In the right zone

Zones of impact

What zone are you in?

A model that I use quite frequently in one-to-one guidance and group sessions is one that I cobbled together myself. I call it the Zones model (or Zones of Impact model).

The original spark for the idea came from the Cognitive Information Processing model. I was scared off by words such as ‘metacognitions’, but the idea of different domains of thinking appealed to me, as did the notion of using these domains to identify the type of help that would be most appropriate for particular clients. Further inspiration came from the knowing-why, knowing-how and knowing-whom of the Intelligent Career model and Blooms Taxonomy of Learning. I later came across the Transformational Learning model (sometimes called triple loop learning) which again looks at different levels of change that might take place with a client.

Out of these various sources of inspiration, I wanted to make a model that I would find easy to remember which would help me to locate and assess the type of help I was giving to clients. Thus was born the Zones of Impact model. The model attempts to classify different areas of client needs in four primary zones.

  • Knowledge zone (WHAT?) — Do they just need information? Is a lack of knowledge the only thing holding this client back from making progress?
  • Process zone (HOW?) — Do they need to learn new skills or techniques? Are they unsure how to approach a particular career management task?
  • Meaning zone (WHY?) — Do they have a proper understanding of themselves and their circumstances? Do they need help in interpreting their situation? Are they misleading themselves or making wrong assumptions?
  • Identity zone (WHO?) — Do they have a clear idea of who they are and who they want to be? Do they have issues with their self image or self confidence?

I visualise the zones as a series of layers. The outer layers of Knowledge and Process are most easily visible when we encounter a client, but they might conceal inner layers where the real help is needed. Action in the inner zones is likely to have the largest and longest lasting impact but is possibly harder to achieve.

Using this model to reflect on my practice, I noticed that I would naturally gravitate to the Process Zone. I have a tendency to want to show or tell people how to do things. I began to experiment with pushing my help into different zones. For example, when looking at someone’s CV, I would try to help them understand the purpose of the CV from an employer’s point of view (meaning zone). Although this took more work, it actually made it easier then to advise them on how to build their CV (process zone) and what to put on it (knowledge zone).

In longer guidance sessions, I have been experimenting with different starting invitations such as, ‘How would you like to be different at the end of this session?’ in an attempt to explicitly invite clients to think about the possibility of working in the Identity Zone.

Applying this to group work, I recently ran a workshop on interview skills for doctors seeking consultant positions. At the beginning of the session, I consciously tried to start in the Identity Zone by helping them think about themselves as consultants — to identify themselves with this future role. This made it easier to help them understand the recruiters perspective (meaning zone), to know how to present their evidence effectively (process zone) and to know what to include in their answers (knowledge zone). Focusing on the Identity Zone also made it more natural to raise deeper issues of career satisfaction during the session.

  • Which zone do you spend most time in with clients?
  • How many times have you been in the wrong zone?
  • What models do you find most useful?

Further reading


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  1. #1 by John King on 27 November 2009 - 00:04

    This an interesting framework, and your handout gives some good questions to ask that work within each zone.

    Can you go further? What simple diagnostic tools or indicators might we use to make assessments as to which zone we should be working within?

    For example, are there certain questions that clients might use that indicate we should be operating within a certain zone? Are there questions that we may use which will prompt responses that might help us to diagnose the zone? And how should we classify those responses?

    It seems to me that things get a lot easier once we are ‘in the zone’ – both for us and our clients. But what do we do when we’re not sure which zone to focus on?

  2. #2 by David Winter on 27 November 2009 - 12:32

    Ain’t no such thing as simple when we are dealing with individuals! In most cases you are likely to be operating in several zones simultaneously.

    In most cases, clients are likely to present issues in the Knowledge or Process Zones. You may have to ask questions to work out if there are deeper issues that need to be addressed and steer them to think about working in other Zones. On the Resources page I have added a new handout on using Zones in guidance discussions. The most useful bit, I think, is the list of questions to guide reflective practice.

    • #3 by John King on 1 December 2009 - 19:59

      Great handout.

      It creates a ‘siphon’ which can be used to direct the difficult ‘exploration’ stage of an interview – the bit that for inexperienced advisers (eg – me) too often loses direction.

      Really useful (all of it – not just the questions). If other advisers find it useful perhaps it should be included at the basic training stage, as it does give a framework within which we can more easily comprehend other theories.

      Some role plays and learning activities based on this handout in our guidance fora, please 🙂

  3. #4 by Vinny on 27 November 2009 - 12:34

    I like your theory and It’s made me think a lot. I have now come up with my own theory. Obviously it is less well thought out than yours, as my knowledge of the current theories is extremely limited and it is in a very early stage in its development. However, I’d love to know what you think and will work on it over time.

    Vinny’s (hastily cobbled together) Barriers Theory
    What’s stopping you?

    The basic statements
    1. People want to manage their careers
    2. There are barriers which prevent people from achieving the above task.
    3. These barriers can be internal or external.
    4. Often the external and internal barriers can reinforce each other.
    5. If a careers adviser can work out what these barriers are, it may be possible to overcome them and help the person move forward in their career.
    6. Sometimes these barriers are too high. In this case the careers adviser can aid acceptance and help the person to develop a different way forward.

    People often use careers services because they accept that there is a barrier and feel that the careers service can help.
    The careers professionals want to help people remove the barriers to managing a successful career.
    Although these two aims seem at first to be compatible, this is sometimes not the case. This is for two main reasons.
    1. The person and the careers professional may disagree with what the real barrier is. (and sometimes that there is a barrier at all)
    2. The person and careers professional may disagree about the methods of removing the barrier.

    Identifying the significant barriers and then finding the right method to remove them is the key to providing good careers guidance.

    I haven’t had the time to come up with a comprehensive list – but here are a few examples of barriers.

    External barriers:
    1. Lack of knowledge and information
    2. Social and cultural barriers
    3. Age and experience
    4. Ability and intelligence
    5. Money

    Internal barriers
    1. Confidence about abilities
    2. lack of insight into own values/skills
    3. nervousness (i.e. in interview situations)

    I’m currently working on the methods – this is the really tricky bit and is taking longer to shape, as I’ve got to include many more variables.

    I think this works for me because I’m new to this whole guidance thing and therefore this model can develop with me. As long as I can identify what their barriers are, I can then try out different methods – As I get more experienced, I will learn more methods over time. This means I won’t have to change the model as I learn, only add to it as I get more experience.

    I’d be really interested to know what you think so far and will keep working on it – unless you tell me that this theory already exists!

    • #5 by David Winter on 27 November 2009 - 12:51

      Fantastic! I really want to inspire people to think about their own theories. It doesn’t matter if it already exists – keep working on it. What you produce will be different from what exists already.

      The nearest theory I can think of with similarities to yours is Social Cognitive Career Theory, but it has a slightly different angle.

      Can I add Cognitive biases to your list of internal barriers?

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  5. Story crafting « Careers – in Theory

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