The simple part is that appreciative inquiry is all about positivity. Focusing on what your organisation is doing right and then building on these strengths. Sounds sensible and logical?
OK then, but here comes the slightly scary bit. With appreciative enquiry, the “problems” in your organisation are effectively ignored – the principle being that if you do more of the things you are good at, the problems will sort themselves out. Put another way, appreciative inquiry suggests that you can create change by paying attention to what you want rather than paying attention to problems.
A great example of appreciative inquiry comes in the context of staff culture surveys. You know - the kind that ask you how much you like your working environment, how much you rate your managers and colleagues, whether you understand your organisation’s mission, how well managers communicate with staff etc. In most places I have worked, teams generally then get set up to “solve” the top ranking “concerns” from survey results. They huddle, work out an approach, implement a set of actions and report back to staff. Commendable and well meaning.
But appreciative inquiry turns that thinking on its head and says - instead of focusing on problems you should focus on thetop ranking survey outcomes. So for instance if staff like the monthly “all hands” meeting with the CEO, think about how you can do that even better. Or if the way the organisation communicates with its customers is admired, think about how you can improve that another notch.
The research seems to point strongly to suggest those organisations with a positive culture focused on building on their strengths outperform those with a more traditional “fix the problems” approach. I’m not sure anyone needed to do that research – doesn’t that sound intuitively right?
We can use the concept of appreciative inquiry in our personal lives. My example is my daughter’s school reports. If you are like me, you will know how tempting it is to head straight for the areas where they have been marked lower, or where the comments are less positive. Your eyes almost get hijacked.
So I have made it a rule, every time, to first look at and talk about the areas where they have done well. I spend 80 to 90% of my time talking about these areas with them.
And the interesting thing is that you actually achieve a whole lot more with this approach. Not only do they love you for putting there good marks first, but the conversation at the end on the more difficult stuff becomes so much easier. By talking first about what they had done well I was amazed at how forthcoming they became about what they hadn’t.
So out of the mouths of babes – to multi national corporations. The principle is the same. Focus on what you do well and do more of it. It will get you further in life, and its a whole lot more fun . . .