|Traditional problem solving, root cause analysis,
searches for and analyzes the causes of a problem and makes a diagnosis.
Finding fault and placing blame becomes important to the process,
devastating those who have been found lacking. The best result it
ever achieves is that things become as good as they once were. It
restores the organization to its previous level.
Appreciative Inquiry (Ai) on the other hand, focuses
on successes of the past and present and invites a vision of what
could be. Ai assumes something is working in every organization.
Ai does a root cause analysis on success to create even more success,
often with unexpected innovation. Employees are focused on the future
they are creating, not trying to dodge the blame being flung around.
To compare the two approaches, think back to the
Apollo 13 flight. Remember those haunting words, "Houston,
we have a problem"? There had been an explosion and the oxygen,
water, fuel and electrical systems were shot. The three astronauts
were being overcome by carbon monoxide that was reaching dangerously
high levels in the air they were breathing. In Mission Control there
was pandemonium. Everybody was running around, trying to figure
out what went wrong. Because that was how they were trained.
All of the technicians were pointing at each other
and arguing about caused the explosion. The Flight Director, Gene
Kranz, held up both hands and said, "Hold it, gentlemen, hold
it, I don't care about what went wrong. I need to know what is still
working on that space craft. I need to know what is still working."
That is the heart of the Appreciative Inquiry.
The astronauts were thousands of miles from earth and their safe
return depended on the systems that were still working, not what
went wrong. What went wrong really didn't matter at that moment.
Traditional problem solving, however, would have kept going after
the cause of the explosion.
The appreciative approach, 'what do they have
that is working up there', led them to create a filtering system
including one of Jim Lovell's socks, which would scrub the carbon
monoxide out of the air they had to recycle. What went wrong didn't
matter, what was working did. Do you see the distinction there?
If Gene Kranz has taken any other approach, there would have been
a very different ending.
Traditional problem solving works with technical
and usually medical problems. Once the organization, the people,
become involved in the process the complexities become too great
with too many variables for problem solving. Appreciative Inquiry
doesn't ignore or turn a blind eye to limitations nor does it substitute
mindless happy talk and rosy optimism for objective realism. It
accepts these realities for what they are. But Ai intentionally
shifts the focus of the inquiry and thus the focus of the organization
to those positive realities that are the sources of life, creativity
and innovation. Think about the conversation you would have with
a chief of police if you asked about creating a safe community instead
Ai produces results. GTE Telephone Operations
trained 67,000 employees in Ai as it struggled with deregulation
in the highly competitive telecommunications industry. Tom White,
GTE President, attributed over 10,000 innovations to Ai. One out
of every seven employees contributed an innovation after they were
trained. Two years into the process GTE received the ASTD award
for Best Culture Change Initiative. Today they are Verizon. Catalyst
recognized Avon Mexico as the Best Place to Work in the country
when it changed its focus from sexual harassment training to effective
cross gender working relationships. Nutrimental Foods, reported
a 300% increase in sales after an Ai Summit. Hunter-Douglas Window
Fashions achieved a 15% bottom line improvement and created a new
strategic direction and culture using Ai.
Images of the future are powerful. We move in
the direction of what we can imagine. The more compelling an organization's
image of the future, the more positive the outcome. When Lord Marshall
became the head of British Airlines, the airline was in strife,
with both employees and customers dissatisfied. With eyes wide open,
he declared, "We are the world's favorite airline". When
employees protested that was not true, he responded, "That
may be so, but your job is to make it true." His image guided
employees as they created their successful future together.
Appreciative Inquiry is one of the most successful
organizational development strategies in the world today is because
it creates powerful and compelling visions of the future. Using
Ai, people fix problems by study, discussion, learning from and
building on what's working, rather than focusing on what is wrong.
Kathleen Rich-New, Clarity Works!
an organizational development consulting firm specializing in Appreciative
Inquiry, training and public speaking. She can be reached at KRN@clarityworks.biz
or (321) 452-7308. Please email her for permission to print this
article in your publication or post it to your web site.