Welcome back to our thread of content where we put the theoretical concept of appreciative inquiry into practice in the context of organisational improvement. It’s a dense topic, but it’s pivotal in terms of understanding a new way to improve your organisation with a few simple steps. You can read our introductory piece to the topic here, as well as our breakdowns on the first, second and third parts of the process.
The official definition from David Cooperridge who coined the term goes as follows: “At its heart, Appreciative Inquiry is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them.”*
“Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is not so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but AI is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to “inquire” into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes.”*
Like we’ve mentioned in our previous posts, it’s not the only concept to consider when implementing a management system aiming at creating a cycle of improvement, but it is effective in terms of consolidating your strengths, and looking for areas of improvement without violating promises you’re making to current customers. The latter part of that sentence applies to organisations that often pull the brakes on the organisation as a whole to fill a gap or address a problem head-on. Their spirit is admirable but put into practice, it’s detrimental to your organisation if you let the quality of your product or service slip while trying to address a problem.
That’s one of the most attractive feathers in the cap of appreciative inquiry, you can make improvements all the while ensuring the quality of your end deliverable doesn’t drop, and your customers remain happy.
To sum up the journey so far – and before we jump into the last part of the process – let’s take a look at the Four-D process:
Discovery: Identifying an area or output your organisation is currently excelling
Dream: Using your management review and weekly meetings to envisage what the ‘ideal scene’ of this situation looks like.
Design: Developing new practices or systems to leverage the best of what you do, and how it could be improved.
Now, for the last part of that process- destiny. This is the final part of the Four-D model that requires you to implement and deliver the aforementioned design into the real world. In the design process, you should keep in mind things like the feasibility of that plan, and whether or not your organisation has the resources in place to make it a reality. Yes, it’s good to dream big, but if you over-step your organisation’s abilities, you’re at risk of upsetting customers.
What you’re delivering in this part of the process is an improved promise to your customers and stakeholders like your suppliers. In recognition of that fact, you need to be realistic in the planning phases that you’re not over-stretching the bounds of your organisation. If you keep your goals high and remain realistic about your resources, you’re in better stead to position your organisation for success.
This is all about realising your organisation’s destiny, and while the recently implemented practice or process might be merely a small step, it’s in the direction of creating that cycle of continual improvement; much like what Best Practice instils in your organisation when implementing your quality management system.
Remember to keep the feedback from your customers and your staff alike at the forefront of your decision making; the destiny of the organisation as a whole is more likely to be realised if you’re able to actively take on feedback.
This is of course a cycle, rather than a one-way journey. Much like the plan-do-check-act cycle, once you’ve reached the delivery stage and implemented a new and improved policy or procedure in your organisation, you should look closely at your numbers to ensure it’s working as desired. If you’ve seen little change or a swing in the other direction, you need to quickly consider whether or not the new design is in your organisation’s best interests. Great organisations are able to adapt and overcome on the fly, so keep a close eye on the data to let you know if you’re on the right path to improvement.
*Excerpt from: Stavros, Jacqueline, Godwin, Lindsey, & Cooperrider, David. (2015). Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution.