Best Practice
May 7, 2012

A positive spin

The Power of Appreciative Inquiry

Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom

Berrett-Koehler, 264 pages, $39.95

 

Appreciative Intelligence

Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker

Berrett-Koehler, 332 pages, $27.00

 

Appreciative Leadership

Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rider

McGraw-Hill, 228 pages, $34.95

 

Managers generally walk around with a what’s-going-wrong mentality. They are fixated on rooting out errors, and fixing those.

But what if they approached leadership with a focus on what’s going right? What if their goal was to build on the strong points in the organization – people, programs and processes? What if the focus was on the positive, rather than the negative?

That’s the approach celebrated by adherents of appreciative inquiry and appreciative leadership, a small but discerning circle of consultants and academics attuned to the merits of positive psychology, a new and important stream in the study of the mind. They argue that far from leading to organizational collapse by failing to fix weaknesses, the appreciative approach catapults an organization ahead by building on its best elements in a positive, cooperative spirit.

“If you want to transform a situation, a relationship, an organization, or community, focusing on strengths is much more effective than focusing on problems,” consultants Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom write in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change.

“It brings out the best of people, encourages them to see and support the best of others, and generates unprecedented cooperation and innovation.”

That book – one of three I’ll look at – shows how to employ the approach in organizational change. For example, if you are concerned about morale in your organization, instead of focusing on low morale they would have you look at where morale is high, and why.

Once you identify a problem, appreciative inquiry involves four phases:

  • Discovery: an extensive, cooperative search to understand the best of your current performance – what staff are proud of and want to replicate. This is usually conducted through one-on-one interviews with staff.
  • Dream: people collectively explore hopes and dreams for their work and organization.
  • Design: participants start to formulate a new future by developing propositions of what they hope to achieve. Naturally, those are written in the affirmative – not what you hope not to do, but what you will do.
  • Destiny: paths are developed to achieve those goals.

A hallmark of appreciative inquiry is large meetings, to gain as much involvement as possible. It’s an outgrowth of the notion of appreciating the ideas and efforts and differences of others. The facilitators try to bridge differences, having individuals pair off with or interview people they don’t know, so common understanding can emerge.

Of course, an appreciative spirit need not be confined to organizational change initiatives and other special ventures. It can be a daily part of your leadership agenda.

In Appreciative Intelligence, academics Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker look at the frame of mind that allows people to see the positive around them – to sense the mighty oak that can spring up from the tiny acorn, as they put it. By perceiving the positive inherent generative potential in something, people who claim they aren’t very smart have been able to devise breakthrough products, nurture top talent, or conceive a solution to a problem that seemed insurmountable.

Appreciative intelligence involves three elements:

  • Reframing: the person develops a different perspective on an object, person, context or scenario. When everybody sees the glass as half empty, he sees it as half full.
  • Appreciating the positive: that reframing is positive, of course. It appreciates greater worth in the person or possibility being considered – value that others have missed.
  • Seeing how the future unfolds from the present: many people have the ability to reframe and the capacity to appreciate the positive. But people with high appreciative intelligence connect the potential today with the desired end goal. They see how the future unfolds from the present – that oak tree in the acorn. A sports or talent scout, for example, sees a future star in a young athlete or actor.

“Everyone has appreciative intelligence,” the authors note. “Identifying, developing, and enhancing appreciative intelligence in yourself or other individuals and applying it for personal or organizational success can lead to great advantage and reward.”

A third book, published a few months ago, Appreciative Leadership, adds further knowledge about this alternative approach. It’s by the authors of the first book – Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom – along with fellow consultant Kae Rider at the Corporation For Positive Change.

They focus on how to make appreciation your leadership mode, mobilizing creative potential into positive power. They stress that this is all about relationships. Relationships are omnipresent at work, and you must become relationally aware and relationally adept to succeed. Your positive focus will ripple out, through these relationships, building outwards.

Sometimes, of course, we approach these relationships sourly. We tire on the people around us. We give up hope they will ever get better. At best, we nudge and prod, with our anger barely suppressed. Or we work around them. The appreciative approach is very different.

“Appreciative leaders hold each and every person in positive regard. They look through appreciative eyes to see the best of people,” the authors declare.

“They seek to treat all individuals positively, with respect and dignity, no matter their age, gender, religion, or culture – even education or experience. They believe that everyone has a positive potential – a positive core of strengths and a passionate calling to be fulfilled – and they seek to bring that forward and nurture it.”

The authors share five core strategies:

  • Inquiry: let people know that you value them and their contributions by asking them to share their thoughts and feelings. That probably involves adjusting your normal approach when asking questions, to frame them in a positive vein – which is more than just adopting a positive tone. Often it means refocusing: instead of fussing over employee turnover, for example, study employee retention, and figure out why people stay. The authors suggest you learn something they call “the flip.” When presented with a complaint or problem, shift from the specifics and ask: “What is it you really want? I understand that you are not happy with the way things are, but tell me what it is that you want instead?”
  • Illumination: help people to understand how they can best contribute to the organization. Also, help them to learn about their own strengths and those of their colleagues. The authors urge you to keep a positive tone in the workplace. They suggest managing the ratio of positive to negative comments so there are five positive for each negative one.
  • Inclusion: give staff a sense of belonging by including them. Reach out. That fuels collaboration, and an environment in which people feel they are a part of something. “When they feel part of something, they care for it,” the authors point out.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Best Practice
 
We live in the age of paradox.  Never before in human...
 
Canada is a world leader in clean electricity, with two-thirds of...
 
The discussion around where technology is going in government tends to...
 
Leadership, service delivery, change management, performance measurement, big data, transparency, digital...
 
What are the key initiatives to support government innovation and change?...
 
Could robot doctors be on the horizon? A study published February...
 
According to a 2018 study led by Dr. Michael McGuire, Senior...
 
My observation is people often take the view, “no one else...
 
One of the benefits of living in a federation is that...
 
The role of internal audit in the public sector has changed...
 
We are excited to share with you the October/November 2018 edition...
 
As governments have sought to go digital, one of the most...
 
With the launch of the Canada Infrastructure Bank and US Congressional interest in Trump’s...
 
Why is strategic planning so dreaded? How often do we actually...
 
Most articles you’ll read within the pages of Canadian Government Executive...
 
A communications revolution has taken place but you would not know...
 
Headlines about the world of work are often dominated by the...
 
Earlier this year the Canadian government took a crucial step by...
 
The use of digital services in the day-to-day lives of most...
 
Since launching in 2014, Sweden’s radically ‘feminist’ foreign policy has gained international notoriety. While...
 
The International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) Index project, a collaboration between...
 
Today, the challenges facing governments are increasingly shifting away from traditional,...
 
Three years before his death in 2011, Jack Layton released a...
 
Canadian Government Executive Media, (CGE) publisher of Canadian Government Executive magazine...
 
Management in the Government of Canada is continuously searching for new...
 
With businesses and government agencies increasingly operating in a highly information-based...
 
Blockchain. There’s probably no other technology trend in recent years that...
 
Over the last two years, an ever-growing number of organizations around...
 
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) is pleased to announce its first batch...
 
In today’s workplace, individuals increasingly face dynamic and difficult challenges that...
 
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) is pleased to welcome Microsoft as its Platinum Sponsor for...
 
In a rather unusual, quiet manner this past summer, a new...
 
Canadian government agencies and departments are modernizing the way they do...
 
The health care system in Canada, known as Medicare, is publicly...
 
We are happy to share with you the May/June issue of...
 
Facebook Pages can be an essential tool for businesses and charities,...
 
In this special episode of CGE Radio, your host John Jones...
 
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with its 28 independent member countries...
 
Cost overruns have become institutionalized in the federal government, according to...
 
Last year, procurement Minister Jody Foote was prompted by the swirling...
 
The rapid advances in digital technology, demographic and societal shift even...
 
Results Washington is Washington state government’s data-driven performance management and continuous...
 
Rules and accountability are helpful in developing and standardizing processes but...
 
Ontario’s provincial government needs to act fast in building a coordinated...
 
It’s a common notion that young workers born in the mid-1990s...
 
A study conducted by Robert Half, the world’s largest specialized staffing...
 
In order to find out which strategies and priorities CFOs are...
 
A small but rapidly growing number of businesses have started hiring...
 
CFOs around the world are changing – but an EY survey...
 
There’s a fine line between confidence and naivety – a line...
 
Around the world, more and more workers are seeking employment. At...
 
As populations grow and age, the demand for services increases. As...
 
By Nicole Verkindt Despite growing up in a small town in...
 
The agency responsible for safeguarding the Pentagon and several other buildings...
 
As much a 20 per cent of grade seven students in...
 
By Jason Zhang  The best way to cost effectively manage the retention...
 
He is often referred to as the federal government’s first “chief...
 
Are you absolutely clear what the government wants to achieve? Are...
 
Copyright owners have struggled to protect their intellectual property since the...
 
Here’s some bad news for organizations contemplating projects that have something...
 
Nearly half of Canadian organizations are falling behind on implementation of...
 
The idea of converged infrastructure and converged systems in the datacentre...
 
Hackers are zeroing in on users of SSL/TLS encryption and no...
 
There is no shortage of examples of businesses that effectively used...
 
Microsoft, on Tuesday, ended support for older versions of Internet Explorer...
 
Written by Tim Wacker Almost a quarter century ago, when most...
 
Written By Chris Brown To deliver results that senior executives value,...
 
Written By Jason McNaught Contrary to what you may have heard,...
 
Written by  Benjamin Selinger and Gabriel Flores A real challenge for...
 
Written by  Patrice Dutil It’s hard to believe we are still...
 
Written by  Patrice Dutil Craig Dowden, President and Founder of Craig...
 
Written by  Brady G. Wilson You may not realize it, but...
 
Written by  Roxanne Descôteaux When I first became a manager over...
 
The good news is that the Government of Canada recognizes the...
 
You sometimes wonder why government can’t be better at just getting...
 
Hill+Knowlton Canada announced last week that it has received the prestigious...
 
I’ve been giving 110 percent for as long as I can...
 
The National Voluntary Standard for psychological health and safety in the...
 
The government of Alberta has banded together with British Columbia and...
 
When we put out the call to cities across Canada for...
 
BC Hydro was experiencing ongoing challenges with IT assets decommissioned as...
 
City councils are important. They not only represent citizens at the...
 
Business continuity management has evolved into a specialized discipline, but you...
 
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health is leading a new approach to strategic...
 
Whether you have read John Kotter’s classic Leading Change or not,...
 
Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. But...
 
Across the country, public sector leaders are challenged with the daunting...
 
When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, it was government that...
 
Ego can do us in. It can lead to arrogance, blindness,...
 
and the more layers between a given employee and the relevant...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 Management speaks of change in positive...
 
Innovation, leadership and a commitment to building a knowledge advantage are...
 
One of the most paradoxical Biblical parables, found the Gospel of...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.1 January 2008 “We’ve entered into an era in...
 
L’une des paraboles bibliques les plus paradoxales rapportées par Luc est...
 
Chris Baker is Deputy Minister, Policy and Priorities, and Deputy Minister,...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 Often overworked and understaffed, the procurement...
 
Federal, provincial and municipal governments provide billions of dollars in grants...
 
During the American presidential election campaign of 1976, Jimmy Carter, then...
 
The Ontario Public Service celebrated ten years of hosting Showcase Ontario,...
 
Tell the truth. Deep down, do you sometimes – or often...
 
What if our general approach to brainstorming was all wrong? That...
 
Nearly two decades after I read Lincoln On Leadership, the messages...
 
True leaders are proactive. They get things done. They accomplish that...
 
Management and leadership are complicated. So it would be lovely if...
 
Government revolves around power. Political parties seek power. They implement their...
 
Managers generally walk around with a what’s-going-wrong mentality. They are fixated...
 
Government runs on expertise. Government executives seek the best knowledge and...
 
Let’s resume last month’s discussion on effective change initiatives with some...
 
When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty set as a prime goal of...
 
By now it’s commonplace knowledge that emotional intelligence is vital to...
 
Good leaders can make bad decisions. President Kennedy blundered over the...
 
The TRIC model of leadership is enshrined in the Ontario Public...
 
A respectful workplace is a critical ingredient of successful public service...
 
For the third year in a row, the Ontario Public Service...
 
Justice on Target (JOT) takes a unique and bold approach to...
 
Perched on top a 60 meter column in a bustling square...
 
For the second year in a row, the Ontario Public Service...
 
OTTAWA – Management consultants at Accenture, a respected longtime observer of...
 
La plupart des leaders reconnaissent d’emblée que leur efficacité dépend de...
 
Most leaders will readily agree that earning and keeping the trust...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
We live in the age of paradox.  Never before in human...