When businesses and other organisations tackle business or strategic conversations or formal planning, a deficit-based approach is most often used. “Where are we falling short?” or “What are our weaknesses?” are often conversation-starters. It is worth thinking about whether an approach that focuses on strengths and high capability would offer greater benefits and re-dress this imbalance.
Appreciative Inquiry is such an approach. It can be used to look at any topical area that is needing focus or development. The methodology was co-pioneered by David Cooperrider and stems from Case Western Reserve University in the USA. The approach follows a 4-phase pathway and is briefly outlined here:
This initial phase involves the telling of people’s stories describing what happened when they were at their best, working in the area of chosen focus. This is often undertaken in a workshop setting after the team’s leader has set the scene in broad terms, articulating some goals for the appreciative inquiry process.
Once people’s stories are told to the group, everyone focuses on discerning common threads or themes that flow through the stories. These themes are called the “positive core” and sum up the strengths and high capabilities that the team or organisation can call its own.
The team then moves to articulate a vision of what is possible for this area of chosen focus, usually looking ahead about a year. This is done creatively and is sometimes useful to be done in small groups first. Techniques such as story, artwork and mind-mapping come into play. The goal is for the team to name specific elements of the vision, thus painting a picture of where to head.
Energised by their vision from the Dream phase, the group identifies actions, strategies, projects, policies and practices that draw on the positive core of strengths and high capabilities. “What do we need to do to keep growing our strengths?” is a key question. These actions are implemented over the next 12 months, in order for the vision to be achieved. This action plan must be straightforward and specific, with measures of success identified.
Knowing that execution of an action plan is often a significant challenge, with roadblocks emerging as the team implements, care is taken to identify key success factors that will aid implementation and result in the positive changes. One such factor is “creating a cadence of accountability” (Covey, 2012). Here the team commits to regular accountability meetings. Let’s say the meetings are monthly – each team member answers the question “what have you done in the last 30 days to progress our design plan?” Then “What will you commit to do in the next 30 days to progress our design plan?” Detailed and accurate records are made of everyone’s commitments so that focus is always a hallmark of these meetings.
The team also identifies any roadblocks that are getting in the way of implementation and brainstorms solutions, seeking help from a sponsor if needed.
At the 12-month point, an assessment of progress is made and the team re-engages in the Discover-Dream-Design inquiry process in order to keep momentum high. They may decide to re-focus on another area of inquiry if sufficient momentum has been built in the area of initial focus.
If you would like to discuss how Appreciative Inquiry could work for your organisation please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nexus Partners Ltd