Appreciative Inquiry

As part of a course I’m doing, I recently read an article, “From Buy-in to In-put : Get the Best from Staff through Appreciative Inquiry” by Bert Troughton.  (Download the article from here:  …and much more on the “AI” process from at the Case Western website, )

This is what I think of when people use the word “stakeholder.” Mmmmmm…. steakholder alignment…

The more I read about the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) process, the more interested I am in trying this approach in future organizational assessments for clients. The AI approach seems like it will be a more positive and practical approach towards doing business performance management consulting projects, since – as Troughton describes it – it focuses more on stakeholder in-put about strengths and opportunities, as opposed to merely seeking stakeholder buy-in about weaknesses and threats.

In the AI process, rather than asking “what’s not working here,” you ask “what is working here.”  Of course, most assessment processes ask BOTH questions, so you might think AI is an unbalanced approach.  However, my experience in the psychological soup called “organizations” tells me otherwise. Many people have an overwhelming negativity bias, so the “what’s not working” part of the equation usually gets over-emphasized by management and employees (and sometimes, the consultants) in a change management / review process.  The tone of discussions often become defensive and blame-focused, rather than aim-focused and aspirational. The end result is less productive and reinforces negative views about management, employees and yes, negative views about consultants, too.

Legitimate concern: Is this Appreciative Inquiry thing just another wishy-washy corporate variation on the “let’s use purple ink to correct students, because we don’t want to hurt their feelings with red ink?”

My answer:  Not unless you allow it to become that.

In fact, some of the tough, no-nonsense executives that I work with  – the kinds who would laugh at anything that seemed overly “soft” or “all gumdrops and rainbows”– would like the AI approach, precisely because it’s a good way to avoid the kinds of whining and finger-pointing sessions that often result when employees are asked “what’s not working here.”  No-nonsense leaders look for solutions, not problems.

To be sure, AI is not complete – not every organizational problem or weakness can be explored (or even discovered) and dealt with via the “glass half full” view of matters… particularly some of the more vexing structural issues such as misaligned compensation schemes.

However, if you have the right tools and questions to ask (e.g. “what kinds of behaviours and results ARE we rewarding?” ) — and  if you can bring the right kind of positive-yet-practical attitude to the assessment — you could open a window into those other issues for later follow-up. In this way, you wouldn’t take away from the cooperative tone (and avoid a competitive tone) between the organization’s stakeholders. Inspiring cooperation and quality input from stakeholders is what makes the AI process so practical… and pleasant.

Yup… definitely gum drops and rainbows… but if they’re sugar-free gum drops with some vitamin rainbows, it might just do the trick…


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on September 23, 2011, in Business, Learning, Positivity, Productivity and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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