Using Appreciative Inquiry to change for the better

Change for the better

Last week, I introduced the concept of Appreciative Inquiry, and explained that it is a technique of change management which focuses on identifying the positive rather than the negative aspects of change. Today, we will look at the practicalities of implementing AI and how organisations can use it to change for the better.

Asking the right questions

Appreciative Inquiry is so called for a reason, and the first step is to tackle the Inquiry side. This involves sitting down with your team, in both 1-1 and group settings, and asking the right questions. Exactly what those questions are is up to you, but the following will definitely encourage some thought-provoking responses:

  • What have been your best experiences at work?
  • What achievements are you most proud of?
  • What do you value about the organisation?
  • What do you value about yourself?
  • What is the fundamental life-giving value or quality of the organisation that makes it what it is?
  • If you were given three wishes for the company, what would they be?
  • Aside from the money, what makes it worthwhile coming into work?

There are a few points you should understand about these questions. For one thing, they are all about the status quo. The word change doesn’t appear at all. For another, they focus on the positive. There are no questions about what is bad or wrong or not working.This gets the team off to the best start. People love talking about what works, what motivates and inspires, and in doing so, the discussion will easily move on to how this can be further improved. Consequently, the things which don’t work will be naturally swept away in the process of positive change.

Taking familiarity forward with provocative propositions

An unknown future can be a scary concept. But using AI as a mechanism for change means that the future is not only built on the known past, it is also built on the best and most successful parts of it. Using a compendium of “best bits” from the answers to the above questions, you can challenge team members to come up with short, punchy statements on an idealised future in which the company does more of what it does best.

Sometimes called provocative propositions, these are the statements that connect the reality of today with the possibilities of tomorrow. The word provocative is used as they challenge the status quo and promote genuine possibilities for the most desirable future.

Designing and implementation

With questions leading to answers and answers leading to propositions, the next step is to turn the propositions into tangible action plans.

Here, AI advocates a two-phase process of design and implementation. It is easy to leap straight to the implementation stage, but if you try to implement a new and improved way of doing things in the pre-existing structures you will find that, nine times out of ten, it will be a struggle to gain traction for change. Reconceiving the organisational culture and structure to ensure it aligns with the vision of tomorrow might sound hard, but it is worth the time and effort to make change effective, meaningful and long-lasting: delivering a change for the better.