It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.
Spencer Niles, Norman Amundson, Hyung Joon Yoon, 2010
A main resource for this theory and its application is https://hopeactioninventory.com/. “Research shows that strengthening hope-action competencies is useful in planning and managing your career and life effectively.” (Hope-action.com, 2022). In addition, I would highly recommend watching the two webinar interviews at the bottom, as well as the video with the interview with Spencer Niles if you are specifically interested in this theory.
The central position of hope
Hope-Action Theory posits hope as central to the work we do with clients.
Without hope, our work wouldn’t make sense or wouldn’t get anywhere. Without hope a client wouldn’t be motivated to start thinking about their future and acting. (Niles, 2014, p. 1). Very few career theories touch on hope, let alone employ it as a central part and we can’t implicitly assume that the client has hope.
The central position of ‘hope’ in the theory suggests that applying Hope-Action Theory will be useful in challenging times. This can be on a society level (or even on a global level – the Covid-19 pandemic) or on an individual level, for instance when someone loses their job. It is a theory and a model that both individuals and professionals can use during career planning and maintenance activities to guide career planning (Niles, et al., 2020b, p. XII).
Hope-Action Theory itself offers proven and tested strategies that have been used with a wide variety of different populations and that can help guide the client’s career during difficult times according to Niles. (Niles, et al., 2020b, p. XII).
Two kinds of hope
“[H]ope is crucial to gaining momentum in your career planning” (Niles, et al., 2020b, p. XII). Niles goes a step further in that hope by itself is not enough and he argues that “an essential component of career development is action-oriented hope” to ensure individuals participate and are engaged in career planning activities (Niles, 2014, p. 1).
Hope is linked to self-fulfilling thinking – i.e. if you think you can – things will happen; if you think you can’t – things may not happen
Hope in Hope-Action Theory is (Niles, 2014, p. 3):
- Not the kind of hope that is ‘wishful’ and passive
- But it rather is Action oriented hope – you and the client connect to take specific action.
Niles argues that:
Without action-oriented hope:
- Striving for success may make no sense
- Planning for the future may feel like a waste of time
- Setting goals can seem meaningless.
- Self-reflection to develop self-clarity makes sense
- Creating a vision of future possibilities has purpose
- Setting goals and making plans is meaningful
- Taking action is logical
- Adjusting plans is expected and adaptive
(Niles, 2017, p. 42:59)
Three theories/one model
The 7 competencies, which Niles posits as essential to career planning and management in the 21st century, are the core of the model (Niles, 2014, p. 3). They are ‘meta-competencies’ (learn to learn) that need to be part of the career professional as well. The theory argues the point that ‘career’ is lifelong and those competencies are ‘life competencies’ (Niles, 2014, pp. 1,2). These 7 competencies are derived from 3 key theories:
- Snyder’s hope theory – he identified 3 components:
- Pathways – strategies for achieving goals
- Sense of agency which has implications of what you will do next:
- the belief you ‘can do’ to achieve your goals
- there is a motivational component – what you ‘will do’
- Bandura’s Human agency theory – Hope-Action Theory has taken:
- Self-reflection – being able to engage in self-reflection
- the ability to envision future possibilities
- goal setting
- Hall’s Protean career theory – careers are non-linear. We move in and out of things. What we do isn’t planned and most of us do things we couldn’t envision when we were younger. Career management is a continuous process based on:
- How we evolve
- How the world of work evolves
To be able to do this successfully, the client and the practitioner needs:
- Self-clarity – to do this well, we need to have a sense of self-identity
- Adaptability – paying attention to how the world of work evolves
Hope-Action Theory and especially the inventory translate these to 7 competencies to be measured, that serve as the basis for the client’s planning and career management:
- Hopefulness: the degree of hope you have about your future
- Self-reflection: examining your thoughts, beliefs, behaviours, and circumstances
- Self-clarity: having a clear understanding about yourself in terms of interests, values, skills, motivation, goals, etc…
- Visioning: brainstorming future possibilities for your career and identifying desired future outcomes
- Goal Setting and Planning: the process of specifying what you want to achieve and identifying specific steps to reach your goals
- Implementing: taking action to achieve your goals
- Adapting: using new information about yourself and your environment to inform your goals and plans
It’s important to note, and the official pin-wheel/windmill graphic illustrates this, that:
- Both hope and action don’t happen in a vacuum but in interaction, both ways, within the client’s environment.
- The model is not a process to work through. The intention is to test where the client is on all 7 and where the strengths and weaknesses are. Both the client and the practitioner can then work on strengthening the weaknesses.
Because practice is very much integrated within the Hope-Action Theory and model, I have described each of these seven in more detail in the tools section below.
This is the official metaphor used for Hope-Action Theory. Why re-invent the (pin)-wheel? However, read on to find my variant further down.
Used with permission from: https://hopeactioninventory.com/
The pin-wheel/windmill: an assessment tool
The pin-wheel or windmill is used as a metaphor for Hope-Action Theory because it moves as it’s influenced by its surroundings. This is a metaphor for our careers in that they are subject to constant interactions with our environments. Our environment has implications to who we are, what we do and what we move towards. I specifically recommend watching this webinar for a good practical overview of the theory/model, by Niles himself.
Although I want to keep this site advertising free, since it’s directly relevant, there is official training and certification available which you can find on https://doubleknot.works/
- Hope is at the centre: each time we engage a client in an activity, hope needs to be at the centre, underlying what we do with them. Hope is reflected in what the goal is and how the client envisages achieving that goal. Hope is measured by the client in them asking these questions about any planned action or activity:
- Is this something I can do? – self-efficacy
- Is this something I will do? – motivation
Ideally when a client moves forward they will increase their sense of self-efficacy and of motivation.
What are some of the tools we can use?
Within this, and linked to the other competencies, Niles offers some examples of tools (Niles, 2017) to help us work with the theory or the outcome of the Hope-Action Inventory (HAI) described further down. This is a summary:
- Self-reflection: a deeper sense of self-awareness is key to effective career exploration, planning and management. It gives meaning to the process. Self-reflection is the ability to reflect on your beliefs, circumstances and behaviour. Meaningful questions for self-reflection to use with the client could be:
- What is really important to you?
- What do you really enjoy?
- What skills do you enjoy using and which do you want to develop?
- What gives you a sense of purpose?
- What do you hope others would say if they were asked?
In addition; how much of these answers is reflected in your work on a daily basis? How can we be who we really are?
- Self-clarity: exercises to do could be:
- An accomplishment interview to deconstruct an activity or thing the client has done which was really successful for them or something they were proud of:
- The client selects and describes the activity
- The practitioner helps the client deconstruct this to:
- get the detail of the experience
- what the client did or had to do to make it happen
- Both then record:
- the skills needed and how they are transferable
- the attitudes needed to make the example activity as successful as it was
- Complaints activity: people often find it easier to list things they don’t like. This activity makes use of this and then flips it around:
- list 7 pet peeves
- flip them to explore the values embedded with them
- rank them as to importance
- if you showed the list to someone who knows you, would they see these values in how you live?
- If no, what changes can you make to get closer to those values you wish or see for yourself?
- An accomplishment interview to deconstruct an activity or thing the client has done which was really successful for them or something they were proud of:
- Visioning: brainstorming and exploring future career possibilities linked to the values, skills, interests etc… that you have come up with in self-clarity and self-reflection activities, either alone or with others. This could be a summary statement of who the client is. For instance: I am… and I enjoy… I value… and I’m good at… what is really important to know for me is… . The client can fill in the blanks.
The client could then come up with career possibilities, even if fanciful, not probabilities, which can then be explored.
- The client could then be helped to set goals linked to this and be supported in implementing these. Hope is again a really important part of this: can and will you do this? Hope here is, as it is in the model, the kind of hope you can do something about. The goals set could be SMART goals that go beyond wishful thinking and this is about creating a pathway through a maze of possibilities and distractions to achieve that goal. Helpful activities can be:
- List goals you hope to achieve in the next year
- Rate from high to low your level of confidence you will achieve these goals
- Identify things you can do to move towards achieving these goals
- Rate low to high the steps you will take in the next year
- Put those steps on a timeline.
- Implementing and adapting: after implementing goals and activities (after engaging in the action – e.g.: doing work experience in the job you envisage) you and the client could work on testing their initial expectations against their experienced reality and decide on what to do next:
- What you know now that you didn’t know then?
- Is it what you thought it would be? Yes or no…
- What does what I have learnt and experienced tell me about my goals and do I need to adapt them to reflect this new awareness and knowledge?
- Self-reflection. Encourage clients to recall moments of career success and accomplishment. To foster a sense of agency, ask how they contributed to that success.
- Self-clarity. Ask clients to share stories from other types of flow (e.g., if the story was one of optimal flow, ask for a white water experience or a time when the water was slow-moving or stagnant. Help your clients to identify patterns or themes: How did they navigate through troubling times? What resources (internal or external) did they use?
- Visioning. Help client envision their dreams. Prompt them for details to help clarify their visions.
- Goal-setting. SMART goals (i.e., those that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited) can help foster hope. Strengthen your clients’ likelihood of achieving a dream by co-creating pathways that are within their capacity to navigate.
- Action-planning. When waters are exceedingly rough or when they’ve been stuck in a toxic environment, your clients may be overwhelmed. To develop hope, help identify small steps to build career management capacity.
- Implementing. Create opportunities for success . . . and celebrate achievements! Hope motivates action. If your clients have an inspiring vision of the future, specific goals to aspire to, and a realistic action plan to move toward it, they will likely begin to believe in the possibility that they can achieve it.
- Adapting. Just as water doesn’t flow evenly down a river or ocean waves are inconsistent, so career flow can’t be perfectly scripted. To ensure your clients maintain hope, prepare them for the unexpected. Brainstorm alternate possibilities and, as Krumboltz (2009) advised, equip them to capitalize on chance opportunities.
When a person gets stuck there may be a crisis of imagination.
The Hope-Action Inventory (HAI)
The Hope-Action Inventory (HAI) is a practical application of Hope-Action Theory. See https://hopeactioninventory.com/ .
- To assess the competencies as outlined above
- For year 9 and above
- 28 items explored
- Creates a snapshot for how you would work with someone
Copying or paraphrasing the information from website I quoted would be a bit pointless I think, as there is clear information on there of how the framework would be able to offer support for clients. The framework measures the level of competency in all 7 categories.
The HAI in practice
If you are a practitioner, then there is a handy .pdf at the bottom of this website, but bear in mind that the official website is https://hopeactioninventory.com/. I have purposely not pasted the direct link to the document here as there is information on the web page itself, which is important to look into before downloading the .pdf file. The website itself is also important to look through to get a good grip on what this model is about, how it works, what it can offer the client and what it requires before starting.
It’s worth to note that the Hope-Action Inventory is not a one off assessment but that the client is expected to retake the assessment (a second assessment is included in the registration) after considerable effort of moving forward. In the model and its application, showing progress is central. This not only encourages the client but also clearly shows progress, showing initial hope is validated through the actions taken, motivating the client further.
My general interpretation is that this will then flag up deficiencies, possibilities etc… for progression and development. This means that the theory can also be used without using the HAI, but in a very different way, as a more fluid system as I have illustrated above.
I feel that this could equally be used as a separate checking tool, to find out where the individual client is in view of the 7 competencies.
Used without the HCCI, in case it’s not available or appropriate, I can see this being useful as a framework around which to build a meaningful intervention as well. It provides 7 different themes around which to have a discussion with a client. This of course, requires considerable effort and experience on the part of the career professional, but at the same time it may work well with clients you see on a regular basis or those who are resistant to online assessments.
As mentioned above, the Action Oriented Hope model is strongly related to 3 other models/theories and tries to bring them together into one model (Niles, 2014, p. 3):
- Bandura’s Human Agency Theory – mapping onto his 4 properties of human agency (Bandura, 2006, pp. 164-165) are:
- Continuous self-examination – self-reflectiveness
- Envisioning future events and results of your actions prior to setting plans – forethought
- Purposefully developing and carrying out action plans – self-reactiveness
- Monitoring and achievement of goals – intentionality
- Snyder’s Hope Theory (2002). He defines hope as:
- “enduring, self-referential thoughts about their capacities to produce routes to goals, and their capacities to find the requisite motivations for those goal pursuits” (Snyder, 2002, p. 250), which he defines as ‘new’ hope.
- Niles distinguishes ‘wishful thinking’ from ‘action-oriented hope’(Niles, 2014, p. 3)
- Douglas Hall’s Protean Career Theory from which action oriented hope theory derives adaptability and self-identity, central concepts within Protean Career Theory, with the individual as central to a non-linear career progression. (Niles, 2014, p. 3)
I can also see links with both Happenstance theory and the Chaos theory of Careers in that this is a model that prompts responding to change in a meaningful and for the client structured way.
I think this is a very interesting model and theory offering a new and fresh perspective on both our practice and career management and planning, making hope, which is often overlooked, central to our approach with a client. I’m definitely going to look into using this in my practice.
Even if I can’t use the entire model, or the Hope-Action Inventory, then at least I can take a different way of looking at the client’s situation and exploration with them away to use in practice.
Over to you now… How do you feel?
Some of the strengths to this model are clear in that this can be focused on those struggling or finding themselves in a challenging situation. But…
- How have you perceived ‘hope’ in your work so far, or is this a useful revelation to you in the way Hope-Action Theory makes hope central and explicit?
- Are there clients with whom this would be difficult to use? (resistance, age, level of ability and/or understanding, background, personality, etc…)
- For which client groups would this work well? (not linked to their circumstances, but to their personality, ability, etc…)
- Does using this model work in your practice? – e.g.: can you see clients more than once with a significant gap in between?
- How would you use this in ‘one off’ interventions if that is all you can do? Or would this not be useful or practical in those circumstances?
- When it comes to your client group, would they be able to pay to take the inventory? Or would this be too expensive for them? Or… would they refuse to pay if they expect services to be free in the setting they are in (e.g.: school)?
- How would you support clients using this model or based on this theory if you were to see them weekly for instance? How would that work out and what would you do?
- How does it fare using Brown to assess its strengths and weaknesses? Since this is more a model, this may be more difficult to apply.
- Is this a model of which the results will be easy to understand by the client, if they take this assessment without the support of a career professional? Or is there a risk? (see .pdf on the website to check)
- How would this model work, or how would you adapt this model if a client came to see you with utterly unrealistic hopes (in your view)? What would you need to do, how would you handle the situation, what would you need to be aware of?
- For you, would this work in a group setting (with or without one to one follow up)? Or is this uniquely to be used individually?
- If it does work in a group setting, how would you adapt or use it? What would the benefit be?
Some of my own considerations would be:
I think this theory would work really well with some of the clients I work with. In fact, I use some of this already, for instance when using CV writing to explore the client’s skills, personality traits, experiences etc… I often ask the (young) client to come up with an activity or outcome they are really proud of and then unpick and break down their experience to glean out skills, personality traits, etc… to inform their planning and decision making, but also to boost their view of themselves and to create hope. Quite a few secondary school students have a limited view of their strengths and what they have to offer, often when they haven’t had any experience of work yet.
Occasionally, I have a client who is really not ready to build hope and engage in self-reflection. It’s very difficult to even get started with clients who are suffering from for instance clinical depression or who have life circumstances that mean they are not ready to think about career planning. Too much else needs to be worked on or needs to be made progress in that requires other professionals such as a GP/psychiatrist/counselling, social work involvement, financial advice, etc… Trying to build hope as a first step may not get very far, or nowhere at all, until other work is done by the client before seeing me. It’s important to know where our boundaries are in that sense and not to work hard on trying to build hope with a client who is far from ready. This comes down to our professionalism and self-awareness.
We need to be careful not to ‘over-confirm’ hopes the client may have when they may be completely unrealistic, while at the same time not limiting any hopes they have related to their view of who they are and what’s possible for them. Hopes need to be realistic for the client and owned by the client. As an extreme example: hoping you are going to be the first person to live on Mars may be unrealistic but need to be worked with, with the client, at the same time. It’s also crucial to support the client to step out of their often underestimated ‘hope comfort zone’ (“I’m not good enough”), and explore with them possibilities they haven’t considered or haven’t thought about. Finding the balance is not always easy and the balance needs to be theirs, just like their hopes are theirs, not ours. Obviously, Hope-Action Theory works really well with the last example, but we need to create or develop our awareness of the client.
Hope is a delicate issue to work on with a client for the above reason. Within this, we need to be aware of how our own ‘windmill/pin-wheel and our own context interacts with theirs, even more so than with other work. This means we need to be consciously and consistently aware of what we bring to the intervention during and around our work with the client so we are aware of possible projection, ideation on behalf of the client, overstating, misinterpretation, etc… of client hopes by us.
I also think a stronger, albeit less elegant, metaphor for the theory could be a wind turbine rather than a pin-wheel/windmill. For the client, applying this theory to their own career management and career planning potentially creates a lot of energy and motivation. This energy and motivation may then be used in other areas of their life and can make them feel more energised and motivated in general. In some cases it may be useful to work on, as part of the intervention, how increased hope and energy would affect other areas of the client’s life, as an additional motivational tool that then feeds back into their career management.
As a final note: thinking of career management, planning and progression using the ‘flow’ metaphor and ‘career flow competencies’ is interesting. You can find out more on https://www.hopecenteredcareer.com/forum/hope-centered-career-development-resources/topic/10/dr-spencer-niles-hope-centered-approach. Career flow is about the different dimensions or experiential environments that happen throughout life and career.
What do you think? Do you like using metaphor to help your clients, assess your work or to develop a more creative approach that resonates?
Links and References
- Bandura, A., 2006. Toward a psychology of human agency.. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(2), pp. 164-180.
- Neault, R., 2011. Career Flow: A Hope-Centred Approach to Achieving Dreams. [Online] Available at: www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/48010/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false [Accessed: 28 02 2022].
- Hope-action.com, 2022. Hope-Action Theory. [Online] Available at: https://hope-action.com/ [Accessed 22 02 2022].
- Niles, S., 2014. Using an action oriented hope-centered model of career development. Journal of Asia Pacific Counseling, 4(1), pp. 1-13.
- Niles, S., 2017. Action-oriented Hope-centered Career Development. [Online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/171771704 [Accessed 23 02 2022].
- Niles, S. G., Amundson, N. E., Yoon, H. J. & Neault, R., 2020b. Career recovery: Creating hopeful careers in difficult times. San Diego, CA: Cognella.
- Snyder, C. R., 2002. Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), pp. 249-275.
- Official training and certification: https://doubleknot.works/
- I would also recommend exploring the .pdf file on https://campus.digication.com/careerwell/7_7_11_Spencer_Skip_Niles_A_Hope-Centered_Approach
These are mainly different version of the same:
- Key video of a webinar with Spencer Niles, explaining the model and its heritage, how it can be used, etc…: https://vimeo.com/171771704
- Key video of a webinar with Norman Amundson on Hope-Action Theory: https://youtu.be/KRU2YqXEDpg
- Interview with Spencer Niles: https://youtu.be/EZR77j0iZQY
- Snyder’s hope theory explained in a straightforward way: https://youtu.be/ZuHZhi1B4T4