darth vader, interrogation, Toby Elwin, blog, organization, intervention

An organization intervention is not an organization inquisition

Appreciative Inquiry, Toby Elwin, organization intervention, facilitation

“Now, princess, let me introduce you to our new facilitator.”

Proposals for organization intervention, from business process re-engineering to Lean initiatives, typical focus is on problems to be solved.  Many an organization intervention for change, however, soon take the flavor of an organization inquisition.

The road to inquisition starts once a problem is identified.  The problem becomes the focus to diagnose.

The intervention turns into an inquisition and both the organization and the people involved become the problem.  There are two issues with this approach:

1.  An organization’s current-state is built upon their collected history:

  1. This history is an essential core of their organization’s being.
  2. The past sets the present capabilities.

Take away:  Rattle organization history and you rattle the foundation stones of an organization culture.

2.  A highlight into what people do wrong attracts attention to … what people do wrong:

  1. No one likes to be audited for what is broken around them, in front of or around others.
  2. No one likes it pointed out they work within, are part of, or manage broken processes.

Take away:  Focus on broken process and you focus on the what is wrong with how people work.

Both an organization’s history and people are subjected to uncertainty about the way things need to be done in the future.  Many times, throughout an organization’s life, for example, absence of process creates a process; otherwise known as a work-around.  Soon these processes are adopted as “the way things are done“.

Just as simply, an organization’s process to deliver 100 widgets may not take kindly the stress to deliver 100,000 widgets.  But the stress of delivering 100,000 widgets may then become “the way things are done” because the entire organization has become too busy making 100,000 widgets.

What Worked?

A typical diagnostic approach to problem-solving in an organization intervention is a deficit-based approach.  The issue framed as a problem to be solved and the kickoff centered on what is not working.

This inquisition presents the people in the organization as a series of problems and translates to each as an attack on members of the organization and on the organization itself. This deficit-based view causes an entrenchment environment and natural resistance to change.  No matter what the future promise, when highlighted in this light change, itself, has a problem shelf-life.

Contrasting Model for Organization Change

Problem-Solving Approach Appreciative Inquiry
Basic Assumption: an organization is a problem to be solved Basic Assumption: an organization is a mystery to be embraced
Identification of the problem Appreciating and valuing the best of what is
Analysis of causes Envisioning what might be
Analysis of possible solutions Dialoguing what should be
Action planning Innovating what will be

Conversely, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a process that engages people to build the kinds of organizations where they are proud to work. AI is not another organization development intervention; but, instead an approach to use to undertake organization development interventions such as:

  • strategic planning,
  • business process redesign,
  • team-building,
  • organization restructuring,
  • individual and project evaluation,
  • coaching, and

Enterprise-wide interventions that AI would affect organization change include:

  • mission development,
  • culture change,
  • new market development,
  • diversity and inclusion initiatives,
  • continuity of operations, and
  • strategic transactions

Inquire to Change

AI as a perspective for an evaluation process basic belief that an  intervention into any human system is fateful and that systems will move in the direction of the first questions asked.

AI also recognizes that an organization is a network of stakeholders from the highest executive down through every employee, and that outside stakeholders are also involved in the organization’s health.

AI looks to the very moments of excellence that people take pride in as the very areas that provide and sustain motivation. Those moments become the roadmap to a positive and generative future.

The words each of us use create a vision in the other’s mind.  Words create the future, as words are chosen to describe the present.  Therefore, verbalizing and building upon positive experiences from the past engages the organization to develop a shared-vision of a positive future.

Organization Intervention

Through articulation, you leverage people’s desire to share their hopes and visions.  These then become the organization’s new foundation stones for the place where they want to work and how they want to actively participant within this.

Moving from a frame of what is not working to a frame of what is working is an opportunity to build a space where people are far more likely to opt-in.  The intervention, itself, is a call for change, so why bother to start an intervention any other way?

Flip the coin.  There are others possibilities to switch your focus.

Three sources of interest:

Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Revolution in Change, David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, Toby Elwin, change management, strategy
Appreciative Inquiry, David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Power of Appreciative Inquiry, Guide, Positive Change, Toby Elwin
switch, chip, dan, heath, toby elwin, book
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