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Strategic Conversations

Video on Strategic Conversations
<v Speaker 1>Hello and welcome back again. In this video we will be discussing how to guide conversations to generate strategy. Let’s first think about that word conversation though. In every organization and in every community there is a conversation that’s going on. Of course there’s not just one conversation but lots of them. Some official conversations that occur in staff meetings and performance reviews and others less official. These are the ones that happen in the break rooms or the parking lots you know the meetings after the meetings. Taken all together however, they will give an indication of the conversation that’s occurring. Think about it this way.
Imagine if every conversation that occurs in a given week in your community or in your organization had one of these bubbles above it, like what you would see in a comic book. Now imagine there is an emoji in that bubble that represents the overall tone of that conversation as positive or negative. Now think about all of those conversations in a given week. Would there be more happy face emojis or sad ones. If you had to guess at the ratio of positive to negative conversations, what would it be? That ratio, it turns out, is important. Psychologist John Gottman looked at the ratio of positive to negative conversations to predict how likely it would be that a married couple would divorce.
Gottman came up with something he calls the magic ratio and it is five to one. That’s five positive interactions for every one negative. Using that ratio he could accurately predict within ninety-four percent accuracy which couples would divorce. The lower the ratio, the more likely a couple was not going to make it. Since Gottman’s works similar research has been conducted in organizations and there has been remarkable consistency in the findings. In organisations a greater positive to negative ratio leads to higher performance. Although I’ve not seen any research on the magic ratio in communities my experience leads me to believe that it holds just as true. Communities with a higher positive to negative ratio in their civic conversations.
Well I bet they just perform better. Now our focus of course is on strategy and rather than using the words positive and negative we focus on problems and opportunities. That does not mean that in our organisations and in our communities we don’t need to talk about our problems. We certainly do. But a strategic conversation is a conversation about opportunities. This is important because people move in the direction of their conversations and a strategy needs to move people. Who is having this strategic conversation is also important strategic conversations can’t be just among the leadership. On the other hand strategic conversations can’t occur without the involvement of leadership. Strategic conversation should strive for both open participation and leadership direction.
And an important skill to master in strategy is to know how to guide conversations. One of the most effective ways to guide conversations is to develop the skill of knowing how to ask powerful combinations because powerful questions can guide conversations. Let’s look first at something called Appreciative Inquiry to help us learn some of the characteristics of appreciative questions, the kind of questions that can guide conversations. Appreciative Inquiry comes from David Cooperrider a professor at Case Western Reserve University. Cooperrider tells us that appreciative questions are number one thought provoking, inviting reflection and finding deeper meanings. Secondly they expand possibilities. Third they bring underlying assumptions to light. Fourth they stimulate curiosity and creativity. And fifth they help groups move forward.
Here’s a quick test to see if a question is appreciative. Appreciative questions usually start with some key words words like, “what would it look like if…” or “how might we go about…” Less
powerful questions less appreciative questions often begin with words like, “which one of these…” or “when are you going to…”. A couple of years ago we were working with a group of engineers; we were talking about the subject of developing powerful questions and one engineer suggested pairing an appreciative question with an imagined statement. This is a powerful, particularly powerful way to point toward new opportunities. For instance here’s a problem sintered question a company might be asking, “Why don’t our customers get excited about our products anymore?” An appreciative reframing of that question paired with an imagined statement could be something like this, “imagine every one of our future customers absolutely delighted with our products, what would that look like.”
Now that’s a question that points toward opportunities a question that can start a strategic conversation. Another person who has spent a good deal of time thinking about powerful questions is Warren Berger author of A More Beautiful Question. Berger goes so far as to say that questioning can spark change in our lives our businesses and in the world around us. He notes that we all start out as super questioner’s. Just spent 15 minutes with an average 4 year old and you’ll understand exactly what he means. Somewhere along the way though Berger contends many of us lose that ability. The good news is that it is a skill that can be re-learned. Powerful questions can drive strategy.
A good strategy tries to answer two simple questions, “Where are we going?” and “How will we get there?” These are simple but not easy questions to answer. In our agile strategy discipline, Strategic Doing, we break those two questions down into four powerful appreciative questions. First what could we do together. Second what should we do together. Third what will we do together. And then fourth when will we get back together or what’s our 30/30? By 30/30 we mean when are we getting back together in about 30 days to continue our conversation by sharing with one another what we’ve learned over the last 30 days and then decide what our next steps are for the coming 30 days.
If you’re not answering one of those questions well you’re not having a strategic conversation. Answering those first two questions gives you an outcome. Answering the second two questions gives you a pathway. All the components you need for strategy. As we wrap up this video we want to challenge you to reflect on your own current capacity to ask powerful appreciative questions and to consider how focusing on the four questions of strategic doing might help your organization or your community move forward. Becoming skilled at asking these questions and in guiding others to help answer them is at the core of mastering a more agile, iterative, collaborative approach to strategy. See you soon.
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Introduction to Strategic Doing: An Agile Approach to Strategy

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