Will stressing positives fix a negative situation?

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the September 1, 2014 Daily Herald



Got a sales team that’s floundering, or a once-promising employee whose progress has stalled?

Call a consultant, or a coach, who can fix the problem. Just be aware that not everyone fixes problems the same way.

Ask Vince Racioppo to help fix a problem at your company, for example, and he’s more likely to focus on the “positive strengths” he sees in your business rather than the weaknesses that led you to turn to him in the first place.

Racioppo’s approach is based on appreciative coaching – positives over negatives – and Racioppo, president, Center for Expert Performance Inc., Highland Park, certainly isn’t the only coach-consultant to take the approach. The question is whether stressing positives to fix a negative works.

At Caxy Interactive, a 22-person Chicago-based web solutions company, the answer so far is “Yes.”

Caxy President Michael LaVista talked to Racioppo when he was trying to build his seven-person management team into a more cohesive unit. “It’s been hard,” LaVista says of Racioppo’s approach. “People wanted to know why we were doing this. We’ve had to learn new ways to do things. We’ve had to learn words and strategies we didn’t have before. It’s hard work.”

Racioppo works from a coaching triangle with beliefs at the top of the pyramid, strategies in the middle and behaviors at the base. At Caxy, the idea has been to change the leadership team’s collective beliefs, to more easily allow development of new strategies and, then, changed behaviors that will lead to the better working relationships LaVista wants.

“We have bi-weekly meetings (with Racioppo), LaVista says. “I’ve used coaches before. I’m a consultant, and I recognize that outsiders see things differently.”

Racioppo’s difference focuses on strengths. “Individuals have an ability to see themselves from different directions,” he says, “but they don’t see their own strengths.

“It’s a dialogue process. We get people to uncover their limiting beliefs. ‘What if you believe you could really do this well?’” Racioppo asks.

Beliefs, then strategies and behaviors.

Internally, the Caxy team was “more apt to come up with what was wrong than with a solution,” LaVista says. Now, though, “We’ve changed. We’ve come together as a team. We’ve started to click. We connect better as managers rather than working separately.”

The appreciative approach “assumes that no one is broken and needs to be repaired,” Racioppo says. Yet, he adds, “If the team is not right, it must be made right. Sometimes you have to carve up (the team), move people around.

“It takes courage to move people around.”

Although the dynamics are different, it helps to remember that teams are made up of individuals. It’s not much of a stretch, then, to realize that the appreciate approach also can work in individual situations.

The task at Caxy Interactive isn’t finished. A now more cohesive leadership team is tackling such issues as hiring and accountability, Racioppo says.


© 2014 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Listen to Jim’s Business Owners’ Pod Talk at