Clean Case Studies

 

Some ways to use Clean Language to make a difference in business

“In the current economic environment, the pressure is on to deliver, quicker, better and cheaper. Clean is a quick win that will deliver speed, quality and lower cost/increased revenues. The emphasis between each of these 3 drivers will vary.

“In addition, organisations need to work more effectively together taking account of all stakeholder’s needs and wants. Clean communicating skills combined with the insightful use of metaphor, can transform this process.” Maurice O’Shea, management consultant and Certified Clean Facilitator

 

Analyst’s Clean questions save 34-million Euro project

Situation

Roland Hill*, a business analyst for Dutch IT specialists IPROFS, used Clean Language to reveal a number of misunderstandings which could have caused the collapse of an 34.9 million-Euro project involving financial institutions across Europe.

He joined the project after the functionality of the new computer system had apparently been agreed. But when he used Clean Language to check through the specified requirements with representatives from the two sponsoring institutions, he discovered that each had a different understanding of key sections of the document.

Intervention

“They had agreed the words on the page – but there was a difference in what those words meant to them,” said Roland. “If I hadn’t used Clean Language there is a good chance this misunderstanding might not have come out until a year or more down the line, once the system had been built.

“Then one side would have been very unhappy that things weren’t going to work as they’d expected, and as they’d told their customers they would work. Either the project would have been delayed while it was sorted out – which would have been very expensive and damaged the credibility of the project – or, at worst, cancelled.

“There are lots of statistics about something which costs one Euro to fix at the requirements stage costs 600 Euros to fix once the system has been built. There’s an extrapolation of costs the further you get down the lifecycle of the project, so it’s worth getting things right at the very beginning.”

Outcome

Roland said: “As a result of what came out in my workshop the sponsors recognised where they didn’t agree, and were able to make a plan to get things sorted out between them.”

*Roland Hill is a Business Analyst with IPROFS. He is very experienced in complex transactional web application projects in commercial and governmental markets. In the past, he has been a product manager for a content management system for the UK legal market, and an application and process consultant for a market-leading ERP firm.


Case study: Analysing effective project leadership

Situation

A key player in the pharmaceutical industry was concerned about the performance of some of their project leaders – the individuals charged with bringing new drugs through testing and to market. The process itself was highly regulated, so they could be sure it was being followed. But there was an extraordinary level of variation in the results delivered by different individuals. What was happening?

Clean intervention

A team of Clean consultants conducted a research project to assess the differences between the top performers in the role and their less-effective colleagues. By interviewing project leaders, their managers and members of their teams, they were able to pinpoint specific points on which the company could act.

Consultant Louise Oram explained: “It turned out that the people who were most successful and highly regarded had at least 15 years’ experience in this kind of role, or were programme managers who had come up through the ranks.

“We discovered that there were important differences between the thinking patterns of those who were good at the job and those who were not. Those who were good at the job knew what to look out for and had mental strategies about things that could go wrong.

“The standard way of addressing this situation would have been a process review – but it was already clear they were following the process. By using Clean techniques we got a different class of information, information that the people we were interviewing weren’t already consciously aware of.

“People were saying to us: ‘I didn’t know I did that! Now I do know, I’ll pay more attention to it.’

“Individual project leaders found that they now had what it took to improve performance by changing their thinking strategies, and their approach to decision-making in the face of a mass of information.”

Outcome

The company made specific changes to its selection procedure for the programme leader role, giving increased weight to the kinds of experience which had been found to be relevant. They also developed new career paths which encouraged experienced programme leaders to stay within the role.


Case study: Fast team building

Situation

A ‘virtual team’ of contact centre managers was experiencing problems. Their centres were widely spread geographically, but the company needed them to co-ordinate their efforts closely. Instead the differences between centres were becoming more and more apparent, and friction was increasing.

Intervention

The team came together for a day-long session facilitated by Clean Change consultant Wendy Sullivan. First, the individual members of the team explored their own ideas about what their perfect working team would be like.

One man wanted the group to be like a formula one pit crew team. Someone else wanted it to be like setting sail for distant shores. Interestingly, these two people had been having a hard time working together. All the team members’ symbols were all different and equally revealing.

Wendy said: “As each team member was asked about their symbol, there were nods and smiles as the team realised they had seen individuals ‘living’ their symbols from day to day.

“For example, the ‘Formula One’ person’s meetings had no breaks for lunch or tea. People were expected to keep working and concentrating as long as there was work to do. He spoke fast, frequently losing team members who couldn’t grasp the concepts flashing past at high speed.”

The group then learned new ways of using language to fit the different thinking styles of other team members, and began to try them out from day to day. They also constructed a shared model for how they would like the team to be: a head with big ears for listening, lots of curly hair representing a zest for life, big eyes for taking in visual information and big dangly earrings for an element of fun. As a reminder of the event, it went ‘on tour’ around the team’s different offices over the next year!

Outcome

Communication within the team improved immediately, even before the day was over. As team members understood more about the thinking that generated a colleague’s actions, it was simple for them to incorporate this into their communication and therefore to influence their colleagues’ behaviour. The regular conflicts and misunderstandings eased, resulting in improved communication across the contact centres and leading to improved customer service.

 

Case study: Successful door-to-door sales and fundraising

Situation

Greenmann is a commercial company employing a UK-wide force of fundraisers on behalf of a number of wildlife and conservation charities, selling memberships door-to-door. After winning a major new contract, the company wanted to improve the results achieved by their new recruits so as to maximise revenue and reduce staff turnover.

Intervention

A group of Clean Change consultants spent two days studying the sales approach taken by the company’s top fundraisers. Using Clean principles in a combination of one-to-one interviews and group work, they distilled out ten factors which seemed to be crucial to success in this particular role, and reviewed the model with the top fundraisers and their managers. As the discussion continued, the idea of ‘Wildlife Man’ began to emerge – a friendly figure in a fleece and stout walking shoes!

Consultant Judy Rees said: “The company’s entire sales force had been trained to use a short and highly-effective script on the doorstep. Given that the words said by each salesperson were almost identical, we needed to uncover what the top performers did as they said those words.

“For this, Clean was ideal. Of course, as consultants we had our own hunches about what might be happening, but in each Clean interview we set these aside and started with a blank sheet. The salespeople relaxed, felt they were being listened to, and opened up to reveal unexpected details about the process they each used.

“At the same time they discovered aspects of their performance that they had not noticed before, which they could choose to explore further on their own. ‘I didn’t know I did that!’ was a comment we heard frequently.

“The top performers were also able to compare and contrast their different approaches and to pick up hints and tips from each other during the process.”

Outcome

The company gained a new, very detailed understanding of the factors involved in the success of their top performers, in a form that could be used to develop new training procedures. As a bonus, they were able to update their recruitment criteria to improve the chances of long-term success.

 

Case study: Senior executive search and recruitment

Situation

When recruiting for very senior roles (£400k+) in the pharmaceutical industry, as in any business, you can’t afford mistakes. Tightly defined frameworks allow detailed assessment of competencies, and standard interview and meeting protocols gather the views of prospective colleagues. And still something extra was wanted – another kind of information to enrich the decision-making process.

Clean Intervention

Consultant Louise Oram, from Berkshire, UK, has been able to find that extra ingredient using Clean techniques. “I always use Clean in addition to the standard process. And the interview can start in the same way, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ But it gives you a different class of information, because the interviewee starts thinking at a different level.”

In the process, interviewees can discover more about themselves. Once, when Louise was working as a recruitment consultant, a senior executive blustered into her office having just been made redundant at 55, saying that that no interview she could put him through would be worthwhile. “It’s obvious!” he declared. She interviewed him using Clean questions, directing his attention precisely to make sure he explored key issues. Ten minutes in, he admitted: “You know, it’s not that obvious, is it?” And when his time was up, an hour of Clean questions later, he said: “I’ve never been through such a tough interview.”

He now has a new senior executive role in the industry and has stayed in touch with Louise, frequently asking her to conduct supplementary interviews of potential senior recruits. She explained: “I’ll often be working with metaphor: ‘When you are in a team working at your best, you are like what?’ The metaphor brings out real preferences, rather than statements like: ‘I am a good team player’, and you can take the metaphor data and compare and contrast with the competency ratings and prospective colleagues’ impressions going to work in the environment we are recruiting for. A Clean interview makes the whole thing more rounded than the standard recruiting process.”

Outcome

There’s more to a successful hire than an excellent standard interview. And, at the same time, the benefits of filling key roles with effective executives extend beyond the benefits to the individual and their team. The entire company can benefit from a great person doing exactly the right job for them.

 

Case Study: Using Clean for faster meetings

Situation

A large, publicly-funded civil engineering project, which had lasted four years and involved partner organisations from five different countries, was drawing to a close. In order to extract maximum benefit from the experience, a one-day evaluation meeting was arranged, involving around three dozen participants. They came from various organisations, ranged from administrators to professors, and had a variety of home languages. The challenge was to quickly and efficiently look back at the results of the project, and draw out relevant lessons.

Intervention

Several facilitators were involved in the event, only some of whom were trained in Clean. This provided lead facilitator Annemiek van Helsdingen with an ideal opportunity to compare Clean- and less-Clean facilitation styles.

She explained: “We had split the meeting into smaller groups and facilitators were logging key points on flip charts in each group. What I noticed was that my Clean colleague, Lizet van den Berg, was working so much more quickly – about 50% faster.

“She would remember the person’s actual words and write those on the flip chart. Sometimes she would ask a Clean question to clarify something. When group members added remarks, she would check if the remark also needed to be added on the flip-chart (again in exact words). This quickly filters out important and less important contributions.

“In another group they were having a very muddled discussion. The person at the flip chart would try and translate things into his own words and in many cases, the main message of what had been said was then lost. A discussion would go on but things didn’t get any clearer – and so much time was wasted. Being Clean makes life so much easier. It’s the most effective way to ask about what you want to know. You have much higher-quality meetings. They are often quicker, and there’s no way people can escape responsibility – everyone has their share. And when things get tough or challenging, you have a far better chance of sorting it out quickly without any emotional outbursts.”

Outcome

Compared with the group which experienced ‘ordinary’ facilitation, the group which had been facilitated Cleanly felt they had been listened to more carefully, and that their views had been faithfully recorded. A larger number of people were able to make a considered contribution in the allotted time.

 

Case study: Building trust

Situation

A department within the Dutch police force was obliged to act when a survey revealed that staff had a very low level of trust in their managers. After a round of meetings, poor communication was identified as a major issue.

Clean intervention

How could the managers and team leaders change their communication style to help them build trust again? Over five half-day sessions, they were introduced to the principles of Clean and trained in Clean questioning and listening skills.  As the impact of this work became clear, the project was extended and a group of staff received similar training.

Consultant Annemiek van Helsdingen (of consultancy ‘Gewoon aan de slag’ based in Amersfoort, Holland) explained that she and Wendy Nieuwland chose to use Clean techniques because a lack of ‘being heard seemed to be at the core of the problem. People were not being treated as individuals – managers and staff believed that everyone thought in the same way, and that whatever was true for one was true for all.

She said: “With Clean you can’t help but get to the specifics of a person’s experience thereby pinpointing what needs to change for that person. It’s not the only tool for the situation, but it is a very effective one. The participants on the training were surprised to find out how hard it was to really listen, and how much energy was involved.”

Outcome

Afterwards, a further staff survey showed a clear shift in the right direction. Annemiek said: “The most senior manager has made a dramatic improvement in his communication style and skills, and it’s recognised by people. The same is true of a number of other managers, though not all.

“There are still some people saying things have not changed and never will. But a larger number of people are saying things are heading in the right direction, but mustn’t be allowed to slip.

“The chief of the service said they had grown considerably as a management team. They communicate with each other very differently. They also have a much better eye for nuance, which is the difference that makes the difference, and they are much better equipped to deal with signals they get from within the organisation.”


Case study: Reviewing a key project

Situation

The Dutch government had undertaken a huge, five-year research programme, involving 80 projects and 200 different stakeholder organisations – scientists, contractors, government, non­governmental organisations, utilities, farmers, nature reserves etc. Clean consultancy NOK-N was asked to conduct a stakeholder perception survey for a mid-term review.

Clean intervention

A team including Annemiek van Hesldingen, Lizet van den Berg and Stefan Ouboter conducted 26 stakeholder interviews using Clean principles, with a number of follow-up workshops.

Annemiek explained: “We reported the results in a specific way, ensuring that each of our conclusions were backed up with specific quotes from named individuals. Using Clean in the interviews enabled us to use people’s specific words, and so to get the nuance of what they were saying. You don’t lose the raw material. It’s a different type of information, that isn’t tainted by the questions.”

The team used mind mapping alongside Clean techniques to distil their findings down to ten key conclusions, which formed the basis of an action plan.

Outcome

The survey was well-received by the sponsoring board. It covered the key aspects and offered a clear set of proposals for next steps, without overwhelming levels of detail. These ideas will now be implemented during the remaining two years of the programme

 

New energy for IT man from Clean Language coaching

Situation

IT consultant Matthew Dodwell was unhappy with the way his career was going: so unhappy that he was hoping to escape from the industry and do something completely different.

Intervention

A series of Clean Language coaching sessions with Judy Rees helped him to find new optimism, new energy and a new direction.

He explained, “I’d got myself stuck, working from home in an isolated,   solo programming role. It was boring, and it was only serving me – there was no bigger picture. All the energy was burned out, like a small, dark dwarf star.

“Now there’s just so much happening! As a result of the coaching I’m now moving into a larger, more expansive role with more interaction with people.

“I’m more active, talking to people like IT project managers, and finding that they’re interested in what I have to say. I can engage other people with my passion.

“I’ve got a very sure feeling about my future. There’s a warm energy, a warm glow, like a star in its active phase.

“Heading back into IT was not what I expected from the coaching. In the beginning I was thinking about anything apart from that! But I now value my existing skills more than I did, as well as valuing the people working in this area.”

Outcome

42-year-old Matthew, who is based in Bath, UK, is now combining his technical skill with ‘people oriented’ tasks, working directly with development teams, customers, and end users.

He said: “Most ways of coaching seem to be more about the coach’s process, and about finding ‘the right answer’. Which is all very well, but it didn’t help me.

“In contrast, this process has really changed things inside. Things are very, very different. It’s about activating the knowledge inside yourself and using that to make things change.”

Find out more

Please visit www.cleanchange.co.uk to:

  • Read more stories of how Clean Language has been used in business
    • Buy the book Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees
    • Order Clean Change Cards and other learning materials
    • Book a place on our open, public training
    • Find out about taster events such as the annual Clean Conference
    • Enquire about advanced communications skills training for your company.

We look forward to hearing from you!

In publishing this booklet, Clean Change Company would like to thank:

  • David Grove, the creator of Clean Language
  • Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, co-creators of symbolic modeling
  • The people whose stories have been included in this compilation.

 

Reflections on applications of Clean – Margaret Meyer

Clean Change’s Associate Director, Margaret Meyer reflects on her use of Clean, and how it has developed to include a variety of business uses since she first trained.

Recently I’ve been to a number of seminars emphasising the importance of relationships. Even in the most hard-edged commercial environments, the business of doing business just goes so much better when rapport and relationship are involved. This is hardly news for those of us involved in the so-called ‘helping professions’: relationship-building is the foundation of our work.

Until I trained in Clean Language it had never occurred to me that it was possible to involve someone’s personal metaphors in the conversation, let alone build relationships through metaphor.

I did my first training in Clean with Wendy Sullivan in 2005. Like many Clean trainees, I was initially puzzled about how I could apply this amazing technique to more of my work. In the years in between I’ve gradually added more and more ways of including Clean across more of my work: these days hardly a day passes without my using some aspect of the Clean repertoire (such as the Framework for Change, or Clean set-up, or some of the Clean Space protocols) with a client or company.

Before I trained as a coach and consultant, I thought I knew a lot about relationship-building. I worked in international cultural relations. I flew around the world (from China to Lithuania to Jordan) to meet people from all walks of literary life: aspiring writers, agents, critics, culture ministers. What that experience taught me was that the art of super-fast relationship building hinged on a lot of asking questions – followed, of course, by some high-quality listening.

I was just beginning to understand the power of the right kind of question to open up communication when I came across Clean Language. After two days’ training, I decided to take those amazing 12 Clean questions to work. Just like my passport, they went with me everywhere. In fact, they became my passport to meaningful networking. My conversations simply shifted into a different gear, because even the most jaded diplomat would respond to being asked what they would like to have happen.

Now I am using these skills, not only in personal development and relationship-building contexts, but also for commercial results. I have found that Clean translates to an astonishingly wide range of professional settings:

  • Last month I went to Germany to facilitate a metaphor development workshop for one of the world’s biggest sportswear brands. Asking Clean questions about that team’s metaphor maps got them thinking in new ways about the brand’s future and its possibilities.
  • This week I’ve used Clean questions, together with Clean’s ‘Framework for Change’ model, to coach finance executives. In a session with a struggling senior manager, simply wondering out loud whether what she’d been telling me was an outcome or remedy was enough to precipitate a moment of real insight.
  • Next week I’ll be returning to a previously struggling firm of professional advisors whose financial fortunes were, well, far from healthy. Using Clean Space to plot out their metaphorical (as well as literal) scale of charges revealed an out-of-awareness ‘threshold’ beyond which they felt they simply could not charge. Some sequencing questions got to the moment of ‘just before you feel that charge is too high’: to describe this as an ‘aha!’ moment would be an under-statement. Let me simply say that this client used the momentum of that insight to take over the session, continuing to use Clean Space to develop their own outcome landscape. Their next step includes generating a new business plan using Clean Language and Clean Space.
  • Next month, Clean-trained colleague Ian Crawford and I will find out whether our Clean consulting interventions have won the consulting industry’s most prestigious award. Our work with the Independent Police Complaints Commission has led to Ian’s consultancy (www.sequena.com) being shortlisted in two MCA Award categories. Ian and I used Clean (Language and Space) all the way through the IPCC project. We used it to set up every workshop, get the client scoping outcome landscapes, model and mature the proposed changes, and to capture the learnings from every session. We even used it between ourselves to debrief at the end of each project day. It’s also rewarding to know that one year later, IPCC are using Clean questions – in fact, a Clean approach – across most of their 80 or so change projects.

Margaret’s experience indicates how valuable Clean skills can be across a wide range of business contexts – and while on one hand it seems surprising how broadly it can be used, on the other hand, given that we are using an approach that targets individuals’ metaphors, which seems to be very close to the heart of human experience, it would be more surprising if Clean didn’t have applications that spread far and wide.

 

More than a Balancing Act? ‘Clean Language@ as an innovative method for exploring work-life balance

 

Click the following link for Downloadable PDF of Report

 

More than a Balancing Act?
`Clean Language’ as an innovative method for exploring work-life balance

Project Report

October 2010

University of Surrey and Clean Change Company

Authors:

James Lawley, Margaret Meyer, Rupert Meese,
Wendy Sullivan – Clean Change Company
and Paul Tosey – University of Surrey


ISBN: 978-1-84469-022-0

 

Page 2

Contents

Acknowledgements 3
1 Executive summary 4
1.1 Key findings – insights into Work-Life Balance 5
1.2 Key findings – Clean Language as a research method 5
2 Background: about Clean Language 6
3 Exploring Work-Life Balance: research challenges 9
4 Research methodology 13
5 Participants’ metaphor landscapes 16
5.1 ‘It’s like a circle’ 16
5.2 ‘Going up a mountain dodging boulders’ 17
5.3 ‘Mental separation’ 19
5.4 ‘A split with a Friday evening switch’ 20
5.5 ‘A deal’ 21
5.6 ‘Juggling’ 22
6 Findings about metaphors of Work-Life Balance 25
6.1 From `balance’ to `balancing’ 25
6.2 Patterns across interviews 25
6.3 Explicit and implicit metaphors 28
6.4 Modelling a metaphor landscape 29
7 Findings about Clean Language as a research method 32
7.1 Keeping it Clean 32
7.2 Patience and persistence 33
7.3 Multiple levels of application 33
7.4 What was it like for participants to be interviewed
using Clean Language?
35
7.5 Implications for researchers 38
8 Conclusions 39
9 References 42
10 Appendix A: Whose `edge’? An example of `non-Clean’
use of metaphor in academic research
43
11 Appendix B: Project Team 45

 

Page 3

Acknowledgements

This project was funded by the University of Surrey, Faculty of Management & Law, in partnership with Clean Change Company.

We wish to thank:
• All interviewees for participating in this study.
• Sarah Nixon of Liverpool John Moores University, academic advisor to the project.
• Hazel Catlin for transcribing the interviews.
• Members of the London Clean Language Practice Group for helpful input in the design phase of the project.

Contacts
Dr Paul Tosey
School of Management
University of Surrey
Guildford
Surrey GU2 7XH
UK
Tel. +44 (0)1483 689763
P.Tosey@surrey.ac.uk
Homepage:

http://www.surrey.ac.uk/management/people/paul_tosey/

Wendy Sullivan
Clean Change Company
18 Byfield Rd
Isleworth
Middlesex
TW7 7AF
UK
Tel. +44 (0)20 8400 4832
info@cleanchange.co.uk
www.cleanchange.co.uk

 

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1 Executive summary

We believe this small-scale study by the Clean Change Company and the University of Surrey is the first funded research project to explore Clean Language1, an innovative communications and facilitation practice increasingly used in coaching, business consulting, organisation development, market research, and across the helping professions. Prior to this study, the practice of Clean Language had been significantly under-researched; reports of its uses and effectiveness were largely informal and led by practitioners’ perceptions.

The purpose of the study was to test the application of Clean Language as a research method. Specifically, we wanted to use Clean Language in interviews with managers in order to generate insights into their experiences of `work-life balance’ (WLB). Our findings will be of interest to industry researchers, academic researchers, Clean Language practitioners and people interested in understanding work-life balance.

We hope this study will pave the way for further research into Clean Language, and for further application of Clean Language as a research method.

 

———————————————-
1 For further information about Clean Language see Section 2, `Background’.

 

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1.1 Key findings – insights into Work-Life Balance

• All participants had unique, dynamic and highly personal metaphors for their experience.
• While participants conveyed their sense of relationship between different domains of life in varying ways, these domains were not necessarily categorised as `work’ and `life’.
• Nor were participants necessarily seeking to achieve `balance’. The explicit metaphor of `balance’ appeared only rarely, even though many of the participants’ metaphors implied a notion of balancing.

1.2 Key findings – Clean Language as a research method

Clean Language can be used at any of four levels:
o A questioning technique to avoid introducing the researcher’s own metaphors into the interviewee’s account.
o A method for eliciting interviewee-generated metaphors.

o A process for eliciting ‘models’ derived from each individual’s metaphors.o An overarching research strategy.

• Participants commented favourably on the experience of being interviewed through a Clean Language approach.
• There was evidence that some participants made spontaneous changes to improve their WLB as a result of exploring their metaphors through the interviews.

 

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2 Background: about Clean Language

Originated in the 1980s by counselling psychologist David Grove from his work with trauma victims, Clean Language is a method of questioning that facilitates a person’s exploration of their inner world − their own, naturally occurring ‘metaphor landscape’.

Grove’s discovery, substantiated by twenty-five years of experiential research through clinical practice, was that facilitating a client to remain immersed in these landscapes enabled effective resolution of issues to take place.

Grove’s technique came to be known as ‘Clean Language’ because of its absolute fidelity to the client’s inner working model of the world. A central and significant feature of the practice is that the practitioner’s interventions remain as free as possible from the practitioner’s own metaphors and assumptions; hence the notion that the interviewer’s language needs to be ‘clean’. For this reason, Clean Language questions are characterised by their unique form,
which is designed both to minimise the interviewer’s content and to prioritise the client’s own experience.

 

———————————————-
2 This report does not aim to describe the Clean Language questions, or to explain how these are used in practice to elicit metaphor landscapes. A comprehensive introduction to these topics can be found in Lawley and Tompkins (2000) and Sullivan and Rees (2008).

 

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In the 1990s Grove’s distinctive methods were studied over some years by psychotherapists Penny Tompkins and James Lawley (Lawley & Tompkins 2000). Tompkins and Lawley not only began to theorise the practice, drawing on theories of metaphor and embodied cognition as developed by, for example, Lakoff and Johnson ( 1980, 1999), but also made it more widely accessible.

Explaining their approach, Lawley and Tompkins describe Clean as ‘a method of facilitating individuals to become more familiar with the organisation of their metaphors so that they can discover new ways of perceiving themselves and their world’ (2000:xiv). The methodology for eliciting metaphor landscapes devised by David Grove not only uses Clean Language but also facilitates the interviewee (or client) to `self-model’, as Lawley and Tompkins have called it. At the same time, the interviewer constructs their own model of what the client is exploring, in order to decide where to direct the interviewee’s attention.

As its name suggests, `modelling’3 involves constructing a mental model or representation of someone’s experience. Modelling is essential to the practise of Clean Language. It requires the interviewer to maintain an unusual perspective, a key aspect of which is that the interviewer temporarily suspends their own model, landscape and perspectives, and accepts that the conversation will be conducted solely in terms of the interviewee’s emerging (metaphor) landscape. Lawley and Tompkins call this whole process

 

———————————————-
3 Derived from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), see Dilts (1998).

 

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of using Clean Language to question an interviewee about their metaphors, and then using the information gained to construct a model, ‘Symbolic Modelling’.
Clean Language training courses now support a growing practice and an ever-expanding range of applications across business4, education and medicine, in areas that include IT, project management, and sales (Sullivan & Rees 2008). It is being used increasingly for interviewing, for example by a police force interviewing vulnerable witnesses in order to avoid leading the witness5.

Clean Language has also begun to receive media attention6. Academic interest to date is principally in relation to teaching and learning. For example, Clean Language has been used at the Open University in course materials developed by Dr John Martin7; by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Liverpool John Moores University8; and in the University of Surrey’s MBA9.

 

———————————————-
4 http://www.cleanchange.co.uk/cleanlanguage/2010/10/05/clean-changecase-studies/, accessed 10th October 2010.
5http://www.trainingattentioninthecommunity.co.uk/police%20interviewing.pdf accessed 10th October 2010.
6 `The Healing Power of Positive Language’, BBC news online 27 October 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8326171.stm, accessed 15th September 2010.
7Video and transcripts: ‘Metaphor and Imagery’ available via the ‘OU on iTunes U’ at: http://open.edu/itunes/, accessed 27th September 2010.
8 `Modelling the curriculum through metaphors: One programme’s approach’ Sarah Nixon and Caitlin Walker.’
http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/ECL/ECL_docs/CETL_Journal_No2.pdf, accessed 16th September 2010
9 Module in Strategic Change Management, co-ordinator Dr Paul Tosey.

 

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3 Exploring Work-Life Balance: research challenges

A key aim of this project was to conduct a systematic investigation of Clean Language in action, as a research method that offers both refined techniques for exploring individuals’ inner worlds through metaphor, and a working application of theories of metaphor. The contribution that we believe Clean Language could make is to distinguish clearly between metaphors introduced by a researcher as an interpretive device, and those that originate in, belong to, and
faithfully represent, interviewees’ subjective worlds. Appendix A (`Whose “edge”? An example of “non-Clean” use of metaphor in academic research’) elucidates the consequences of using a `non-Clean’ approach, taken from published research.

Work-Life Balance was chosen as a focus for further research because it is a subject of common concern within organisations and across the helping professions. It was also of interest in relation to Clean Language because recent academic research has pinpointed and questioned the metaphor of ‘balance’ which is embedded in the wider WLB concept (Cohen, Duberley, & Musson 2009; Roberts 2008).

Such an overtly metaphorical research topic is far from ‘clean’, and carries with it a number of challenges and risks. We chose to investigate WLB in part because it would entail dealing with these

 

Page 10

interesting challenges, rather than seeking to eliminate such complexity. The first challenge is the possibility that interviewees could be influenced by the very nature of the question, and/or that the research could be biased in the direction of the two categories of ‘work’ and ‘life’, and the metaphor of ‘balance’.

Furthermore, the typical concept of WLB presupposes that:
• people divide their experience into these two categories − ‘work’ and ‘life’
• these two categories are related by an experience analogous to ‘balance’
• common notions of balance would require ‘work’ and ‘life’ to operate in some way to counterbalance, stabilize, compensate for, or offset each other.

Our project therefore aimed to question these presuppositions.

A second challenge relates to the complexity of the research question. WLB is a more difficult subject matter to explore than it might at first appear, requiring interviewees to have at least some perception of ‘work’ and its counterpart (‘life’), together with some means of evaluating or assessing the relationship between the two.

The task becomes even more complex if the respondent experiences only limited ownership of the ‘WLB’ metaphor.

 

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These challenges became immediately apparent during the face-to-face interviews when, in response to the opening question, ‘When your work-life balance is at its best, that’s like what?’10 some of the interviewees commented directly, or by implication, that they were construing the world differently:

It’s [an] interesting concept isn’t it and I think for me it’s a statement that came out − I first became aware of [it] a few years ago, I never used to see my life as a kind of a balance between work or life personally… I just didn’t see it as an either/or.
(Interviewee E)

Interviewee A’s response was to translate the opening research question into their own words:
So in work-life balance I – presume you’re – when I’m happiest at work and happiest at home, is that what you’re saying?

Before the study began, we surmised that care and skill would be needed to elicit interviewees’ self-perceptions of all three concepts, and to maintain a focus on the crucial concept of ‘balance’ (the metaphor that notionally describes the relationship between work and life). In the event, these were tasks that required complex

———————————————-
10 The question ‘When x is at its best, that’s like what?’ (and variations on this question) is commonly used by Clean Language modellers to elicit the metaphor for a person’s ideal state or situation. It was developed by Clean facilitator Caitlin Walker.

 

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mental processing on the part of interviewees, and real skill on the part of the interviewer.

Acknowledging that all research questions involve some presupposition, we recommend that future exploration of WLB with managers using a Clean approach should be undertaken using a less well defined metaphor (for example, exploring the notion of the ‘relationship’ between work and life) to determine whether it makes a material difference to interviewees’ descriptions.

 

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4 Research methodology

For the purposes of this small-scale study, the interview sample was deliberately limited to six participants. In order to provide a reasonably uniform set of participants, and given that the project was located within and funded by a management department, we decided to seek participants who were mid-career managers (aged 40-50, of both genders) in fulltime employment. None of the managers was trained in Clean Language, nor were they primed about Clean at any stage.11

Participants were drawn from contacts of Clean Change Company and were recruited by the project manager. They came from three different organisations. The project was explained in writing. In keeping with research sector standards and best practice, the project obtained voluntary, informed, written consent of all research participants. Their identities and those of their employers have been anonymised in this report. Interviews were set up by phone or email
contact. All the research participants were invited to ask questions in advance of the interview, although none took up this option.

An experienced Clean Language interviewer was appointed to carry out six initial face-to-face Clean Language interviews of up to one

 

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11 For example, we could have provided some examples of metaphors for WLB, and asked the interviewees in advance of the interview to consider theirmetaphors for WLB. We chose not to do this, so that the interviews would provide data on how those with no special preparation or experience respondto Clean Language interviewing.

 

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hour, and six follow-up interviews of approximately thirty minutes each.

The face-to-face interviews were carried out in participant workplaces in May and June 2010. Approximately two weeks after that first set of interviews, follow-up interviews were carried out by phone or Skype.

In the initial interviews, participants were invited to explore their experiences and metaphors of WLB at its best and not at its best; interviews were video and audio-recorded in order to capture both the verbal and non-verbal detail of the Clean Language research method in action. All interviews were transcribed. Additionally, each respondent was asked to produce a drawing of her or his metaphors after the first interview; this is a standard protocol in Clean Language practice.

The follow-up interviews had two aims:
1) to capture interviewees’ reflections on the initial interview, together with their perceptions of the consequences and benefits or disbenefits of the process; and
2) to gather more details about interviewees’ main metaphors. The follow-up interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed.
The transcriptions were ‘cleanly’ marked-up by the interviewer such that the source of each word (ie whether it was from a participant or the interviewer) could be easily identified.

 

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The interviewer then carried out an initial analysis of data gathered from each face-to-face interview, highlighting key metaphors and themes and, in particular, the distinctions between WLB at its best and not best. Verbatim quotations taken from each interview were included to support this analysis.
In a final step, an expert Clean Language analyst was commissioned to check and validate both the accuracy of the transcript analyses ensuring that they were faithful to interviewees’ descriptions, and the overall integrity of the Clean Language interview process. For this study to meet its objectives, it was important to ensure that interviews were authentic examples of Clean questioning and modelling.

 

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5 Participants’ metaphor landscapes

This section presents summaries of each of the six participant’s metaphor landscapes, using their own words.

Although there was no explicit intention to identify how the interviewees assessed their WLB at the time of the interview, the majority of interviewees did comment on their current situation with most reporting that they were currently far from at their best (‘a million miles away’, said one in their follow-up interview).

5.1 ‘It’s like a circle’
Interviewee A’s theme is one of a ‘happy’ cycle of 9 to 5 division between work and home. A describes the ideal daily cycle as ‘You would know what you’re doing from day to day, you’d come to work, you’d do your job well, you’d go home and you have no stress, you have no strain […] then you would carry out everything you planned to do that evening […] for some quality time with the family.’

When WLB is at its best it is ‘like a circle’ made of two parts (‘work life’ and ‘home life’). Ideally the two come together, touch, and there is a ‘fragile join’ between them. ‘If you like the circle’s completed and […] it’s just going round and around and around […]

 

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it comes together and – and that creates your WLB and that is always joined […] then there’s no problems.’

At work it is more mental than emotional. It is more ‘yes, I’ve done a good job there’. There’s a ‘checklist (Gantt chart) in your brain’ and the items in it get ‘done, done, ticked off’. When the circle becomes ‘disjointed’ there are ‘problems’. When WLB is not at its best the join breaks and ‘you are immersed in one
or the other’. Work affects home life or home life affects work. If work life has an effect it can ‘break the join and if home life has an effect it breaks the join’. The join is ‘a very fragile join, yes because […] it’s almost held together by that moment […] and it’s not held by anything else […] there’s no guarantee […] it’s not like you can superglue them together’. When the join breaks there is distance in the circle. ‘The ultimate aim is that [the circle] is connected.’
5.2 ‘Going up a mountain dodging boulders’ Interviewee B’s theme is one of meeting expectations. The distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life outside work’ is not clearly separated; rather, both appear in a landscape of ‘dodging boulders’ that can come from many sources.

 

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Figure 1: Interviewee B (Work life balance at its best) – Riding the crest of a wave

 

WLB at its best is like ‘doing a particularly good job at juggling’, like ‘riding on the crest of a wave […] you’re on top of everything […] you’re on a high, I suppose […] a natural high.’ ‘Riding’ is like ‘surfing’, being ‘on the surfboard’ [with] `perfect balance and […] on your feet.’

This is short lived and for the most part WLB is like ‘going up a mountain’ while ‘having to dodge boulders’, where previously the boulders were balls to juggle. When WLB is not at its best, stress levels go up and there are more and heavier boulders coming down the mountain and more chance of getting crushed. WLB is at its best when it is not only like ‘riding the crest of the wave’, but also like ‘making good progress up the mountain’, keeping going, ‘managing
to dodge the boulders’ – ‘but you’re not at the top’. Some ‘being

 

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stressed’ and ‘feeling time pressure’ is required for good WLB, making it ‘all such a fine balance to find’.

Figure 2: Interviewee B (Work life balance not at its best) – Going up a hill dodging boulders

5.3 ‘Mental separation’

Interviewee C’s WLB theme is one of mental separation:
‘Time to do things properly. That separation is easy physically but it’s difficult mentally’. When ‘Time to do things properly’ exists at work and at home then there is WLB. When it does not exist then there is ‘thinking about things at home’ when at work and ‘thinking of things at work’ when at home. ‘Time to do things properly’ at work means ‘Clearing all of the things off the tick list.’

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When WLB is at its best there is ‘a sense of feeling in control both at home and at work’. C describes this as setting out what you want to do that day by creating a tick list: ‘Visually I kind of make a list or a picture […] a bit of paper with [the tasks] written down […] a bulletpointed list and I have this vision of kind of being able to tick them off.’ Once all items are ticked off there is ‘kind of icing on the cake […] stepping back and looking at the big picture’. ‘You feel confident [of] your own ability’. At home there is no tick list and there is ‘being supportive, being there and seeing [the] kids grow up and nice things happen.’

When WLB is not at its best the list is not cleared. At home there is worrying about what still needs to be done with the list ‘nagging at the back of your mind’.

5.4 ‘A split with a Friday evening switch’

Interviewee D’s opening response laid out the main theme:
‘Weekends are for family, weeks are for work […] that’s the sort of split I do’. This ‘split’ played out through the remainder of the interview. When WLB is at its best the two do not interfere, there is no blur. `Week’ is characterised by a ‘logical me’ who is ‘structured’ and ‘intense’; ‘The pace at which I do everything in the week is boom-boom-boom-boom-boom’. This pace is set by D and it is one that ‘comes from my ambition’. Batteries supply energy that is required for the week and these are ‘recharged’ at `weekend’.

Weekends are characterised by ‘me’ that is ‘loosey-goosey […] much

 

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more just sort of going with the flow’. This is also a more social ‘me’. The pace at the weekend ‘just drops right down’, with its own energy. The switch between `week’ and `weekend’ happens on a Friday; ‘a sort of Friday evening switch’, which is also the ‘switch that comes back on […] with the alarm clock on Monday morning’.

The weekend and week are like ‘the Yin and Yang’ − ‘one of them allows me to do the other one’. Yin and Yang ‘support each other and keep different parts of me happy.’ The weekend ‘satisfies a whole basket of needs’, while the week ‘the whole basket of other needs’.

When WLB is not at its best ‘the distinction between the week and weekend’ becomes ‘blurred’. Weekends become more structured and more deadline driven and ‘it just hits you’.

5.5 ‘A deal’

Interviewee E’s theme is one of a ‘deal’ between employer and employee around a 9 to 5 division between work and home and commute; and between week and weekend. ‘For me the concept of work-life balance is that it’s a deal […] I’ve got to have a routine around things as long as there’s a deal that actually if I do do the extra, there is pay-back from time to time when I want it.’

WLB at its best is when you have a deal – people are fairly treated and there is flexibility. The deal involves flexibility beyond what’s

 

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contractual and the details of the deal can change from organisation to organisation.

When WLB is not at its best there is a master-servant relationship between employer and employee. Then there is no deal: people feel exploited, like cannon fodder.

For E, ‘the whole commute is part of that deal’. Evenings are for ‘life tasks’ – tasks around the house, so ‘that way you free your weekend up’. The weekend is where ‘I can do things I actually want to enjoy’, such as being outside. E’s shoulders lift and blood pressure drops, ‘you just think well isn’t life great’.

During the working day intensity is high and the weekend is taking itself on a process of going down. ‘You feel healthier – it’s a kind of virtuous circle.’ If WLB is at its best ‘you don’t think about it until you wake up Monday morning.’ ‘I think the best feeling in the world is if you’re having a good day, really busy, before you know it it’s five o’clock.’

5.6 ‘Juggling’

Interviewee F’s theme is one of matching external demands and expectations to ‘who I am as a person’. When this is in balance then WLB is good.

 

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When WLB is at its best it is like juggling ‘with ease’, with a sense of balance, feeling energised. ‘You’re holding quite a few things at the same time’ but they are within reach and ‘you are catching them’.

‘You’re tossing balls up into the air and then they’re almost falling back into your hands without you having to strain and struggle.’ It has a playful feel about it.

Figure 3: Interviewee F (Work life balance at its best) – Juggling with ease, feeling centred like a spinning top Things are thrown at F and ‘I have to match them to what’s important to me.’ ‘You’re acting out of that place where you feel centred and making conscious choices with ease.’ Centred is like a spinning top, spinning on its centre, spinning with ease.’ Everybody admires [it] because it’s beautiful.’ The spinning top is a toy that ‘can

 

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take you into a whole world of discovery and creativity and imagination’.

When WLB is not at its best ‘there are […] several tops […] they’re all spinning but they […] need attention at different times and then it’s no longer playful because you’re having to run from one to the other to keep them spinning’.

Figure 4: Interviewee F (Work-life balance not at its best) – Several tops spinning, not playful, having to run from one to the other In this metaphoric system, F’s choices determine whether WLB is working well or not (one top or several tops). ‘If I am being true to who I am, there isn’t a difference then between how I’m acting at home or at work.’

 

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6 Findings about metaphors of Work-Life Balance

6.1 From `balance’ to `balancing’

A key finding from these six interviews is that, despite the apparent popularity of the ‘work-life balance’ metaphor in common parlance, not one of our interviewees’ main metaphors overtly involved ‘a balance’.

A number of their metaphors did imply some form of balancing, for example while ‘juggling’ (Interviewees B and F), ‘surfing’ (Interviewee B), or in ‘equality’ (Interviewee E). Interestingly, the more the interview progressed, the less ‘balance’ was actively involved in participants’ descriptions unless re-introduced by the interviewer.

Given the central significance of ‘balancing’ (however this is represented) in this study, we are moved to recommend that future research into WLB pays explicit attention to the concept of ‘balancing’.

6.2 Patterns across interviews

All the interviewees identified a number of metaphors and spent a considerable portion of the interview describing and examining these metaphors.

 

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Other frequently occurring metaphors, aside from those relating to `balancing’, are shown in Table 1.

Metaphor Used by interviewee:
Stress               All
Control           All but A
Split                  A, C, D, F
Pressure         All but D
Emotional     All but E (E used psychological)
Physical         All but E
Mental            All
Rational         A, E, F

Table 1: Frequently occurring metaphors

A metaphor of `separation/compartmentalisation’ was used by five of the six managers and was a recurring theme, with four of the six interviewees using the metaphor of a ‘split’. For some, a separation was part of WLB at its best (‘the idea of [...] the Friday night switch […] the question on “how do you move from one to the other?”’, Interviewee D), while for others, it was the absence of a split that indicated WLB at its best. Thus for Interviewee A, WLB is `like a circle’ made of two parts, `work life’ and `home life’, and there is a `fragile join’ between them; ‘If you like the circle’s completed and […] it’s just going round and around and around […] it comes together and – and that creates your WLB and that is always joined.’
(Interviewee A)

 

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The metaphor of a ‘circle’ – vicious, virtuous or negative – was mentioned in three of the face-to-face interviews (Interviewees A, C and E) and by another manager in the follow-up (Interviewee F).

While it was a central metaphor for only one manager, it was commonly used to express both the interconnectedness of several factors, and that the degree of WLB could vary by becoming better or worse. This feature of experience may indicate that, consciously or otherwise, these managers were thinking somewhat systemically about their situation. Because of this, we consider it important that future research addresses the question of how these managers
scaled12 their sense of WLB; in other words, by what means were they able to decide that it was getting better or worse (both day-byday and over longer time periods), and how did they know when it had crossed a threshold from being at its best to being no longer at its best – or vice versa.

12 ‘Scaling’ refers to the way that people use scales to rank things in order to express relativeness. While a culture has many agreed scales − eg minutes and
hours for the passing of time − individuals have their own unique metaphorical scales for other aspects of their lives. For example, two of many possible
metaphors for scaling ‘control of a situation’ could be to assess the amount or the level of control the individual believes they have in a situation. Commonly a scale will have a threshold at either extreme, beyond which something different happens.
See http://www.cleanlanguage.co.uk/articles/articles/26/1/Big-Fishin-a-Small-Pond-The-Importance-of-Scale/Page1.html.

 

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6.3 Explicit and implicit metaphors

Lakoff and Johnson say that ‘Metaphorical thought is unavoidable, ubiquitous, and mostly unconscious’ (2003:272), and this appeared to be true in this study. The transcripts revealed that interviewees were always using more metaphor than they probably realised. For example, it seems unlikely that any of the interviewees who used the word ‘control’ were aware of using it in a metaphorical sense.

The following example shows how initially Interviewee D was unaware of his comments about his Friday evening switch being metaphoric (ie making this metaphor implicit), and how that changed subsequently with the interviewer’s questions.

Q: […] and you operate in a different way, and what – what happens between work and weekend when you – when you operate in a different, what happens – ?

A: I think [...] there is sort of a – there’s sort of a Friday evening switch almost, yes, so – so Friday evening becomes a just- a relaxation and almost […] just a big relaxation that suddenly the week is – generally speaking the week is finished.

In the follow up interview, D says:
Once I […] sort of tune[d] into the thinking about metaphors […] it did feel it got easier for me […] as I sort of more tuned into

 

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thinking about […] the two switches […] everything started to sort of fall into place a bit more.

Table 2 shows an example for each interviewee of a metaphor that was made explicit during the interview, and of a metaphor that was left implicit. Those in the right-hand column are noticeably more conceptual than those in the left hand column.

Interviewee                       Explicit metaphor                      Implicit metaphor
A                                              ‘perfect circle’                                   ‘dictates’
B                                         ‘climbing a mountain’                         ‘pressure’
C                                                          n/a                                               ‘control’
D                                                     ‘switch’                                                 ‘split’
E                                             ‘master/slave’                                       ‘switch off’
F                                                   ‘juggling’                                             ‘energised’

Table 2: Explicit and implicit metaphors

6.4 Modelling a metaphor landscape

A principal claim for the Clean Language method is that an interviewee can be encouraged to describe their experience in a way that gives some insight into how his or her metaphor landscape works as a whole, as a coherent system.

We consider that the project has substantiated this claim; all of the interviews contain a wealth of information with enough quality to construct an understanding of an individual’s metaphoric system.

 

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The notion of a system refers to the fact that eliciting a model successfully requires information about both the elements of someone’s experience and, crucially, the relationship between those components, in particular the sequential, causal and contingent relationships. In the context of this project, our hypothesis was that interviewees could be facilitated to self-model their personal metaphors of WLB, in the process describing their experience in a way that demonstrated how the elements and events fit together. If successful, such an approach could greatly extend existing understanding of how individuals construe and experience WLB.

An example of how a prototype model of a metaphoric system can be derived from the interview data (for Interviewee B) is shown below (Figure 5). With reference to this prototype, we note that as well as `juggling lots of tennis balls in harmony’, B gave another metaphor that summed up good WLB; that is, like ‘riding the crest of a wave’. The latter metaphor is not shown in the model because it seems parallel to (isomorphic with) B’s metaphor of `juggling’; `riding the crest of a wave’ can therefore be regarded as an alternative to the `juggling’ metaphor, and not as an additional element of the model.

 

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Figure 5: Model of how Interviewee B’s metaphor of ‘work-life balance’ works over time

 

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7 Findings about Clean Language as a research method

7.1 Keeping it Clean

In the judgement of the expert analyst, the face-to-face interviews constituted an authentic application of Clean Language, both at a ‘micro’ level (questioning technique/staying Clean) and as a modelling process. The interviewer remained faithful to a Clean Language methodology, and indeed has set a benchmark that any future research using Clean Language should seek to emulate.

The transcripts show some variation in the way that both the face-to- face and follow-up interviews were opened up for discussion, resulting in the unintended introduction of unnecessary metaphors, for example, ‘focusing’, in ‘spend [...] time focusing on work/life balance’. As already discussed, departures − however slight − from a consistently Clean approach can affect the response. This point is especially pertinent given the overtly metaphoric properties of the research question and its potential for biasing interviewees’ responses.

The follow-up interviews, which (intentionally) mixed two kinds of information gathering (reflection on the interview process, and further investigation of an individual’s metaphors), yielded information that, while still of interest for our study, was noticeably less Clean.

 

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7.2 Patience and persistence

We note that eliciting a person’s way of assessing a concept such as WLB is not a job for a novice. The quality of information obtained in this study is directly related to the competence of the interviewer.

For example, when exploring participants’ perceptions of ‘balance’, sometimes the interviewer requires patience and persistence in order for an overt metaphor to emerge. It was not until two-thirds of the way through the interview that Interviewee A produced their ‘completed or joined circle’ metaphor. On the other hand, F came up with ‘juggling’ at the very beginning of the interview.

This variation is common and requires the interviewer to ask questions in a way that paces the interviewees’ awareness of the metaphoric aspects of their experience. Interviewees who tend to give specific examples or abstract descriptions may take a while before they connect with a metaphor, but once they do it can become an important source of self-knowledge.

7.3 Multiple levels of application

The expert analyst pointed out that Clean Language was being used in this project in four distinct ways, in order of increasing complexity, as shown in Table 3.

 

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Level Description
1 A questioning technique Making use of Clean Language questions as technical elements within any interview method and context, in order to minimise the introduction of the researcher’s metaphors and constructs.
2 A method of eliciting interviewee-generated metaphors Using Clean Language questions tactically within an interview, in order to elicit metaphors and metaphoric material.
3 A means of ‘in the moment’ modelling by the interviewer (during the interview) of an individual’s metaphor landscapes Using Clean Language for modelling, ie to elicit and map out the interviewee’s metaphor landscape, emphasising connections and relationships between metaphors as well as the metaphors themselves.
4 A coherent research strategy that guides the researcher before, during and after the interview Using Clean principles to guide the entire research process including formulating the research question and reviewing features and patterns of the total data.

Table 3: Progressive levels of `Clean’ in interview-based research

In addition, Clean Language principles also apply to the analysis of transcripts at any of the levels shown in Table 3, such that the analysis stays faithful to the interviewee’s metaphors, with minimal interpretation of the interviewee’s subjective world.

These distinctions underline the importance in future research of knowing which level of application is intended within any project.

 

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7.4 What was it like for participants to be interviewed using Clean Language?

The follow-up interviews provided useful evidence of the interviewees’ experience of Clean Language as a research technique.

All of the interviewees had remembered their main metaphors, with some deriving real benefit from the experience of exploring, describing and drawing their metaphor landscapes.

The majority of participants stated that they had enjoyed the interviews and gained valuable insights into their personal metaphors relating to WLB.

You had to think about it quite deeply […] [It was] quite thought-provoking. […] it definitely felt different from how you can normally be interviewed. (Interviewee C)

Some interviewees reported that they had had no difficulty at all with the approach; others who did have some difficulty stated that they found it easier to answer the questions as the interview progressed.

Some reported that following the initial interview they had spent time considering their current WLB, with a growing awareness of it.

In some cases participants had taken a decision to make changes, even if the follow-up interview was too soon after the initial interview for them to have made the changes yet.

 

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I’ve had a busy couple of weeks […] so in the back of my mind actually I haven’t got a balance at the moment […] it certainly made me […] more aware of it [WLB] and actually […] a desire to take more control of it for myself. (Interviewee E)

I found it quite therapeutic […] I actually thought it […] benefited me in some way. […] I already sort of knew […] it wasn’t the perfect circle […] I think it’s made me realize more about my own personal life and maybe I – I need to – to sort out my own personal life […] talking to someone has made me […] accept it more, yes, which then allows me to […] make a decision – make changes. (Interviewee A)

So I can see that I’ll be able to get things back in balance and I’ll be able to you know, spend a bit more time looking after myself or whatever, you know, and not just worrying about other people [...] the general realisation that […] I did seem to focus on boulders coming down mountains rather than surfing [laughs] you realise […] work isn’t everything [laughs] you know, senior people will just […] keep driving you hard until you’re in a mess if you’re not careful […] so I’m not going to let that happen. (Interviewee B)

Other participants reported that they had already made changes in their life to redress their current WLB as a result of the initial interview.

 

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[…] the few weekends […] since then have been really good [...] I have the conversation with my wife […] about the fact that you know, Friday night is my switch and it’s quite useful […] by getting the difference between the weekends and the weeks, not just means that I enjoy my weekends more, it also means

that I’m in a better state to – keep going all through the week. (Interviewee D)

There are […] times when I thought, ‘Actually yes it is working, and now I realise that it’s – it’s not working’ […] I’ve been able to […] distance myself from the situation, […] stand back, think about what’s happening, which perhaps I might not have done before […] it’s actually just increased my knowledge that I can
make changes […] a sense that it is within my capacity to make the changes necessary to – to make it work rather than feeling that you’re helpless. (Interviewee F)

While personal change is normally a goal of Clean Language applied in a coaching or therapeutic context, it was not pursued intentionally within this research study. Such changes may be an interesting and potentially important by-product of a Clean Language research interview.

 

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7.5 Implications for researchers

While academic and market researchers might believe that they already use a close equivalent of a Clean approach, for example through eliciting open-ended feedback, noting metaphors, or including verbatim quotes to support analysis, we contend that a Clean approach offers a distinctive approach which holds certain advantages.

The most comprehensive application for purposes would be `Clean all the way through’, applying equally to the construction of the research question, the way the topic is introduced and the interview framed, the precision of the interview questions, and the analysis and reporting.

 

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8 Conclusions

Our general conclusions are that:

• We believe that this study has fulfilled its aim of pioneering research into Clean Language.
• The report provides evidence that interviews carried out by an interviewer experienced in Clean Language can generate new insights into the experience of individual participants, and into the understanding of the nature of WLB.
• The study has demonstrated the benefits of using Clean Language as a research tool and, potentially, as an overarching methodology extending to all aspects of the research project.

Conclusions about work-life balance are that

• People have unique, dynamic and highly personal metaphors for their experience.
• While participants conveyed their sense of relationship between different domains of life in varying ways, these domains were not necessarily categorised as `work’ and `life’.
• Participants were not necessarily seeking to achieve `balance’.

The explicit metaphor of `balance’ appeared only rarely, even though many of the participants’ metaphors implied a notion of balancing.

 

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The study has yielded valuable insights into the use of Clean Language as research technique for investigating people’s inner worlds. It demonstrates how Clean Language can be used as:

• A questioning technique that avoids introducing the researcher’s metaphors into the interviewee’s account.
• A method for eliciting interviewee-generated metaphors.
• A process for eliciting ‘models’ derived from each individual’s metaphors.
• An overarching research strategy.

The study also emphasises the importance of using Clean principles to analyse interview transcripts such that the researcher’s interpretation of the interviewee’s subjective world is minimised.

Findings about the experience of being an interviewee are that:

• Interviewees found the Clean approach helpful and, either initially or as the interview progressed, comfortable.
• There was evidence that participants recalled the metaphors they had explored in the initial interviews.
• Some participants had made spontaneous changes as a result of the interviews.

We offer the following implications for practice:

• Line managers, Human Resource managers and coaches seeking to develop WLB policies or to support individual employees with WLB issues will gain valuable insight through

 

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being aware of individuals’ metaphors and metaphor landscapes.

• Industry researchers, such as market researchers, and academic researchers can incorporate Clean Language into their research practice in a variety of ways, on a spectrum from questioning technique to overarching research methodology, in order to enhance the accuracy of their findings.

Next, the project team plans to:

• Produce an article reporting the study for an academic research journal.
• Develop proposals for a more substantial project.
• Seek opportunities to apply the findings of this project in practice.

We welcome contact from potential partners who wish to explore any of these opportunities.

 

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9 References
Berger, J. G. 2004, “Dancing on the Threshold of Meaning: Recognising and Understanding the Growing Edge”, Journal of Transformative Education, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 336-351.
Cohen, L., Duberley, J., & Musson, G. 2009, “Work-Life Balance?: An Autoethnographic Exploration of Everyday Home-Work Dynamics”, Journal of Management Inquiry, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 229-241.
Dilts, R. B. 1998, Modeling with NLP Meta Publications, Capitola, CA.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 1980, Metaphors We Live By University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 1999, Philosophy in the Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought Basic Books, New York.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 2003, Metaphors We Live BY, 2nd edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Lawley, J. & Tompkins, P. 2000, Metaphors in Mind: transformation through symbolic modelling The Developing Company Press, London.
Roberts, E. 2008, “Time and Work Life Balance: The Roles of `Temporal Customization’ and `Life Temporality’”, Gender, Work & Organization, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 430-453.
Sullivan, W. & Rees, J. 2008, Clean Language: revealing metaphors and opening minds Crown House Publishing House, Carmarthen, Wales.

 

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10 Appendix A:

Whose `edge’? An example of `non-Clean’ use of metaphor in academic research A study by Berger (2004) re-analyses interviews with mature students on a master’s program at George Mason University in order to probe the nature of personal transformations experienced by these students as a result of taking the programme.

The following excerpts (Berger 2004:341) relate to one of these students, Kathleen, `an articulate executive for whom stability has been the norm. A white woman in her mid-50’s, she is at the height of her career in the government. Then… with a change of administration she is unexpectedly asked to step down from the influential position she has had for many years.’

The researcher asks the following question (we have italicised the more obvious metaphors used by the interviewer and by Kathleen):.
I ask her whether she wishes she were in a different place in her life… (using the metaphor `place in her life’ would be an example of `non-Clean’ practice in questioning unless Kathleen has already introduced this term).

Kathleen replies as follows:
No, I think this is the journey. And I could stay in this [uncertain space], I think, forever…. I don’t know what to say, it just feels like it will emerge. But no, where I am right now feels very much

 

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like – it doesn’t feel like a hiatus. It feels like it is the journey and that work will emerge from this place.

Berger comments in the article:
In this excerpt, it is clear that Kathleen is on the edge of her knowing. She stumbles, stammers, circles back… After admitting that she doesn’t know, Kathleen seems more comfortable…
Perhaps she finds some footing within the slippery place of her own uncertainty.

From a Clean Language perspective, the metaphor used by Berger look entirely extraneous to Kathleen. Indeed, the divergence from Kathleen’s words, and her world, is striking. Both the `inner landscape’ itself and the quality of movement within it are reinterpreted to such a degree by the researcher, we suggest, as to risk misrepresenting the interviewee significantly.

It is notable the metaphor of an `edge’ (of knowing) is mentioned no less than one hundred and four times in Berger’s article; not once does this metaphor appear in the interviewee data cited in the article. This supports the desirability of distinguishing clearly between metaphors introduced by a researcher as an interpretive device, and those that originate in, belong to, and faithfully represent, interviewees’ subjective worlds.

 

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11 Appendix B: Project Team


Paul Tosey, project leader

Paul is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Management, University of Surrey, where he is Assistant Director of the Centre for Management Learning. He joined Surrey in 1991 and led the development of the MSc Change Agent Skills and Strategies, an advanced training for consultants and facilitators, which he directed for many years.

Career experience includes consultancy, coaching and management, as well as teaching at the University of Edinburgh and the Open University. His research interests include transformative learning and NLP, and his book A Critical Appreciation of NLP (2009, co-author Jane Mathison) is published by Palgrave Macmillan. Paul is a certified facilitator of Clean Language.


Wendy Sullivan, project manager

Wendy is an international trainer of Clean Language, a facilitator and consultant. One of the most experienced Clean trainers in the world, Wendy runs Clean Change Company, offering an extensive open training programme and a range of business services including coaching and consultancy. She is a guest lecturer on the University of Surrey’s MBA and works one-to-one as a coach and psychotherapist. Her book, Clean Language: revealing metaphors & opening minds (2008, co-author Judy Rees) is published by Crown House Publishing Ltd.

Rupert Meese, interviews and transcript analysis
Rupert has a background designing and developing some of the most complex computer systems in the telecoms industry. He came to Clean Language through a passion for working with the complexities of experience. Since 2008 Rupert has run a private symbolic modelling practice, working with individuals who want help exploring their life situation without someone ‘taking over’. Rupert

 

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is a writer, web designer, researcher, Reiki practitioner, systems architect, programmer, artist and father.

Margaret Meyer, report writing
Margaret is the Associate Director of Clean Change Company and a change consultant, independent researcher, coach and therapist who uses Clean Language across the span of her work. Margaret’s previous experience spans publishing (Hodder &Stoughton), information management (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and the arts (British Council). She has developed special applications of Clean Language for strategic planning, team-building, mediation and
for research. With Wendy Sullivan she trains and mentors professionals in the use of Clean Language.

James Lawley, expert analysis
James has been a UKCP registered psychotherapist since 1993 and is co-author of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling. He is an independent researcher who has collaborated on projects with Yale University Child Study Center; the School of Management at the University of Surrey; the Communication and Systems department at the Open University; and the Centre for Sport, Dance and Outdoor Education at Liverpool John Moores
University.

Sarah Nixon, academic advisor
Sarah is a Principal Lecturer in Sports Development with PE and teaches on a wide range of courses within the Centre for Sport and Dance. Sarah has a wide range of experience in the sport development and management field, and prior to Liverpool John Moores University she worked in various posts within the leisure industry. Sarah led the Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning within the Faculty of Education, Community and Leisure. Sarah’s research interests are in personal development planning, learning and teaching and sports management.

 

Clean Language Metaphor Cards Activity by Emma Hackett

Clean Language Metaphor Cards Activity: Introducing creative thinking and building capabilities

by Emma Hackett, Clean-trained coach and consultant

The underpinning theme of this activity is that of increasing creative capabilities and promoting new ways of working and being (as part of a change process), but it can easily be adapted to suit different situations and environments.

I designed this activity for a company looking to grow its business significantly, in so doing alter its working practices and structures in order to support this growth. The consequence of such change was that everyone would be affected, being asked to work in new ways, and be actively engaged in the process of change.

Practicalities

As described here, the activity involved 15 participants, with 30-40 minute blocks of activity, totalling 1½ -2 hours, but it can be adapted depending on the context, available time, and number of participants.

To get the most from this activity, it’s worth considering the space you use. Environment is critical to creative thinking; space affects our state (there’s a lovely London innovation agency that even has a bed in it!) Ideally, adapt the space you’re working in so that it’s more conducive to creative play and thinking. For example, consider creating different ‘zones’ within one space, filled with stimulus materials including images, objects and music; or you can invite people to move to another area of the room, building or location. This very act marks doing something different, helps people generate different states, and you can discuss their experiences in the debrief.

Desired Outcomes

  • Actively engage participants in a change process, creating a safe space for them to experience and explore new ways of working and being.
  • Introduce the idea of creative business thinking, an incredibly important enabler of growth, development and innovation.
  • Get people thinking about what they value and would like to retain as the business grows, and to prepare them for collective visioning work.

Begin by discussing the notion that there are several ways of thinking; more traditional business thinking, and creative business thinking. Both of these are valuable and necessary; however, they tend to mix like oil and water. For example in our culture, as we move into a business world, we increasingly favour adult analytical thinking; it’s generally serious, cautious, values experience, and is focused on finding the ‘right answers’. We lose the art of exploratory, more expansive childlike thinking; when thinking this way we are curious, relaxed, and there are no right or wrong answers.

Method

1. Introduce the idea of working in new ways through the frame of creativity

Spread out the metaphor cards and cluster around them.  Ask the group to consider times when they have been creative (e.g. in business, brain storming, doing a hobby, with their children, back to childhood if necessary). Ask, “When you are being creative, you’re like … what?” And suggest that looking at the cards and choosing one or two might help them get a sense of how it is for them when they are creative.  Ask them to share their answers with the group.

Begin to tease out the behaviours and conditions needed.

2. Create an experience of working creatively

Frame this next activity by offering definitions of creativity, for example:

“Creativity is the habit of continually doing things in new ways, in order to make a positive difference to the business (or /team/group/school/any other context!)”.

Give the group an experience of this. For example:

  • Construct a creative working area, placing metaphor cards randomly around it, each in their own space; this can be as simple or inventive as you like!
  • Ask the group to move from space to space, noticing which cards they are drawn to, and exploring the answer to a Clean metaphor question such as “When X (eg, you/your business) is at its best, that’s like …what?”. The ‘X’ in your question should suit your specific context, and could be an expansion of the earlier creative thinking/behaving discussion.
  • Invite people, singly or in pairs or small groups, to move to at least 6 different spaces. You may want to encourage them to do something a little more unusual such as stand on a chair, visit a blank space, or turn around within a single space. You are encouraging them to do something different and to get comfortable being a little lost!
  • Depending on time, the pairs can share their experience at each stopping point.

3. Share the answers to the question and discuss the experience

Sharing can be done in small groups or all together.

Ask people to return to the card that has special significance for them, or the card they started at. Invite each person to share what they know about that card, and in particular what they now know about ‘when X is at it’s best it’s like what?’. Augment people’s responses by asking a few Clean questions such as ‘What kind of?’, and ‘Is there anything else about?’ as they share. If they are in small groups, you could suggest that after they hear from each person, they ask them these two questions to help them to develop their response more fully before returning to the full group and sharing. Capture the key attributes that the group offers.

Next ask the group about the experience itself, using ‘this experience was like … what?’ if you wish.

Lastly, invite participants to break into small groups to identify the ‘enablers’ and ‘disablers’ of working creatively like this. Again you are teasing out both the behaviours and conditions necessary for creative thinking, doing things differently, and creating necessary conditions that everyone can understand and agree to for future creative sessions.

 

Using Clean to speed up meetings

Situation

A large, publicly-funded civil engineering project, which had lasted four years and involved partner organisations from five different countries, was drawing to a close. In order to extract maximum benefit from the experience, a one-day evaluation meeting was arranged, involving around three dozen participants. They came from various organisations, ranged from administrators to professors, and had a variety of home languages. The challenge was to quickly and efficiently look back at the results of the project, and draw out relevant lessons.

Clean intervention

Several facilitators were involved in the event, only some of whom were trained in Clean. This provided lead facilitator Annemiek van Helsdingen with an ideal opportunity to compare Clean- and less-Clean facilitation styles.

She explained: “We had split the meeting into smaller groups and facilitators were logging key points on flip charts in each group. What I noticed was that my Clean colleague, Lizet van den Berg, was working so much more quickly – about 50% faster.

“She would remember the person’s actual words and write those on the flip chart. Sometimes she would ask a Clean question to clarify something. When group members added remarks, she would check if the remark also needed to be added on the flip-chart (again in exact words). This quickly filters out important and less important contributions.

“In another group they were having a very muddled discussion. The person at the flip chart would try and translate things into his own words and in many cases, the main message of what had been said was then lost. A discussion would go on but things didn’t get any clearer – and so much time was wasted.

“Being Clean makes life so much easier. It’s the most effective way to ask about what you want to know.

“You have much higher-quality meetings. They are often quicker, and there’s no way people can escape responsibility – everyone has their share. And when things get tough or challenging, you have a far better chance of sorting it out quickly without any emotional outbursts.”

Outcome

Compared with the group which experienced ‘ordinary’ facilitation, the group which had been facilitated Cleanly felt they had been listened to more carefully, and that their views had been faithfully recorded. A larger number of people were able to make a considered contribution in the allotted time.

 

Changing the ‘negative thinker’

Situation

An operations manager in his late 30s was wearing his colleagues down with continued negative thinking. He was well known for always coming up with the problem, never the solution. Eventually his manager decided: “This has got to change,” and sent him to see consultant and coach Diana Gibbs.

Clean intervention

Diana explained: “I have known this company for seven or eight years, developing the senior management team, facilitating awaydays and coaching, and this person has been around through that period.

“His belief was that he was saying things that needed to be said to protect his staff, or the operation, but he had no awareness of the impact this was having or how frustrating it was for the people around him.”

With a wide range of coaching skills at her fingertips, Diana had no hesitation in choosing a Clean approach for this job. “One reason I use Clean is that it helps people get into a neutral position, to separate the content and emotion. You also get the client to a different, more useful, class of information more quickly. They begin to see connections and relationships they have not spotted before. And with new awareness of what is influencing the problem, that opens up more choices for them.”

In this case, two sessions using Clean techniques led to a transformation. Suddenly, the client shifted his focus away from short-term problems and onto the future, to his desire for happier working relationships and a long-term career with the organisation. From there, more conventional coaching approaches could be used.

“We developed a complete project plan about how he was going to develop his deputy, and discussed the effect this would have on his boss,” Diana said.

 

Outcome

The results were immediate – and dramatic. “Very soon afterwards I had indications from his colleagues that they were seeing different, more constructive behaviours from him. His behaviour was so different – not that they didn’t recognise him, but they were pleased and surprised.”

 

A question of trust in the Dutch police force

Situation

A department within the Dutch police force was obliged to act when a survey revealed that staff had a very low level of trust in their managers. After a round of meetings, poor communication was identified as a major issue.

 

Clean intervention

How could the managers and team leaders change their communication style to help them build trust again? Over five half-day sessions, they were introduced to the principles of Clean and trained in Clean questioning and listening skills. As the impact of this work became clear, the project was extended and a group of staff received similar training.

Consultant Annemiek van Helsdingen (of consultancy ‘Gewoon aan de slag’ based in Amersfoort, Holland) explained that she and Wendy Nieuwland chose to use Clean techniques because a lack of ‘being heard seemed to be at the core of the problem. People were not being treated as individuals – managers and staff believed that everyone thought in the same way, and that whatever was true for one was true for all.

She said: “With Clean you can’t help but get to the specifics of a person’s experience thereby pinpointing what needs to change for that person. It’s not the only tool for the situation, but it is a very effective one.  The participants on the training were surprised to find out how hard it was to really listen, and how much energy was involved.”

Outcome

Afterwards, a further staff survey showed a clear shift in the right direction. Annemiek said: “The most senior manager has made a dramatic improvement in his communication style and skills, and it’s recognised by people. The same is true of a number of other managers, though not all.

“There are still some people saying things have not changed and never will. But a larger number of people are saying things are heading in the right direction, but mustn’t be allowed to slip.

“The chief of the service said they had grown considerably as a management team. They communicate with each other very differently. They also have a much better eye for nuance, which is the difference that makes the difference, and they are much better equipped to deal with signals they get from within the organisation.”

 

Project leadership in the pharmaceutical industry

Situation

A key player in the pharmaceutical industry was concerned about the performance of some of their project leaders – the individuals charged with bringing new drugs through testing and to market. The process itself was highly regulated, so they could be sure it was being followed. But there was an extraordinary level of variation in the results delivered by different individuals. What was happening?

Clean intervention

A team of Clean consultants conducted a research project to assess the differences between the top performers in the role and their less-effective colleagues. By interviewing project leaders, their managers and members of their teams, they were able to pinpoint specific points on which the company could act.

Consultant Louise Oram explained: “It turned out that the people who were most successful and highly regarded had at least 15 years’ experience in this kind of role, or were programme managers who had come up through the ranks.

“We discovered that there were important differences between the thinking patterns of those who were good at the job and those who were not. Those who were good at the job knew what to look out for and had mental strategies about things that could go wrong.

“The standard way of addressing this situation would have been a process review – but it was already clear they were following the process. By using Clean techniques we got a different class of information, information that the people we were interviewing weren’t already consciously aware of.

“People were saying to us: ‘I didn’t know I did that! Now I do know, I’ll pay more attention to it.’

“Individual project leaders found that they now had what it took to improve performance by changing their thinking strategies, and their approach to decision-making in the face of a mass of information.”

Outcome

The company made specific changes to its selection procedure for the programme leader role, giving increased weight to the kinds of experience which had been found to be relevant. They also developed new career paths which encouraged experienced programme leaders to stay within the role.

 

Find out what customers really think

“We are now using Clean questions in our research sessions, which has proved really helpful in generating rich metaphorical imagery and language that gives our clients greater insight into their customers’ experience.”  Maddy Morton, Lucid www.lucidpeople.com

Links to ‘youtube ‘videos

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLXsq1MtjRM – Clean Training is like what?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfPR2PwJoeo – Using Clean in difference roles

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