
• Show engagement, take responsibility, include other people’s ideas and viewpoints, show differences, admit mistakes to oneself and others
• Openly address difficult questions, trust in the ability of the recipient to deal with it
• Hand over personal responsibility, trust in the competence and ability to solve problems
What are resources?
Sense of coherence
Cleverness in finding ways
Using social support
General resistance resources (Antonowsky)
Resources of the Situation
People to help
Helpful social structure
Support by Management
Social support by colleagues
Range of action
Range for learning and development
Possibilities for communication
Dr. Carin Mussmann Wirthensohn
Master in Coaching (PEF Wien)
I was a head of a youth center in Germany and
a scientific assistant at the ETH-Zurich,
now self employed in training and lecturing in
leadership and SF and systemic councelling,
Working as a coach, publisher of the
Book “Lösungsorientiert Führen und Beraten”