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Highlight change management — an introduction to Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry, Toby Elwin, change management, organization development
“Change management you say, looks all the same from here … “

Change management. Fun stuff.

Everyone loves change:  take what you know and replace it with a promise. Then overlay that promise with the memory of accumulated missed efforts, half-baked attempts, and roads of abandoned promises.

In systems theory the ability to replace stock is neither easy nor fast, be it the stock of cod in the over-fished, Grand Banks or the stock of knowledge needed to replace accumulated FORTRAN programming expertise with Dart programming.

Hold On Change

A whole industry has grown to help change, as well as books, PhD dissertations, motivation studies, visioning, facilitation, design, co-creation, projects, and communicating change.

On hope we can say that the hope the change you need becomes the change indeed.

There are more change methods and strategies, but the essence of change is motivation. Because change is absolute and constant, we need to improve organization and human capital resilience.

Our forefathers, once they mastered standing upright on two legs, had a bit of a different environment:  change … or die. They could not put their head in the sand and hope change would go away.

Now, however, inability to change has a bit less dire consequence, but people need to change and organizations need to change or skills decay into irrelevance, revenues expire, and markets migrate. This now causes organizations, rather than people, to die off.

You can not put your head in the sand and hope change will go away.

Change Your Question

Toby Elwin, Appreciative Inquiry, David Cooperrider, model, 4D
4D Model for Appreciative, Positive Core Change

The key to motivation is an intrinsic motivation to change. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) works around a premise that we move and change in the direction we inquire.

Inquiries into problems will find problems.

Inquiries into what is working or what is best, however, now shines a light onto what works and possibilities of how it could work.

The focus shift is on discovery.

Discovery becomes the foundation to build upon the new, sustainable norm. With AI you move your strategic and talent management strategies from buy-in to commitment, understanding, and ownership.

AI is an amalgam approach to change, not one discipline. The approach that came together under the guidance of David Cooperrider’s theoretical work to create a positive revolution in the leadership of change with strength-based approaches to multi-stakeholder innovation and sustainable design.

Change as Possibility, Not Calamity

Working on his PhD, Cooperrider interviewed leading clinicians at the Cleveland Clinic about their greatest successes and failures, but drawn to the stories of success. He then decided to focus exclusively on them and as he reported them back into the Clinic those stories had a huge impact. Cleveland Clinic’s leadership saw the impact and asked that the same approach get rolled out to the entire 8,000 people within the organization.

AI is unique because of its ability to enable positive change, innovation, and sustainable design in systems of large and complex scale. Since 1999, I work with AI to facilitate and design change. The principles lay over any approach, any dialogue, any engagement, any interaction. Cooperrider notes inquiry into organizational life should have four characteristics:

  1. Appreciative: AI looks for the “positive core” of the organization and seeks to use it as a foundation for future growth.
  2. Applicable: AI is grounded in stories of what has actually taken place in the past and is therefore essentially practical. It is not a “pie in the sky” approach but instead seeks the best of “what is” in order to build the best of “what might be”.
  3. Provocative: AI invites people to take some risks in the way they imagine the future and redesign their organization to bring it about. With the security and energy gained from exploration of the best in the organization, people feel able to respond with “provocative propositions” about the future.
  4. Collaborative: AI is a form of collaborative inquiry. It always involves the whole organization or a representative cross-section of the whole organization. In this way all voices are heard and everyone’s contribution valued.

Every AI inquiry or endeavor is unique to the organization and the stakeholders. The principles retain their name, but AI, as a total approach, has an incredible ability to scale and change continue to emerge. As more and more people have use AI it develops and gain new understandings.

Five Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

  1. Constructionist Principle: that reality as we know it is subjective and socially created through the language we use and the conversations we have
  2. Principle of Simultaneity: that inquiry in itself is an intervention, the moment we ask a question we begin to create change.
  3. Poetic Principle: that organisations, like open books, are endless sources of study and learning. What we choose to study makes a difference. It describes – even creates – the world as we know it.
  4. Anticipatory Principle: that human systems move in the direction of their images of the future. Therefore, the more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present-day action.
  5. Positive Principle: that momentum for change requires large amounts of positive affect and social bonding. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry has shown that momentum is best generated through positive questions that amplify the positive core of an organization.*

I have successfully used AI in large and small organizations; commercial and not-for-profit; for large-scale organizational transformation and team interventions as well as executive coaching. Contribution is the key.

Cooperrider contrasts the commonplace notion that, “organizing is a problem to be solved” with the appreciative proposition that, “organizing is a miracle to be embraced”.

In practice, shift from ‘as-is’ to ‘should be’. Shift ‘to be’ to ‘could be’.

There is a world of possibilities when you flip the coin. There is an art of possibility available to all.

Appreciative Inquiry Online Resources:

  1. David Cooperrider, Ph.D. – Case Western Reserve faculty profile
  2. David Cooperrider, Ph.D. – Taos Institute Board of Directors profile
  3. *What is Appreciative Inquiry? Linda Joy Mitchell select for Adobe .pdf
  4. Appreciative Inquiry History and Timeline by Jan Magruder Watkins and Bernard Mohr’s Appreciative Inquiry:  Change at the Speed of Imagination 
  5. Resources for Getting Appreciative Inquiry Started – An Example OD Proposal, by David Cooperrider select for Adobe .pdf
  6. Appreciative Inquiry Commons “… where AI, positive change research and organizational leadership connect for world benefit”; hosted by Case Western Reserve University – open access

Appreciative Inquiry in Books — small sample:

Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Revolution in Change, David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, Toby Elwin, change management, strategy
Appreciative Inquiry, Roadmap Creating Positive Futures, Bernard Mohr, Jane Magruder Watkins, AI, Toby Elwin
Appreciative Inquiry, David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Power of Appreciative Inquiry, Guide, Positive Change, Toby Elwin
Appreciative Inquiry, Toby Elwin, Robyn Stratton Berkessel, AI, change management
Crowdsourcing, Power of the Crowd, Future of Business, Jeff Howe, strategy, Toby Elwin, change management
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Comments 2

  1. Toby, haven’t come across the AI paradigm before and it is certainly interesting. What I feel is missing here is an explanation of how you apply AI when the people whom you need to bring along to the journey might not have the personality or character traits that looks positively upon being inquirers?

    1. How to cultivate the positive for people who bias towards the negative? Short answer: acknowledge their frustration and then turn towards questions on what it would look like when it works.

      You, happily, forced my hand to start draft on a new blog post around the art of flipping questions towards creating opportunity. Or questions around the analogy I often use: flip the coin. Same coin, a head side and a tail side, but two views.

      I will post and link when available. But, as always, Shim, thank you for the question and the interest.

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