Appreciative Inquiry

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The problem with most approaches to organizational development is that people search for the root causes of failure instead of the root causes of success. Using the fire fighter approach to change can be an invigorating experience, but the heroes often become addicted to finding bigger and bigger fires to put out.

Learning what an organization does poorly, doesn’t always reveal the best alternative or get people excited about changing their ways. Appreciative inquiry is a provocative approach to organizational learning and change.

Inquiry into the “art of what’s possible” begins with appreciation, leads to a positive image of the future and inspires collective action. The appreciative inquiry model affirms people, identifies what’s compelling and accelerates learning at all levels of the organization.

Organizations move in the direction of what they study. The questions we ask determine what we find. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that appreciative inquiry means dancing around the issues in rose-colored glasses. Appreciative inquiry is a rigorous approach that does not gloss over problems, but uses them as learning opportunities.

Instead of wallowing in the past, we look for the vitality of the organization, build on existing strengths to create a bold desirable future. Appreciation means to be thankful, or express gratitude, approval or admiration. The way we frame our questions can result in “organizational appreciation” which means to grow or appreciate in value.

Appreciative inquiry produces new perspectives and a powerful magnetic energy that increases the value of the organization. The process is an uplifting power tool for organizational growth.

What’s different about Appreciative Inquiry?

  • Purposefully positive
  • “Grass roots” and “top down”
  • Highly participative
  • Transforms inner dialogue
  • Stimulates vision and creativity
  • People learn by doing

The phases of appreciative inquiry:

  • Discovery – Appreciating

What are the life-giving forces?

Valuing the best of what is

Interview process and gathering of organizational strengths and assets

Story telling as capacity building

  • Dream – Envisioning

What might be?

What is the world calling our organization to be?

Provocative propositions that stretch the imagination

Sharing common images of an ideal future

  • Design – Co-constructing

What do we choose?

Dialoging what should be

Aligning values, structures, and mission with the ideal

Developing achievable plans and steps to make the vision a reality

  • Destiny – Sustaining

What will be?

How to liberate, learn, actualize, and improvise

Co-creating a sustainable, preferred future

Innovating lasting cultural change

Notice the tremendous expansion in our vocabulary to describe organizational deficits:

  • Gap analysis
  • Turf battles
  • Down time
  • Customer complaints
  • Performance evaluation
  • Missed commitments
  • Silos
  • Trouble report
  • Debug
  • Bureaucratic red tape
  • Reorganization
  • Employee turnover
  • Sexual harassment
  • Low morale
  • Delayed orders
  • Missed commitment
  • Organizational stress
  • Theory X
  • Peter Principle
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Group think
  • Burnout
  • Inter-group conflict
  • Labor management distrust

In contrast, appreciative inquiry focuses on dialogue about:

  • The organization’s founding story
  • Innovations
  • Shared values
  • Peak experiences
  • Turning points
  • Proud achievements
  • Best practices
  • Leveraging strengths
  • Empowering traditions
  • Inter-generational wisdom
  • Moments of courage
  • Tests of integrity
  • Learning from difficult times
  • Organizational capacity
  • Hopes for the future
  • Things to pass along
  • Leadership at all levels
  • Organizational legacy

Applications for Appreciative Inquiry

  • Strategic planning
  • Leadership development
  • Work process redesign
  • Team development
  • Communications
  • Joint ventures
  • Mergers
  • Diversity initiatives
  • Generative benchmarking
  • Customer relations
  • Innovations toward the ideal organization
  • Focus groups

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