“Appreciative Inquiry is the philosophy that is allowing us to engage the hearts, minds, and souls of our people—all of our people. Only when we do that, will we achieve breakthrough performance.” — Cindy Frick, VP, Organizational Development of Roadway Express
If you want to create a positive change in the world, it all starts with your own backyard. After 25 years of experience at Microsoft, I’ve come to realize that the most effective leaders focus on changing their immediate world before expanding their impact.
As a leader, you hold the power to inspire, engage, and empower those around you to create meaningful and sustainable change.
But how do you achieve this?
The answer lies in Appreciative Inquiry, a powerful tool that enables you to foster a culture of collaboration, innovation, and creativity, all while bringing out the best in everyone.
In this guide, we’ll explore how you can use Appreciative Inquiry to transform your organization, your community, and make a positive impact on the world.
Build on Strengths and What is Working Well
To change the world better, you need to find your sweet spot. This means playing to your organization’s unique strengths.
And amplify them.
Encourage your team members to focus on what is working well within the organization by asking open-ended questions that prompt reflection on positive experiences and successful outcomes. For example, you can ask: “What is a project or initiative that you are particularly proud of, and what made it successful?”
This type of question prompts team members to reflect on their successes and identify the specific strategies, skills, and strengths that contributed to their achievements.
By leveraging appreciative inquiry in this way, you can help your team to focus on their strengths and successes, driving positive change and growth within and beyond the organization, out through your ecosystem.
Appreciative Inquiry Revolutionizes Change
If you want to change the world, it takes energy. It takes vision. It takes a wide-angle lens and multiple perspectives.
Rather than fix your way through your past, you pull yourself forward through a compelling future.
Appreciative Inquiry revolutionizes change through two premises:
- Premise #1: Strengths-based inquiry and change: Appreciative Inquiry challenges the traditional problem-solving approach by focusing on strengths-based inquiry and change rather than problems-to-be-solved.
- Premise #2: The Whole-System in the Room: Appreciative Inquiry emphasizes the importance of having the Whole System in the Room, which involves bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to co-create and co-evolve solutions.
Appreciative Inquiry proposes that change is more powerful, energizing, and effective when we focus on the true, the good, the better, and the possible. Appreciative Inquiry identifies what gives life to a system when it is at its exceptional best, rather than simply focusing on what is wrong or needs fixing.
Lead Energized Change
The Positive Core is a concept in Appreciative Inquiry that is often underutilize in change efforts.
The Positive Core is a refocus and discovery of what brings life to the organization.
This Positive Core is the unique set of strengths, capabilities, and positive experiences that exist within every person, team, and organization that brings out the best in everyone.
It is the essence of what is working well within a system and provides a foundation for building a better future by amplifying these strengths.
When you link your change agenda your Positive Core, you ignite your change efforts with the human spirit.
Lead Change that is More Sustainable
The best kind of change is sustainable change in a positive direction.
You can lead change that is more sustainable, with a few tools from Appreciative Inquiry:
- The Whole System in the Room: By leveraging The Whole System in the Room, you generate more sustainable energy through inclusion. You bring everyone along and everybody helps co-create and implement the future.
- Positive Storytelling: By sharing positive stories, you inspire people, create momentum, and generate contagious positive energy. This is also a way to help people learn faster from success versus studying failure.
- The Positive Core: By focusing on the Positive Core, Appreciative Inquiry engages stakeholders in a strengths-based inquiry and change process that fosters sustainable growth and new possibilities.
As David Cooperrider put it:
“Appreciative Inquiry has demonstrated that human systems grow in the direction of their persistent inquiries, and this propensity is strongest and most sustainable when the means and ends of inquiry are positively correlated.
In the Appreciative Inquiry process, the future is consciously constructed upon the positive core strengths of the organization.”
Think SOAR, Not SWAT
When you want to change the world, you’re up against inertia. You’re up against competing. forces.
You want the world at your side, and the wind at your back, so you can sail through the stormy seas of change.
You want to SOAR. Appreciative Inquiry uses SOAR.
SWOT is a strategic planning tool that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is commonly used to analyze the internal and external factors that affect an organization’s performance.
SOAR is an alternative approach to strategic planning that stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. It focuses on identifying an organization’s strengths and using them to create positive outcomes.
The SOAR approach is seen as a more positive and proactive approach to strategic planning because it emphasizes an organization’s strengths and aspirations, rather than its weaknesses and threats.
By focusing on what an organization is doing well and what it wants to achieve, the SOAR approach can help to inspire and motivate teams to work towards their goals.
SOAR is also seen as a more future-oriented approach that encourages creative thinking and innovation.
Don’t Grow Bitter, Grow Better (Embrace a Growth Mindset)
Changing the world takes grit. It’s a game of growth.
When you set out to change the world, you’re going to face setbacks, failures, and critics.
Don’t grow bitter. Use feedback and signals to grow better.
For those critics who offer constructive criticism, take it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
But for those who offer unhelpful criticism, it’s best to let it roll off you like water on a duck’s back. In other words, don’t let their negativity bring you down, and stay focused on your goals and positive growth.
For setbacks and failures, embrace a Growth Mindset and learn your way forward. Embracing a Growth Mindset means shifting from a fixed mindset, where we believe our abilities and qualities are set in stone, to a mindset that sees our abilities as something we can cultivate and develop.
It’s about recognizing that we can always learn and grow, even in the face of failure or setbacks.
A Growth Mindset encourages us to see challenges as opportunities for growth, and to embrace the learning process rather than just the outcome.
When we adopt a Growth Mindset, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and experiences, and we become more resilient and adaptable to change.
By seeing ourselves as a work in progress, we can become more open to feedback and more willing to take risks and try new things, ultimately leading to greater personal and professional success.
Get the Books
These are the Appreciative Inquiry books that I found to be the most useful. Appreciative Coaching is especially interesting because the authors, Sara Orem, Jaqueline Binkert, and Ann Clancy did a great job of bringing appreciative inquiry to coaching.
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