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Want to Change It? Scale It! - Huffington Post 9.8.2014

About three years ago I met with a team of teachers to discuss a common concern - student comportment. The teachers collectively felt that respect and responsibility were amongst some key areas of deficit within the student population and that something needed to be done about it. Without getting into details about how we approached the issue as a staff, we were able to get started on what could be an overwhelming task - defining and elevating the behavioral standard for over 350 children and the tens of staff that support them - and make meaningful inroads towards a better outcome. This was true because we were able to take an honest look at ourselves and our situation and identify the steps that we wanted to take to make meaningful improvements, in words and in deeds.

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One of the techniques that I often employ in my coaching and training work is a scaling exercise. It is a powerful process that offers a strong visual and emotional framework for individuals who seek change in their professional practice or some other area in their lives.

The first thing that I ask the client or workshop attendees is to describe the subject area on a scale from one to ten, with one being the ideal and a ten being the exact opposite. I ask for behavioral descriptors that help create a basic vision of each extreme and also ask for some emotional terms that connect the individuals more deeply with each experience.

An example of this would be to scale internal communication within a company. What does a "1" look and feel like? What does a "10" look and feel like? In the first case, I might get back such descriptive terms as "smooth," "continuous," "clear," and "timely," together with such feelings as "content," "informed," and "included." The lowest rung on the communicative ladder may be described as "infrequent," "ambiguous," and "isolated," making people feel disconnected and unhappy. By the time that we are done with this part of the process we tend to be pretty clear on how to describe internal communication in its optimal form as well as when the organization is operating at a dysfunctional level in this regard.

Once we have these bookend definitions in place, we then explore the current reality. I ask them, "If you were asked to scale your present situation, what score would you give it? Why?" This part can be particularly difficult as it forces people to come to grips with their situation and also seek to identify the factors, such as systems, professional conduct, and the like, that are contributing to their less than optimal experience.

After this process has been completed, I then ask those that I am working with to think about a level that is within reach, such as going from a 5 to a 4, or perhaps even a 3. We talk about the specific components that separate the two levels and formulate an actionable plan with quantifiable deliverables to know that we have reached our goal or are at least trending in the right direction. We also establish a timeframe by which to achieve this growth so that the initial clarity and inspiration is not lost along the way. The net result is an action plan that goes beyond griping about the present to agreeing to concrete steps that will result in progress.

In essence, the scaling technique is very simple, at least in terms of establishing the end goals. Arriving at a clear, applicable vision will be harder. The key to its success is a combination of identifying clear parameters and honestly assessing the present situation. Once that is achieved, leaders and their teams can get to work on converting their vision into reality and making the workplace a more fulfilling and enjoyable space for all members of the team.

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