People who are interested in the Appreciative Inquiry approach sometimes struggle to understand how they can apply it to the challenge of assessment or evaluation.
In the last twenty years a new understanding of organizations has been developed, understanding them as living human systems of enterprise and creativity. It offers as an alternative to the dominant view of organizations as large and complicated machines of production. Methodologies based on this understanding, for instance Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, World Café and SimuReal, allow the whole of the organizational domain to be approached from the living human system perspective. They allow us to address all organizational challenges from recruitment to redundancy within the same living human system frame. Four key factors underpin this approach.
1. Grow the strengths and resourcefulness of people
It’s all too easy to focus on how people aren’t equipped for the change: they don’t have the skills, the knowledge, the experience. How their existing strengths and resources (including their extended network) can help them answer the questions and engage with the challenge that the change poses, can be less obvious. By deliberately helping people recognize and access their existing strengths and resourcefulness we can increase their resilience, tenacity and confidence in the face of change, making the steep learning curve less daunting.
So Why Do We Need To Do Change Differently
1. Because the old ways are too slow and hard
Traditionally change has been a top-down, linear, compliance process; first designed and then implemented. In today’s fast paced world this takes too long and is too hard. People resist the pressure. Instead we need change that is whole-system owned and generated, focused on maximising tomorrow not fixing yesterday.
It is very easy for people to become demoralised or demotivated during change as work becomes harder (less familiar) and possibly less rewarding (we’re not yet skilled at it). At the same time there is often a sense of loss of past habits or pleasurable activities, and a disruption to rewarding relationships. At the same time the manager can be so distracted and pressurised with all the meetings and decisions to do with the change programme that they are less relaxed and more critical than usual. They may also be around less, removing a valuable source of positive feedback for people.
To counter-act this, to ensure that people maintain good morale, are motivated, effective and resilient, we need to concentrate on helping people maintain a positive emotional state and a belief in their ability to influence things happening in their world.
Co-created change differs in its process and effects from imposed change. Whole-system change methodologies such as Appreciative Inquiry and World Café facilitate co-created change.
This is an edited extract from my new book Positive Psychology and Change
1. Calls on the organization’s collective intelligence
Participative co-creation involves, from the very beginning, those affected by the change, allowing them to apply their ‘local knowledge’ intelligence at the point at which it can save the organisation both time and money.
Save smart - make savings and improvements without the hidden costs
In the quest for ever great efficiencies, productivity and general cost saving, a few key questions can open up new avenues to improve performance and profitability.
How is it different, why is it better?
Co-creative approaches to organization change such as Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, and World Café have some very distinctive features that differentiate them from more familiar top-down planned approaches to change.
Appreciative Inquiry and other co-creative methodologies are essentially divergent ways of working together; the emphasis is on the value of diversity and variety. Such ways of working can trigger a pressure to converge on a few key points very early in the process, indeed sometimes before the event has even begun. This pressure can be the expression of various different needs, for example:
The plan is not the change
All too often those involved in creating the plan for change believe this to be the most essential part of the process, worthy of extended time and effort, while implementation is seen as ‘just’ a matter of communicating and rolling out the plan. Plans are a story of hope. Change happens when people change their habitual patterns of communication and intervention in a meaningful and sustainable way.
When people don’t comply with legal requirements organizations can face penalties and fines running into the thousands. To take just a few recent examples
In November last year a Greater London pizza manufacturer was fined £15,000 after failing to respond to warnings about an unsafe doorway.
Also in November Hertfordshire County Council accidentally faxed details of two cases it was dealing with to a member of the public and was fined £100,000 for breaching the Data Protection Act.
Given this is it surprising the extent to which organizations struggle with the concept of change in organizations. Myths abound. Working with organizations I constantly hear the refrain ‘people don’t like change’ and ‘change is hard’. Neither of these statements are necessarily true, as we see below. What is true is that the way we understand organizations, understand change, and go about achieving change can make the job much harder than it need be.
In any organisation there is always a variety of tools available to managers to influence staff towards desired behaviour. This has traditionally been seen as a choice between two general approaches: incentives and coercion, or, the carrot or stick approach.
Now there is a new alternative
This third method utilises the natural inertia of most people when confronted with the choice of accepting the status quo or changing things
1. Change is changing
Traditional, top-down, designed then implemented change takes too long and is too hard to push through an organization. The plan is out of date almost as soon as it’s made. People resist. Change needs to be fast, flexible and proactive and focused on maximising tomorrow’s possibilities rather than rehashing yesterday’s mistakes. Change needs to take everyone with it. Appreciative Inquiry is a change methodology for our changing times.
Having recently extensively studied the literature, Appreciating Change can exclusively reveal the ten things that you can do that can make your organisation an even more inspiring and positive workplace.
1. Play to everyone’s strengths
People playing to their strengths are effective, successful, engaged and energised. Their productivity is at its best. Those dutifully struggling with weaknesses are slow, ineffective and demoralised. Their productivity is poor.
What is positive devience and why is it a good thing?
Positive Deviance is an exciting methodology emerging from an understanding of organisations as complex adaptive systems. It helps organisations learn from those who manage to achieve better than normal outcomes from within the same resource constraints as their colleagues.
Planned change approaches inadvertently encourage people to give up trying to contribute to the change conversation or to influence how it happens. They can become passive, demotivated and demoralised, waiting to be told what to do. It is when the downsides of this approach become apparent that people find their way to me, presenting their challenge as a problem of dis-engagement, poor morale, people needing support during change.
It is true that, on the whole, people aren’t widely enthusiastic about change that is forced upon them without consultation that appears to make their life or working conditions worse. It is also true that people will buy the idea that if they point out the problems that the proposed change will cause, they will be labeled as a troublemaker or worse. Given this, they may stop saying anything. This compliance is often confused with ‘buy-in’.
This was the question posed to me recently by an HR Director taking up a new post with a big change agenda. He was attracted to the idea of positive change, but working with an organization with a long and successful history, he was challenged about how to galvanise the workforce into engaging with the necessary changes. I thought it was a great question and it has stayed with me.