How Appreciative Inquiry Can Transform Your Organisation
I’m continuing on with my thread of business and management theory seeping into your organisation’s practices with the end goal being long-lasting changes to your efficiency and profitability. Previously, I've discussed tracking your organisation’s journey to inform your policies, making sure you’re listening to your customers, and the immensely influential work of Peter Drucker; one of my personal heroes in the organisational management space.
In today’s piece, we’re going to look at the theory of appreciative inquiry, and how this might change your management style and operations across the board in a positive way. It’s something that I’ve encouraged our clients to take notice of, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s not something to swear-by each and every day. There’s a few layers to unpack, so stick with me and hopefully appreciative inquiry will help you improve your operations!
What is appreciative inquiry?
To put it simply, appreciative inquiry is a way to approach improvement in your organisation through the consolidation of the things you’re already doing well. It’s an organisational management strategy focussed on working on your strengths and new ways to grow rather than use your time improving on your weaknesses.
Its origins trace back to two researchers, David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva who published a paper in 1987 called “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life.” The paper proposed a thoroughly-researched approach to problem solving in the context of business, which diverged from the typical approach, which Cooperrider believed was biased toward the negative aspects of operations.
Approaching Improvement with Four D’s
This refers to the discovery of new things about your organisation through the people that work inside it by telling stories, analysing data and sharing anecdotes. These include their reflections on working for the organisation in question, dealing with clients, suppliers or any other part of the chain that links your organisation together.
Something that I’ve been doing unwittingly over the past years is utilising this piece of advice with clients and friends. I asked them to picture their ideal version of the organisation: what does the perfect organisation look like to you? Ask around, and get a clearer picture of how much better your organisation could be.
Drawing upon the last point, in the design phase, you want the collective to discuss ways in which you can consolidate the areas in which you’re excelling at. Remember that this is something that is much more effectively done with everyone in your organisation, not just the management team.
The last stage in this process requires your organisation to decide how they will ultimately contribute to the consolidation of an area that you’re exceeding expectations. Using the proposed practices or policies from the design stage, begin to implement these strategies and you’ll be on your way to improving the destiny of your organisation.
The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry
Cooperridge and Srivastva believe that what is seen, or the reality of a business is purely subjective- that is constructed with inherent bias with the people inside an organisation, expressed through language and interactions of staff. This can ultimately have a profound impact on the objective approach to problem solving in your organisation.
This can be understood as the way in which the character of an organisation is influenced by the stories people tell each other about it; word of mouth referrals are a particularly important example of this.
They believe that organisations and the people within the organisation will more effectively work toward a vision of the future, if that vision is a positive one. This has flow-on effects with staff morale, and your company’s appearance to the buying public, as well as your customer service, of course.
The Principle of Simultaneity
Quite simply, as interest grows and the subsequent questions begin to be asked, a positive cycle of change has been sparked that you can capitalise on, which hopefully won’t slow down!
The Positive Principle
There are in fact more principles that have since been added to help refine and optimise the theory, however, I’ll leave that for a later date so I don’t overwhelm you.
Before I wrap things up, it’s worth noting that the appreciative inquiry approach may well be in use in your organisation already, as human nature tends to lead us to the belief that playing off our strengths is the best way to go about any situation. I also recognise the fact that this is a theory that runs counter to many of the points I've made in previous articles and as an organisational improvement establishment ourselves. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this piece: this isn’t necessarily the only way to go about managing your organisation, but it’s something interesting to discuss.
Knowledge is power, after all.
Thanks for your time, and here’s to your success!