I have discussed a number of different approaches to change management over the past few weeks. Today, I want to talk about an approach that to a certain extent turns traditional change management on its head. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is nothing complicated. In fact, it is as much a mindset as a management strategy. The idea is to approach organisational change from the perspective of understanding what the organisation is doing right and doing more of it, instead of picking holes in what it is doing wrong and changing it.

If you read my previous articles on gestalt theory, you will know that this is an approach that is clearly going to meet with less resistance and suspicion from the workforce. As such, it makes it possible to achieve major results in a short space of time, simply by focusing on the organisation’s core strengths and making them even stronger.The concept of AI was developed in the mid 1980s by David Cooperrider, the Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Weatherhead School of Management, part of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He credits the conception of the idea to his wife, a professional artist, who taught him the concept of the “appreciative eye,” which states that there is beauty in every piece of art.

How does it work?

The main thinking behind this approach to leverage the aspects of people’s work that they are most proud of and that motivate and engage them, and to use these as the foundation for getting even better results and business success going forward.It is not a case of just donning the rose tinted spectacles and ignoring failures, but it helps the entire team to approach change from a positive and creative mindset, so that they can contribute ideas as to how they can implement improvements.

Having identified what we might call a “positive core,” and identified how it can link to a tangible strategic agenda, organisational and operational changes that might not have been otherwise obvious can be not only identified, but implemented with astonishing rapidity. At the same time, the approach fosters an atmosphere of collaboration, confidence and enthusiasm within the team.

How does AI compare with the traditional problem-focused approach?

The following maps out how AI and problem-focused strategies approach different aspects of organisational change.

Aspect AI Problem-focused
What does it look for? What to develop What to fix
What does it ask? What is good What are the problems
Frame of reference The big picture, holistic view Breaking things into pieces
Speed of change Rapid, with a united vision Slow, requiring persuasion
Mindset Change means leveraging capability Change means solving problems


Implementing AI in your organisation

Implementing any sort of change typically involves overcoming suspicion and inertia within the organisation, but done right, the AI approach means those at the heart of the organisation are on side from the word go. Next time, we will look at the practical steps involved in successfully introducing a process of AI change.

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