Leveraging the Positives in Change

Sometimes your morning in the wintery Pacific Northwest starts with your car being sucked into the snowy ditches on the side of your driveway. I'm sure this had nothing to do with the fact that I was running late and rushing out of the driveway. Nope. Nothing to do with me, of course.

So after I cursed a bit, I marched back up my driveway, switched to snow boots, grabbed a bucket of gravel and a shovel and got to work. Twenty minutes later the "mama car" was free and I was on my way. And do you know what my brain then did? It started to think of all of the other ways the rest of the day could go wrong, like this was some omen foreshadowing what was to come and I was powerless to have any say. It took concentration and effort, but I had to reframe. Time to kick those negative thoughts out and focus on the positives. The amazing clients I got to meet with that day. An incredible counselor who is so supportive and encouraging. Parent teacher conferences, and volunteering at the school book fair. All great things.

How often, in organizations and ourselves, do we see a negative and continue to look for everything that is wrong? And, in the same, how leading is that very question/approach TOWARD the negative? What you seek, you will find!

Imagine if we changed the questions to search for the positives the incredible potential we might uncover. That's exactly what the field of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) focuses on.

“At its heart, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. 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. ” – Excerpt from: Stavros, Jacqueline, Godwin, Lindsey, & Cooperrider, David. (2015). Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution (4th edition)

Appreciative Inquiry draws on the best of what has been to create the best of what could be. For example, last summer I was working with an organization in the manufacturing industry who was trying to meet a production goal. They shared that they had only met the goal a few times and reflected on the things that hadn't worked right when they didn't reach it. I waited a moment and asked, "What went right on the days when you did hit the goal?" They paused for a moment and then their faces filled with light and excitement. By looking at what went right those days, they felt the potential of leveraging that knowledge to accomplish that goal more frequently!

Here's a quick video highlighting the Appreciative Inquiry approach:

Part of the beauty of Appreciative Inquiry is one of it's foundational principles called "simultaneity." Essentially, the simultaneity principle says that the moment we ask a question, we begin to create change, and the questions we ask are fateful in leading us in a direction. Here are some examples of questions that create change in totally different directions:

A: Tell me how stress impacts your day to day work.

B: I would love to hear about a time when you feel most capable, empowered, and efficient in your work. What helped create this environment? How did it impact your productivity and morale?

A: What are some of the problems you see with the efficiencies of this organization?

B: I'm really curious about the times when you have seen organizations operate at the peak of their efficiency. What systems or processes supported this? How could we leverage those here?

A: Let's do a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) to see what we need to be aware of as we go forward into this next quarter.

B: I think a SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Resources/Results) could be really helpful in seeing where we have opportunities to capitalize on what we do best.

Ultimately, these questions are looking at some of the same challenges, but approaching them in completely different ways with significantly more positive experiences by those who are involved. If your organization could change the questions and framework, what potential could you unlock?

Momentum's owner, Jill is certified in Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner from the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College, and can help you unleash the positive potential in you or your organization/business.

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