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What is Appreciative Inquiry? | aboutleaders.com
Article by Al Gonzalez
August 14, 2013
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Appreciative Inquiry So what is Appreciative Inquiry anyway?

Have you ever heard the following phrase?

‘People join organizations, but leave managers.’

Would you say you are the type of manager people leave or the type of leader that people stay for and want to work with?

Are you trying to solve the problem with your staff or are you including them in creating a better reality?

Do your employees trust you? How do you know?

Happiness and Trust

What is Appreciative InquiryIn a recent podcast with David Hain, Director of Transformation Partners, based in Cardiff, Wales, we discussed some scary statistics about the declining level of trust in organizations around the world as well as the benefits of happiness and trust in the work place. We then explored how the Appreciative Inquiry model can be used as a way to not only develop trust, but to inspire others.

Let’s start with the benefits of happiness at work.

According to the Happiness at Work Global Index, empirical research involving 9,000 people from around the world reveals some astonishing findings. The data shows that employees who report being happiest at work:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues
  • Spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do
  • Take ten times less sick leave
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much

Research has identified five components that inform and build happiness at work. These components are known as the 5 Cs, and they are:

  1. Contribution is the effort an individual or team makes
  2. Conviction is short-term motivation
  3. Culture is a feeling of fitting in at work
  4. Commitment is long-term engagement
  5. Confidence is the belief in ones abilities

When the 5 Cs are established for employees in an organizational culture, they form an ecosystem which works together to drive performance. When one starts to fall, the others will become unstable in turn.

As you may have guessed, trust is critical in order for staff members to feel they can contribute with conviction in a culture that values long-term commitment and believes in their capabilities.

Unfortunately, on the workplace front, trust and employee engagement continues to decline. A 2011 Maritz Research Poll offers a sobering glimpse at trust-diminishing issues facing organizations in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis. Their research found that:

  • 25% of participants said they had less trust in management than a year ago
  • 14% believed leaders in their company were ethical and honest. This means that 86% believe that their leaders are NOT ethical and honest!
  • 12% reported an employer who genuinely cared about employees
  • 7% thought senior management’s words and actions were consistent

Why is Trust Continuing to Decline?

The Maritz study summarized it this way: “Poor communication, lack of perceived caring, inconsistent behavior, and perceptions of favoritism were cited by respondents as the largest contributors to their lack of trust in senior leaders.”

During the podcast, David explained that trust is a crucial precursor to positive employee happiness and engagement. Organizations that understand the importance of employee engagement have been shown to enjoy the following benefits:

  • 16% greater profit margin
  • 19% greater operating income
  • 18% greater productivity
  • 2.6 times Earnings Per Share (EPS) growth ■ 12% greater customer loyalty
  • 50% fewer sick days
  • 87% less likely to leave the organization

Appreciative_Inquiry

What does this have to do with Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry is a model that can help organizations come together in a spirit of trust AND happiness! It seeks to create a better reality by everyone working together and realizing their full potential. When employees are treated as contributors to a better future, it is easier to establish a culture of trust and happiness at work. Let’s think about this from the opposite perspective.

How engaged do you think employees are going to be if management treats them as problems to be solved?

Appreciative Inquiry is the opposite of what we often find in organizations, the classic problem solving approach that seeks to:

  • Identify problems
  • Conduct cause analysis
  • Brainstorm solutions and analyze
  • Develop action plans/interventions

The message of the classic problem-solving approach is that employees are problems to be solved. This is also called deficit thinking.

What is appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry focuses on possibilities!

  • Appreciate “What Is”
  • Imagine “What Might Be”
  • Determine “What Should Be”
  • Create “What Will Be”

The message of Appreciative Inquiry is that employees and organizations are systems of potential to be realized. People move towards that which they can envision! Just the act of talking about possibilities increases the chance of bringing them about and starts the process of building trust.

Why Appreciative Inquiry Works

Doesn’t focus on changing people. The belief is that the message isn’t about what they’ve done wrong or have to stop doing. Perfect for hard times, where people are already facing confidence/belief issues

Invites people to engage in building the kinds of organizations and communities that they want to live in. Too many organizations ‘do things to people’ and, as a result, exclude them from having the power to make things better

Helps everyone see the need for change, explore new possibilities, and contribute to solutions. Builds trust through dialogue – people are surprised to realize how similar what they want, and value really is. Exploring (walking in each others’ moccasins) – is in itself a trust building activity which breaks down artificial silos, barriers and stereotypes

Translates a shared vision, with purpose and principles, into reality, belief, and practice. The focus is on making things happen better in the future rather than addressing ills of the past. Therefore less threatening, more community building.

If you are interested in applying the Appreciative Inquiry Model, here are a few ways to approach conversations when change is needed:

What do you most value about… yourself, work, the organization?

What are the signature strengths of… the person, team, organization?

If you had three wishes for this organization… what would they be?

I’d Love to Hear from You

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Want more leadership inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with our easy to use Motivational Checklist.

Al Gonzalez

Al has worked for 16 years helping others maximize the quality of their leadership at Motorola, CBS Sports, and Cornell University. He’s used these experiences to develop proven, trust-based leadership tools for all levels of management.

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