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Finding New Perspectives to Get Unstuck

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Rope in a complicated knot

When I ask clients why they want to improve their management skills, one of the most frequent responses I hear is that they are stuck. They can’t get the results they want, despite trying new processes or motivational techniques. In these scenarios, I recommend a simple exercise using the Observer, Action, Results (OAR) model* to generate new ideas by examining the problem from a different viewpoint. 

Getting stuck in the Action-To-Result loop

A common scenario I encounter is that managers want to help their team complete more projects on time. So they take new actions, like more detailed planning or new performance incentives, in hopes of better results. In the OAR model, this process is called “first order learning.” 

First order learning can be useful! Often we can change results by changing our behavior. But other times we get stuck in a loop of trying new behavior but never making progress.

Finding a new perspective to get unstuck

If you’re feeling stuck, take a break from trying new actions and instead look at the problem from a new perspective. In the OAR model, this change is called “second level learning.” The idea is that by looking at the situation from a new angle, you will create space for new possibilities. 

Returning to the example above, the first step would be to—at least for a moment—let go of the assumption that a manager’s job is to help the team complete projects on time. The next step is to ask what other jobs might a manager have? And what would a manager with that job do? 

One new answer is that a manager’s job is to ensure their team is working on the right projects. From this perspective, you might realize that your team is working on too wide a variety of tasks and thereby losing opportunities for focus, specialization, and efficiency. 

Or you might answer that a manager’s job is to retain and empower top employees. From that perspective, you might realize that you have more employee turnover than you can manage, and all the retraining is costing your team time that could be spent on projects. 

This is a powerful tool to discover new opportunities to help your team succeed. 

When to consider a coach

If you can do this exercise by yourself and get the results you want, fantastic! But it is difficult to examine and challenge our own thoughts. It can be helpful to use a thinking partner, like a coach. 

A coach can help:

  • Create space for you to vocalize your thinking, which could be all you need 
  • Reflect your thinking back to you so you can hear it from a different voice 
  • Ask curious and open questions to push you beyond your current thinking
  • Help you make a plan to move forward and hold yourself accountable

Want to learn more? Need help getting unstuck? Let’s talk!

*Note: I first learned about the OAR model in Language and the Pursuit of Leadership Excellence by Chalmers Brothers and Vinay Kumar. It has been popularized by Julio Ollala (who wrote the forward to Brothers & Kumar’s book) and his company Newfield Network.

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