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Do You Know How To Take Advantage of the “Appreciative Inquiry” Approach for Organizational Management?

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gears n flowchartThe problem solving approach to organizational  design and management has a number of limitations. It focuses only on what’s wrong, identifying causes, brainstorming solutions, developing action plans, and not taking into account the areas that are working well. Problem solving focuses on the past and excludes possibilities for creativity. The approach is time consuming, costly; harnesses blame game, consistent firefighting, low morale, and discord between teams.

The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach to organizational management evolved to provide a constructive alternative to the traditional problem-solving approach, which emphasizes on what works well and builds on that. The AI approach stresses on building internal strengths to find new growth opportunities rather than focusing on weaknesses or issues to be solved. AI is based on discovering what creates energy and excitement, drives the best in people, their organizations, the world around them, and then determining how to create more of it.

AI does not necessitate a modification in the organizational change methodology, rather it’s a basic shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the totality of the human system and to “inquire” into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes.

Benefits of AI

AI is a simple technique that leverages several benefits to the organizations implementing it.

First and foremost, the non-threatening and empowering spirit of AI—where people uncover and then improve on the root causes of success rather than analyze problems—acts as a powerful driver of change.

The approach makes the people enthusiastic and energetic; enhances communication, faith, and interactions; builds and develops teams; promotes a culture of innovation and a sense of dynamism; and empowers the people to take risks.

It entails assuming organizations are sources of infinite capacity, imagination, and building community, thus the generative dialogue creates positive connections between people.

Phases of the AI Cycle

A typical Appreciative Inquiry design has 4 phases, more commonly known as the “4-D’s of AI”:

  1. Discovery
  2. Dream
  3. Design
  4. Destiny

Discovery Phase

The implementation of AI commences when a group of stakeholders get together to craft positive questions to select an affirmative topic. The topic could be something the organization is doing well and which is critical to its future success, such as, the quality of customer service.

This is accomplished by seeking the most vital moments or occurrences of organizational excellence—small wins where people thought the organization to be most effective, which could be related to leadership, technologies, processes, structures, relationships, or methodologies.

The AI team engages with stakeholders across the board, gathers narratives on exceptional accomplishments, and contemplate the aspects that they want to revive in the future.

Dream Phase

The Dream phase of the AI 4-D cycle relates to imagining and envisioning the future of the organization. The most critical step in the Dream phase involves motivating the participants to dream about what might be a better organization and a better world. This helps in channelizing the positive core and creating the destiny of the envisioned dream.

Design Phase

This phase of AI focuses on creating the ideal organization in order to achieve its dream. The Design phase is critical for maintaining positive change and responding to the organization’s most positive past and highest potential. The key tasks to be accomplished in this phase include building the organization’s new social architecture, and reinforcing it. The stakeholders define the basic infrastructure by enabling comprehensive dialogue about the best structure and processes to support the new system.

Destiny Phase

The fourth phase of the AI 4-D cycle denotes the start of an ongoing creation of an “appreciative learning culture”. The new images of the future are implemented and sustained by fostering a collective sense of purpose. The stage entails continuous learning, adjustments, and innovation to facilitate shared ideals.

Interested in learning more about how to implement and adopt Appreciative Inquiry into your organization, and get a detailed account of the core principles governing the AI methodology? You can learn more and download an editable PowerPoint about Appreciative Inquiry here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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