Looking back: Looking Forward
There are two types of goals. One is a goal to move toward something; the other is a goal to avoid something. The type of goal you set makes a world of difference in the outcome you achieve. How would these two goals affect behavior?
- I want to do a good job. (Approach goal)
- I want to keep my job. (Avoid goal)
When we set approach goals, we achieve more.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a process that identifies the best in people, teams, and their environment in order to create approach goals and plans to bring them to fruition. In an article published in Global Educational Research Journal, Joseph Attiah eloquently described Appreciative Inquiry: “In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.” AI is the perfect process for taking stock of accomplishments and choosing aspirational future goals.
The Process of Discovery: Looking back
The first step of the AI process is discovery; appreciating the good you can find in the way things are and in the contributions that brought you to this point. Sharing success stories to evoke positive emotions is a good place to begin the process. Tell stories that help one another believe in the good being accomplished. Tie the stories to big “Why’s” to increase the inspiration factor.
Focus on demonstrated strengths, successes, and the potential those offer for the future. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate successes. It’s easy to forget the wins when the losses are given too much attention. Wins are important for building self-efficacy and internalizing the value of the team.
The goal is to celebrate successes and create a positive shared narrative about your mission. Asking everyone questions that evoke the best of the organization is powerful. Open-ended positive questions are the best.
- “What is your best experience at work?”
- “What is your best experience about teamwork?”
- “What is your best story about customer satisfaction?”
The Dream Step: Imagine what could be
Identifying the right question is a critical part of this step. Using our example above, if we ask the question “How can I do a good job?” or “What is the best way to do my job?” the answers we consider will be very different than answers that would come to mind if we asked “How can I keep my job?” or “How can I make sure I don’t get fired?”
Questions tap into instinctive information sharing tendencies and bypass ego-based resistance that telling someone what to do can generate. Questions about the future have the power to stimulate intrinsically motivated action in the present. Asking positive questions increases the question’s power to stimulate change. When did a question lead you to a deeper insight or an ah-ha moment?
Eugène Ionesco realized that “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” He also saw that dreams are something that can bring people together. Appreciative Inquiry takes advantage of that by focusing the group’s attention on dreaming about the best possible future they could achieve together.
David Whyte poetically reminds us that “The marvelous thing about a good question is that it shapes our identity as much by the asking as it does by the answering.”
One tenet of Appreciative Inquiry is that the question itself is an intervention. Discussions generate insights that wouldn’t “pop” into existence without the conversation. Asking new questions stimulates thoughts that were not thought before the question was asked.
Finding a Great Question
We’re often asked, “What does your company do?” but we’re seldom asked, “What could your company do?” The first question isn’t very interesting. The second question is immediately interesting.
The focus question is important. Make it provocative. Collaborate to create a great question. The mindset of the group has to be positive. Your mind will not create an aspirational question when your emotional state reflects frustration, fear, or anger.
Unconditional positive questions produce the best results. Instead of asking “How do we solve this problem” ask “What are we capable of achieving?” Appreciative Inquiry is not focused on what has happened as much as it is focused on what could happen; it asks “What is possible?”
Ask questions like, “What makes this team come alive?”
Appreciative Inquiry supports the “anticipatory principle” which says our image of the future guides what we do today. See the potential inherent in your organization.
Bring in collective visions of the future, dream together, co-create inspiring goals based on a collective design of the future. Talk in detail about what it will be like when the goal is achieved instead of “if” it will be achieved. Appreciative Inquiry conversations have rules: be positive, supportive, heard, and contributory. Everyone has a role and adds value to the conversation. The collective process increases commitment to the team and to the goal.
The team decides together how to move forward and achieve the goal. They consider their strengths and what they learned during the discovery and dream processes. The team is empowered to make any adjustments or improvements necessary to achieve the goal.
When the plans created in the Design Process are executed, the destiny process is being carried out. If done well, the team can experience transformational changes.
A review of case studies in organizations that used Appreciative Inquiry found that the 35% of the organizations that focused on changing the way people thought, instead of focusing on changing what they do, experienced transformational changes. Teams that experienced transformational change also supported change processes that used self-organizing units to achieve the potential of the new ideas
The Appreciative Inquiry process is an ongoing cycle of activities, not a one and done activity.