I’m the first admit it that I really don’t like change. It is unsettling. It is unfamiliar and makes me feel uneasy. It’s odd that I should say that. I’ve had a number of career changes from Teacher, to Public Servant, to Disability Community, to Behaviour Intervention Specialist, to Local Government Ageing and Disability Community Development Officer, to Community Development Team Coordinator and now as a Community Development Practitioner and Corporate Trainer. I’ve also moved from my hometown to Orange in the Central West of NSW, to Nowra on the South Coast of NSW and finally to Cairns in Far North Queensland. A whole raft of changes. But all these changes have been changes I have instigated. I’m much more uncomfortable with changes that someone else has made that impact on me.
I’ve been through a number of organisational changes and restructures. From my perspective none of these have been implemented very well. They have often come with the message that “you are either on the bus or not”. The implication being that if you are not on the bus it might be a good idea to seek alternative employment.
I want to introduce a much better approach to change. An approach that I have used in managing team change and development…Appreciative Inquiry. This is not something new but an approach that has been used successfully for over two decades. An approach that can be used for corporate change, system change as well as personal transformation.
So, What is It?
Appreciative Inquiry is an approach that examines what it is that is happening when organisations and other human systems operate at their best. Language is central to the approach and has at its core the concept that when questions and discussion focus around strengths, success, values and aspirations then transformation is inevitable. It is a strengths-based approach to change. Appreciative Inquiry operates from a position of viewing that:
- people, both as individuals and in groups, have skills, talents and other strengths that they contribute to life and to organisations
- A corporation or any organisation is a social system where language is central to its existence and operation
- Dreams and images, we have of the future will serve to drive both the actions of the individual and the organisation.
- Communication is essential and by positive use of language the focus can be shifted from problem analysis to possibilities of a new future.
In short, it is a strengths-based approach to change where language in central to successful change. As such, it is in opposition to many change approaches where an organisation is a problem to be solved. These are deficit approaches. Appreciative Inquiry offers a positive approach. It interrogates what the existing strengths of an organisation are, what the hopes and dreams of both the organisation and the members of the organisation are to discover what is the positive core of the organisation and to amplify this core. The focus is on the potential of the organisation, on positive change.
Important to the process of Appreciative Inquiry is the inclusion of representatives across an organisation, at all levels of power with the potential inclusion of stakeholders. This ensures all voices are heard and the most can be gained through the process of Appreciative Inquiry.
A 4D Cycle to generate change. The 4-Ds are: Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny.
At the commencement of the 4D Cycle is the importance to develop and Agenda of Change and Affirmative Topics to be considered. This is an essential stage. Organisations will move in the direction of what they study. The selection of affirmative topics that are strategically important to the organisation will set the agenda for change and guide the discussions.
In short, the 4Ds are:
Discovery (“What gives life?”): An extensive search to discover the best about the organisation. Examines why the organisation performed well in the past and why and where it performs well in the present. This discovery will uncover the “positive core” of the organisation; it will include stories of best practice and examples of success; improve the knowledge the organisation has about itself and can highlight changes that were not considered previously.
Dream (“What Could Be?): Put simply this is to explore what the organisation might become. This will allow for the collective exploration of the potential of the organisation.
Design (“What Should Be?”): Another collective component of designing statements listing the organisation’s qualities the collective desires for the organisation. This stage identifies to the organisation what it can become once its positive core is activated. These are written as affirmative statements.
Destiny (“What will we do?”): This is where the future actions are listed. This is where individuals and the organisation commit to specific actions. A way forward.
Why Does it Work?
Appreciative Inquiry works because it values people. It understands that we as humans are social, we long to be together and communicate, to be valued. It builds relationships between people across the organisation. This enables people to be known through this relationship and not just for their role in the organisation.
Appreciative Inquiry creates opportunities for people to be heard. From the most organisationally powerful person to the most junior person it provides a forum where they are on an equal footing and can be heard.
Importantly, the process makes space for dreams and for dreams to be shared. Without this so many opportunities for organisational development would be lost.
It empowers people to act out their dreams and gives people permission to be positive about themselves and the organisation.