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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 9, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Steering Toward Success

Studies show that drivers who crane to look at an

accident

turn their cars toward the wreck. This is an example of actions going

where the brain leads, says Franne McNeal, a business coach

who advocates Appreciative Inquiry, a way of improving personal and

business results by focusing on the positive — rather than on

the wrecks.

McNeal speaks on "Appreciative Inquiry: Focusing on What

Works"

on Tuesday, October 15, at 4 p.m. at a meeting of the American Society

for Training and Development at Summerfield Suites. Cost: $40. Call

609-279-4818.

McNeal grew up in Bryn Mawr. The oldest of four sisters in a family

that encouraged positive results through education, she recently

attended

her 20th reunion at Princeton University, which she entered at age

16. The daughter of two physicians, now retired, McNeal’s understated

manner and soft voice give little hint of the drive within.

"I was the first African American president of the Cloister Inn

(a Princeton University eating club)," McNeal says. At the same

time, in addition to studying for her degree in American History,

McNeal, all of 18 at the time, ran a start-up business, which supplied

students to work at parties.

Upon graduation she accepted a management training slot with Smith

Kline, discovered it was sales and human resources that interested

her the most, and moved on to FMC, where she sold industrial

chemicals.

One day, out on a sales call, she broke her ankle in enough places

to put her of commission for weeks.

While recuperating, she spent some time thinking about her career.

"I was young," she recalls with a laugh, "I thought `I

know it all; I’ve had two jobs. Let me see what else I can

conquer.’"

She took some computer courses, and started a computer training

company,

which she ran for eight years at a time when navigating by mouse was

foreign to office-bound America. Clients included the City of

Pittsburgh

and PNC bank. As desk jockeys got up to speed on bits and bytes, she

saw the need for small group training begin to go away, and accepted

consulting work, and then a full-time job, in human resources with

PNC, specializing in leadership training.

PNC was constantly restructuring during her time there. Looking at

the positive side, she says, "I had a lot of opportunity to learn

how corporations develop."

After a little over four years with PNC, and just six months short

of vesting, McNeal was restructured out of a job. Next step: back

to entrepreneurship. After taking a few months off, McNeal founded

HR Energy (www.hrenergy.com) in August, 2001. Her goal is to work

with groups and individuals to achieve "significant business

results."

The framework for her coaching, Appreciative Inquiry, is "the

art of helping systems create images of their most desired

future."

Rather than emphasizing problems to be solved, it encourages

reflection

on success. There are four steps to personal or organizational

improvement

through Appreciative Inquiry:

Discover. Let’s say a person is out of work, and looking

for a job. Using questions, he would look at where he is, tally his

strengths, and focus on what has worked for him in the past. In

working

with individuals, McNeal often corresponds by E-mail prior to a first

coaching session, asking questions designed to elicit responses that

will "reframe" the situation.

Maybe the laid-off worker could think of the last time he was faced

with change — maybe when he moved to a new home. How did he handle

that? Acquiring and moving into a new home requires research, the

help of experts (real estate agents, lawyers, home inspectors),

organizational

skills, and, often, the recruiting of friends to help with heavy

lifting.

"Focus on strengths," says McNeal, "on how you handled

a situation well."

Dream. "Look at what is the best of what could

be,"

says McNeal. After figuring out where you are, what strengths you

bring to the situation, and what gaps in your strengths need to be

filled, sit back and imagine the best of all possible outcomes.

Design. In this stage, the job seeker, staring right at

the best of all possible situations, draws a map for getting there.

"Sketch out internal and external factors for making the dream

come true," advises McNeal. This is the nitty gritty stage, the

one where a strategy takes form.

Deliver. Backed up with recollections of past successes,

and clutching a plan, the job seeker is now set to steer himself into

an excellent position.

Job seekers, career changers, executives interested in improving their

performance, teams, departments, and whole companies, all can benefit

from dropping the word "problem" and replacing it with

questions

about where they want to be, and an unwavering concentration on that

goal.

"When you focus," says McNeal, "that’s the direction

you go."


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