Resistance to Appreciative Inquiry?

In this weeks Business901 Podcast, my guest will be Sara Orem, co-author of Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change (Jossey-Bass Business & Management). Our conversation centered on the Appreciative Inquiry approach. From Wikipedia:

Appreciative Inquiry (sometimes shortened to “AI”) is primarily an organizational development method which seeks to engage all levels of an organization (and often its customers and suppliers) to renew, change and improve performance. Its exponents view it as being applicable to organizations facing rapid change or growth. David Cooperrider is generally credited with coining the term ‘Appreciative Inquiry’.

The Appreciative Inquiry model is based on the assumption that the questions we ask will tend to focus our attention in a particular direction. Some other methods of assessing and evaluating a situation and then proposing solutions are based on a deficiency model. Some other methods ask questions such as “What are the problems?”, “What’s wrong?” or “What needs to be fixed?”.

Instead of asking “What’s the problem?”, some other methods couch the question in terms of challenges, which AI argues maintains a basis of deficiency, the thinking behind the questions assuming that there is something wrong, or that something needs to be fixed or solved.

Appreciative Inquiry takes an alternative approach. As a self defined “asset-based approach” it starts with the belief that every organization, and every person in that organization, has positive aspects that can be built upon. It asks questions like “What’s working well?”, “What’s good about what you are currently doing?”

Some researchers believe that excessive focus on dysfunctions can actually cause them to become worse or fail to become better. By contrast, AI argues, when all members of an organization are motivated to understand and value the most favorable features of its culture, it can make rapid improvements.

Strength-based methods are used in the creation of organizational development strategy and implementation of organizational effectiveness tactics. The appreciative mode of inquiry often relies on interviews to qualitatively understand the organization’s potential strengths by looking at an organization’s experience and its potential; the objective is to elucidate the assets and personal motivations that are its strengths.

From the upcoming Business901 Podcast:

Joe:  What are some of the pushbacks that you get when Appreciative Inquiry is first addressed? Is there or do you just approach it positively that it’s really not a pushback?

Sarah:  I would say that I get lots of pushback. When I first was Dr. Orem and I was doing some consulting for a person who had been my boss and I said that I wanted to introduce a new sales program that we were going to do in a bank and we introduced the same sales person in a bank where this person had been my boss. He moved to another bank. I described how I wanted to initiate it with Appreciative Inquiry and he looked at me with his face scrunched up and I didn’t know what the scrunch meant but I knew something was coming that he didn’t like. He said to me, “Could we use different words?” The words for the four or five stages depending on how you characterize the very beginning are define, which is to define your topic, then discover, next is dream, then design, and finally, destiny.

Well, “dream” and “destiny” are woo woo, you know, words that we don’t use in organizations very much. Fortunately, I’d had a learner in one of my classes who was a consultant in Canada, and she dreamed up the four Is or four stages rather than discover, dream, design, and destiny, and I won’t be able to recite those to you right now, but they were essentially had the same meanings. They were much harder?edged organizational words.

One of the areas of pushback is the language of Appreciative Inquiry. One of the things that Cooperrider says is that words are so important; the words we use have different… People have different reactions to two words that essentially mean the same thing. So I think I have to be careful when I change those four stages to different words, and believe that I’m honoring his original intentions.

Words are one thing. The second thing is, there are lots and lots and lots and lots of people in organizations who believe that you should find the culprit, beat the culprit to a pulp, go about something new.

I don’t mean to be too cute about that, but what I’m saying is that the process is to really go looking for what’s wrong, then do a root cause analysis, which is how did it go wrong, and what’s really wrong, even though the presenting symptom may not be the whole thing, then design some sort of solution, or brainstorm about possible solutions, and then design an action plan.

When I tell people that there’s another way to do that and that we may end up in a better place, some people just don’t believe it. They don’t want to consider it; they don’t believe it, because they believe that problem?solving works for them. I don’t doubt it. I mean, I would never say it didn’t.

I just did a brief introduction to Appreciative Inquiry from my own website, and I said problem solving works if there’s something very specific that’s wrong, but if it’s a negative culture, for instance, in an organization, where do you start? I mean, what do you fix? Appreciative Inquiry really, really is, I think, a better way to approach systemic issues.ach

Could this be the missing link between Lean and Sales and Marketing? Appreciative Inquiry instead of Problem Solving

Related Information:
Value can no longer be defined as What a Customer will pay for!
Evolution of Standard Work in my Sales and Marketing
Prototypes provide a Pathway for Connecting with Customers

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