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Appreciative Inquiry

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Written by the two most recognized Appreciative Inquiry thought leaders
A quick, accessible introduction to one of the most popular change methods today--proven effective in organizations ranging from Roadway Express and British Airways to the United Nations and the United States Navy
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a model of change management uniquely suited to the values, beliefs, and challenges of organizations today. AI is a process that emphasizes identifying and building on strengths, rather than focusing exclusively on fixing weaknesses as most other change processes do. As the stories in this book illustrate, it results in dramatic improvements in the triple bottom line: people, profits, and planet. AI has been used to significantly enhance customer satisfaction, cost competitiveness, revenues, profits, and employee engagement, retention, and morale, as well as organizations' abilities to meet the needs of society.
This book is a concise introduction to Appreciative Inquiry. It provides a basic overview of the process and principles of AI along with exciting stories illustrating how organizations have applied AI and the benefits they have gained as a result. It has been specifically designed to be accessible to a wide audience so that it can be handed out in organizations where AI is either being contemplated or being implemented.
Written by two of the key figures in the development of Appreciative Inquiry, this is the most authoritative guide available to a change method that systematically taps the potential of human beings to make themselves, their organizations, and their communities more adaptive and more effective.

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CONTENTS

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Chapter 1: An Invitation to the Positive Revolution in Change

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Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is, as Professor Robert Quinn at University of Michigan has recently written,“creating a positive revolution in the field of organization development and change management.”1 Why? One clue lies in how AI turns the practice of change management inside out. It proposes, quite bluntly, that organizations are not, at their core, problems to be solved. Just the opposite. Every organization was created as a solution designed in its own time to meet a challenge or satisfy a need of society.

Even more fundamentally, organizations are centers of vital connections and life-giving potentials: relationships, partnerships, alliances, and ever-expanding webs of knowledge and action that are capable of harnessing the power of combinations of strengths. Founded upon this lifecentric view of organizations, AI offers a positive, strengths-based approach to organization development and change management.

Management guru Peter Drucker commented in a recent interview,“The task of organizational leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”Could it be, as Drucker implies, that leading change is all about strengths? Why would strength connected to strength create positive change? What would it mean to create an entire change methodology around an economy and ecology of strengths? Where would we—as managers, facilitators, and change leaders—start? What might be the steps and stages of positive change? What about unique skills? How could the discovery and fusion of strengths elevate and extend a system’s capacity to adapt, learn, and create upward spirals of performance, development, and energizing growth?

 

Chapter 2: What is Appreciative Inquiry?

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Ap-pre’ci-ate, v., 1. Valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems. 2. To increase in value, e.g., the economy has appreciated in value. Synonyms: value, prize, esteem, and honor.

In-quire’, v., 1. The act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: discover, search, systematically explore, and study.

The term AI has been described in a myriad of ways: as a radically affirmative approach to change that completely lets go of problem-based management and in so doing vitally transforms strategic planning, survey methods, culture change, merger integration methods . . . measurement systems;7 as a paradigm of conscious evolution geared for the realities of the new century;8 as the most important advance in action research in the past decade;9 as offspring and heir to Maslow’s vision of a positive social science;10 and as a methodology that takes the idea of the social construction of reality to its positive extreme, especially with its emphasis on metaphor and narrative, relational ways of knowing, on language, and on its potential as a source of generative theory.11

 

Chapter 3: The Appreciative Inquiry 4-D Cycle

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Appreciative Inquiry is a narrative-based process of positive change. It is a cycle of activity that starts by engaging all members of an organization or community in a broad set of interviews and deep dialogue about strengths, resources, and capabilities. It then moves people through a series of activities focused on envisioning bold possibilities and lifting up the most lifecentric dreams for the future. From there, it asks people to discuss and craft propositions that will guide their future together. And finally, it involves the formation of teams to carry out the work needed to realize the new dream and designs for the future. This process is called the AI 4-D cycle. This chapter gives you a brief overview of the 4-D cycle and how it gets started.

The AI cycle can be as rapid and informal as a conversation with a friend or a colleague, or as formal as an organization-wide process involving every stakeholder group. Although AI has no formula, the change efforts of most organizations flow through the 4-D cycle shown in Figure 4. Each AI process is homegrown, designed to meet the unique challenges of the organization and industry involved.

 

Chapter 4: The 4-D Cycle in Action

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No two Appreciative Inquiry processes are alike. Each is designed to address a unique strategic challenge faced by the organization or industry Each is designed to optimize participation among stakeholders. This means that the four D’s of AI—discovery, dream, design, and destiny—can take many forms of expression. In this chapter, we provide a further explanation of each of the four D’s along with an example of how the AI process has been carried out in one organization.

The core discovery task is disclosing positive capacity. AI invites systemwide dialogue and learning through a process of appreciative interviewing. When asked how many people should be interviewed or who should do the interviews, we increasingly say“everyone”because, in the process, people reclaim their ability to admire, be surprised, be inspired, and appreciate the best in others and in their organization.

At the heart of discovery is the appreciative interview. The uniqueness and power of an AI interview stem from its fundamentally affirmative focus. What distinguishes AI at this phase is that every question is positive. During appreciative interviews, people uncover what gives life to their organization, department, or community when at its best. They discover personal and organizational highpoints, what people value, and how they hope and wish to enhance their organization’s social, economic, and environmental vitality.

 

Chapter 5: Applying the 4-D Cycle

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Many different approaches to applying the 4-D cycle are emerging. From mass mobilizing interviews across an entire city, to small groups of people interviewing colleagues within their company and then benchmarking other best practices companies, to face-to-face interfaith dialogue among hundreds of religious leaders gathered from around the world, each application liberates the power of inquiry, builds relationships, and unleashes learning. In The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom outline multiple forms of engagement that have been used by consultants around the globe for applying Appreciative Inquiry.19 Two of the most often used and successful ways to apply AI are whole-system inquiry20 and the AI Summit.21 This chapter offers a brief overview and an illustrative story of both.

In a whole-system inquiry, all stakeholders—employees, customers, vendors, and interested community members—participate in the process. During the discovery phase, they are interviewed and may even conduct interviews with one another. In the later phases of dream, design, and destiny, small groups are gathered to share stories and best practices, to envision their collective future, and to launch innovation teams or other improvisational initiatives.

 

Chapter 6: Roles, Responsibilities, and Relationships

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Successful change management requires the attention, focus, and commitment of large numbers of people. Our experience suggests that the more positive the focus of the change effort, the stronger the attraction to participate and the more likely people are to get involved and stay involved. Clarity of roles, responsibilities, and relationships creates channels of participation and supports active involvement of all stakeholders.

This chapter provides an overview of the roles, responsibilities, and relationships central to successful positive change. As you will see in Table 4, everyone has a role in creating positive change.

The role of an organization’s leadership is that of sponsors, or positive change catalysts. Leaders participate equally as one of the many essential voices at the table. Given the opportunity to listen to and hear the creative ideas, hopes, and dreams of their colleagues and organization stakeholders, leaders recognize that their job is to plant the seed and nurture the best in others. After the positive revolution begins, what it needs most is affirmation and a clear, open pathway for experimentation and innovation. Leadership must be present throughout the process, asking powerful, positive, value-based questions, expecting the best, and being truly curious about the hopes and dreams of organizational members. By modeling AI as a relational leadership practice, leaders send a clear and consistent message: positive change is the pathway to success around here.

 

Chapter 7: Principles for a Positive Revolution

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Our undestanding of AI calls for a distinctive shift in human organizations and change. AI embodies both a philosophy and a methodology for change. In this chapter we present the five principles and scholarly streams of thought we consider central to AI. Familiarity with these principles will enable you to adapt Appreciative Inquiry to meet unique and challenging new situations and to create innovative practices of positive change.

The constructionist principle states the following:

Human knowledge and organizational destiny are interwoven. We are constantly involved in understanding and making sense of the people and world around us—doing strategic planning analysis, environmental scans, needs analysis, assessments and audits, surveys, focus groups, performance appraisals, and so on. To be effective executives, leaders, and change agents must be adept in the art of understanding, reading, and analyzing organizations as living, human constructions.

Constructionism23 is an approach to human science that replaces the individual with the relationship as the locus of knowledge. Therefore, this approach is built around a keen appreciation of the power of language and discourse of all types (from words to metaphors to narrative forms and so on) to create our sense of reality—our sense of the true, the good, and the possible.

 

Chapter 8: Conditions for Success: The Liberation of Power

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For nearly two decades, we have watched as organizations and communities around the globe have experienced extraordinary transformations using Appreciative Inquiry for organization and social change. Several years ago, having tracked this consistent success in Nutrimental Foods, GTE, Hunter Douglas WFD, and others, Appreciative Inquiry consultants and authors Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom began wondering what created the conditions for Al’s success. More specifically, they began asking, Why do people get so excited and want to participate in Appreciative Inquiry? Why does participation so readily lead to positive results, such as innovation, productivity, employee satisfaction, and profitability? What creates the space for people to be their best at work and for personal transformation? And what are the conditions that foster cooperation throughout a whole system of highly diverse groups of people?

In keeping with the spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, they sought answers to these questions by conducting an inquiry into why Appreciative Inquiry works. They created a set of questions, held focus groups, and conducted formal and informal interviews in several organizations, most notably Hunter Douglas Window Fashions Division.

 

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