Stop Problem Solving, Start Developing People

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In western cultures, much of the training, guiding, nurturing and discipline comes from the reinforcement of generic cultural norms, and the desire to guide “off-track” behaviors back to the norm (e.g., be to work on time, be honest and responsible, adhere to the laws of the land, etc.). The developmental approach to leading business organizations stems from a particular philosophy that recognizes greater potential than do cultural norms.

When managers operate from the prevention approach, they provide lessons, advice, incentives, punishments and rewards to keep people on the “straight and narrow” — as close to established cultural norms as possible.

An employee who seems to be moving away from the norm is engaged in an attempt to find out what is “wrong” and what needs to be done to correct the “problem” — the deviation from the norm. They are seen as responsible for their own behavior and course correction, and the manager’s job is seen as helping them deal with or uncover the thinking and behavior that is problematic — to help them “clean up their act.” The manager may provide feedback or standardized testing to help pinpoint the areas of their thinking that are “in need of help.”

In this approach, it is assumed that the person cannot be responsible for their own actions and that behavior modification or therapy is needed through appropriate rewards and punishments from experts. A psychological model is introduced which intends to reframe the perspective of the person, either in confinement or in a professional setting. This approach is assumed by some to be appropriate as the primary or exclusive mode of intervention.

In a developmental approach, the manager works from the philosophy that each individual can make a contribution to the workplace and society if engaged from the perspective of their unique potential. Each team member makes a difference when they can contribute what is unique to them and continue to discover more of what they have to offer with each passing year.

When we work on (and from) potential, we work from “what could be,” rather than just “what is.” We are helping to build an “internal locus of control,”
where the person feels they can and do affect the world around them and can be effective in bringing about change and improvement from their own efforts.

Many people are guided by an external locus of control. They believe that their thoughts and actions are dictated by the world around them, and that they cannot positively or effectively make things happen in the world as a result of their own thinking and actions. For people to work independently and self-accountably, it is also necessary for them to be connected to what they uniquely have to offer and feel they can affect by their own efforts and actions. This is what working developmentally — working from potential — has at its core.

Originally published at on August 20, 2009.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

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