As a facilitator of organisational change have you ever been leading a workshop where participants get fixated on discussing what’s wrong with their organisation, rather than developing ideas to solve these problems? When presented with data about the organisation do your senior leaders immediately identify all the negative aspects of the organisation, but none of the positive? As emphasised in Paul Wood’s latest blog Accentuate the Positive, it is common for individuals to focus on the negative aspects of themselves, and their organisations. Regardless of the organisation in question, problems will always emerge if you look for them. Just as no individual is completely perfect, naturally no organisation is either. But on the flip side if you look for positives and possibilities within an organisation you will find them too. This then poses the question, is focusing on the negative or the positive going to be a more effective approach to Organisational Development (OD)?
If building on individual strengths has a greater impact on performance than focusing on deficiencies (see Accentuate the Positive), it follows that focusing on an organisation’s strengths should have a greater impact on organisational performance. Change, based on the power of a positive focus, has been very successfully undertaken in many fields and in the field of OD through an approach called Appreciative Inquiry.
Appreciative Inquiry focuses on the key values of “openness” and “change through participation”. That is, through openly accepting every employee’s perception of the organisation and giving everyone the option to speak freely, then an organisation’s strengths and future potential can be revealed. It also suggests that the complexity of an organisation cannot be captured by just one employee’s perception, one survey’s results, or the state of the organisation at one point in time. Encouraging the ongoing participation of the entire organisation will allow each perception to be integrated in a deeper, multi-dimensional understanding of the organisation.
Appreciative Inquiry takes a positive focus to organisational growth through the 4 D’s model:
Define: Appreciative Inquiry starts by using targeted, carefully developed questions to explore the “positive core” or strengths of an organisation. This is facilitated through discussion, interviews and focus groups that are centred on learning, rather than on identifying problem issues.
Discovery/Dream: Upon learning and appreciating the strengths of the organisation Appreciative Inquiry then focuses on exploring the possibilities these strengths can bring. This stage explores where an organisation can grow, and what it could look like in the future, regardless of the current organisational state.
Design: Once the ideal future state is defined, Appreciative Inquiry focuses on designing initiatives that enable the organisation to get to their future state, leveraging of their strengths to increase success.
Deliver: Put simply, Appreciative Inquiry believes success is about doing more of the good stuff, and targeting these strengths to achieve goals.
Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-based approach for an organisation. It focuses on the possibilities and solutions, not on the problems or current situation. It encourages organisations to be future thinking, rather than defined by their current reality.
After recently attending a workshop on Appreciative Inquiry I can see its benefits for culture change initiatives and even team and individual development. While there may currently be limited empirical research on its effectiveness (but numerous case studies, academic and practitioner advocates) I believe Appreciative Inquiry can be a very effective part of a multi-faceted approach to OD. Utilising Appreciative Inquiry to facilitate workshops, strategy discussions and communication of results could add a deeper level of understanding to traditional, more empirical, sources of data collection. If accompanied with trust and openness from management it could also ensure change processes start off on a positive foot. It may also encourage employees to focus on exploring possibilities, taking accountability and generating ideas for the future, rather than getting bogged down in how their immediate environment should be better.
While there is often a tendency to focus on the negatives within an organisation, Appreciative Inquiry suggests that purposefully shifting this focus can create a deeper understanding of where an organisation can grow, and how it can use its existing resources, its strengths, to realise this change.
Do you think Appreciative Inquiry has a part to play in OD strategies?
How will you encourage your organisation to realise its strengths and possibilities?