Appreciative Inquiry

Many students over the past decades learned strategic planning as a function of problem solving.  As a past non-profit leader I know that previous chamber board of directors and I looked at our annual member survey responses for answers to determine the course of action the Chamber would embark on in the upcoming year.  These member surveys helped us identify organizational strengths and weaknesses that were perceived by the membership.  We often acted on the weaknesses.  Tom Rath suggests that building on strengths creates a better return on investment.  Appreciative inquiry (AI) may be a better way to approach planning.

AI is an exciting approach to leading organizational change through strategic planning.  AI engages individuals, teams, or the entire organization in creating change by reinforcing positive messages and focusing on learning from success versus looking at what is wrong and who is to blame for it.  AI takes a positive, affirming approach by asking, “What is possible?  What do we want to achieve?  What do we do well?”  For example, the chamber board of directors and staff looked at why membership sales were declining and developed a new course of action.  AI suggests a more positive approach.   AI suggests that decision-makers look at what capacities (skills, knowledge, and abilities) does the organization/team/individual have to create an increase in member sales.  This means appropriately framing a topic to investigate what is right, rather than what is wrong with the organization/team/individual is a critical part of the planning function.

Looking at AI from the perspective of a leader we ask, “What is working?”  As a smart leader navigating in dynamic business environments it is important to look for the most successful aspects of your existing performance as a leader.  Tom Rath suggests, “The key to human development is building on who you already are”.  We can connect Mr. Rath’s quote on AI to organizations; as organizations focus on being experts on what they do.  It is rather like elite basketball players such as Michael Jordan or Lebron James who even though they have experienced great professional success, they still practice the fundamentals of basketball to become even better experts.  After practice was over you could have found Michael Jordan on the basketball court practicing foul shots by himself.  It has been shared that Lebron James has a similar style (improving on what you do well).

From an organizational perspective AI suggests that valuing the best in people and the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life, health, vitality, and excellence to living systems, leads to greater organizational success.  This implies that in order for our organizations to be successful, leaders need not be experts in their fields, but expert listeners to those whom they have surrounded themselves with.  Leaders have to develop trust with their team members, they need to empower their team members, and encourage them to become experts.  This proposes a paradigm shift where leaders must trust that their team members have the answers within themselves and that they can effectively respond to challenging situations.

AI is a very relevant process for self-managing teams who are empowered to make changes to organizational processes.  As these teams gain more experience they become better critical thinkers, and embrace stronger positive corporate citizenship, which leads to greater job satisfaction and higher productivity.  As you begin to plan for 2018 I would suggest that you engage in appreciative inquiry in order to develop a higher performing organization.  If you have any questions or comments as always please e-mail me at [email protected] or pick up the phone (239) 277-1336.

Mike “Q” Quaintance, MBA

Keiser University-Fort Myers, Business Department Chair