Appreciative Inquiry and Change!

Posted on September 22nd, 2011 by - 2 comments

As humans we are spectacularly good at looking on the gloomy side. If I’m running a change workshop or one of my personal development courses and ask for examples of what’s not working I am usually inundated. But ask a different question, what is going well? or what do you do well? and the responses can dry up.

Moaning is Habit

Sometimes we just get into the habit of moaning. Low grade, not terribly serious, moaning. In fact, it can become a part of the culture of a workplace, particularly one undergoing change (and let’s face it, most workplaces have been experiencing change over the last few years). Moaning helps us bond with our fellow workers. In fact, we might even feel a bit guilty about being chirpy and moan even when we feel alright with the world. Does that sound familiar?

It’s insidious and it drags you down. Over time it will sap your motivation and you run the danger of becoming a drain (see ‘Drains and Radiators’). It’s not helpful to you at all.

Appreciative Inquiry

Which is why when working with groups at some point I’ll introduce the principles of Appreciative Inquiry, or, as I like to call it, the Pollyanna moment!

In brief, appreciative inquiry means shifting the focus off what isn’t working onto what is! Don’t waste your energy on looking at what you don’t like, what doesn’t work for you, but focus on the positive. Using the principles of appreciative inquiry throughout a change process can really bring out the best in people, tap into creativity and positivity.

You can start the process by simply thinking, ‘what works well in my life’? When work is good what is going well? Challenge your assumptions and the assumptions of your work place or working group. The assumptions are beliefs (unwritten rules) that have grown up over time which become the framework or context for all other decisions. You’re probably not even aware of them on a conscious level.

An example is flexible working. A few years back an assumption in many places was that everyone had to work the same hours and be available to each other at the same time; the assumption was that business couldn’t be done any other way. (Some places still hold this assumption or belief). But once companies rid themselves of this assumption they can begin to look creatively and positively at how work could be and introduce creative working practices which enhance the end result.

Challenging Assumptions Means Change

Once you begin to question in this way more will follow. Other long held assumptions will get questioned. Some will embrace this others will feel threatened and insecure and resist.

Here are 8 assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry:

  1. In every group or society, organisation something works
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality
  3. Reality is created in the moment, there can be multiple realities
  4. The act of asking questions in organisations or groups influences the group in some way
  5. People have more confidence and comfort in changing their future (unknown) when they can carry with them bits of their past (known things)
  6. When carrying forward it should be what’s best of the past
  7. It is important to value differences
  8. The language we use helps create our reality

In brief, if you view life as a problem to be solved you won’t be comfortable with Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry takes the view that life is a mystery to be embraced. Problem solving means you spend energy on identifying what is wrong and then trying to put it right. Missing the opportunity to look at all that is going really well can mean introducing a solution to fix the wrong bit, which impacts on all the good bits… I hear this regularly when working with organisations and change:

It used to work perfectly until…’

I could help customers much more until we had this new rule...’

I’m sure you can come up with examples from your own experience – the baby out with the bathwater syndrome!

Appreciative Inquiry Questions to help you cope with organisational change:

  1. Think back over your career in the organisation. Try to pin point a real highpoint for you, when you felt really engaged and effective at what you do. How did you feel? What circumstances made that possible?
  2. Think about what you value most about yourself, what value you bring into the organisation. Don’t be modest.
  3. If you could have 3 do-able, concrete wishes for your company or organisation what would they be?
  4. What do you want to take with you into the future?

Photo Credit: Cylonka

2 Responses to “Appreciative Inquiry and Change!”

  1. Timely reminder of appreciative enquiry and written in a way that most can understand. I like the idea of doing it for yourself and plan to do so. So much better than spending time regretting the past.

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