Why isn't Appreciative Inquiry used more often?

Appreciative Inquiry: Change through positive energy

The art of consulting with AI consists on the one hand in the formulation of questions for the interview process, and on the other in the design of complex consulting architectures. The questions for interviews have to be redeveloped over and over again based on the specific situation and topic. Here are some general examples of questions as they can be used in AI interviews:

Appreciating the past

If you remember the beginning of your time with your company: What was it that attracted you in particular? When you think back to that time in your work: Was there a special situation that was a highlight for you and that you still fondly remember today? Please tell the story: what happened? Who was involved? What was your personal contribution to this situation? What was that particularly positive and valuable for you?

Appreciation of the present

Without false modesty: What do you value most about yourself - as a manager, as a colleague, as a person? What others appreciate most in you? What do you value about your company? What makes you proud to work here? Are there any concrete examples? In your opinion, what are the most important key factors that make a company vibrant and successful? Which of these do you already find in your organization today? What should your company get more of? What do you like about your work?

Construction of a vision

Imagine a miracle happening: you walk into your company one morning and everything is exactly as you always wanted it to be. Everything fits, it's a great company. What can you perceive? How do you notice the change? What are the most important things about this change for you?

Implementation of the vision

Who could help make this vision a reality? How could you contribute to this yourself? What next steps could you take to make your vision a reality?

AI in practice

AI can be used in a variety of ways. The exact sequence of the AI ​​process does not always have to be adhered to. Sometimes parts and individual steps can also be used sensibly. I myself work with AI in very different contexts: In seminars, an AI interview is an optimal introduction to the respective topic. For example, it is good for the participants in a leadership seminar to interview each other at the beginning about the high points in their history as leaders, where they were successful and what they are proud of.

Now a specific company example: The customer is an automobile dealership with around 250 employees. The company has an extraordinary structure: In the 1960s, the founder attempted to run his business according to democratic principles: employee participation is implemented in the form of participation in decision-making and profit sharing. To structurally support this culture, a foundation was set up in which top management and employee representatives make strategic decisions. This structure is still valid today.

Now the founder is withdrawing from the company for reasons of age and will hand over his "work" to the young management. This is facing difficult times and great challenges, which are not least shaped by the situation in the automotive market. As external consultants, we were asked to accompany this process of saying goodbye to the pioneer and the necessary reorientation of the organization.

The consulting architecture that we have set up is built around the philosophy of AI and developed together with the managing director and the personnel developer.

The process of this architecture essentially comprises 5 steps:

  • Introducing the project to all executives: getting everyone on board.
  • Training of an internal "research group" consisting of four people. These four people get to know the basic ideas of AI and are prepared to independently conduct group interviews with all employees in the company. The questions are aimed at researching and appreciating the past - especially the socio-political value orientation of the company and the person of the departing pioneer. In addition, it should be asked what major challenges the company is facing today from the employees' point of view. A separate questionnaire and interview guide will be developed for this purpose.
  • The "research group" conducts the group interviews. She collects the results on flips.
  • The results of the survey are sorted and summarized in an "editorial workshop". In addition, the four people prepare the presentation of the results of their survey in front of all company employees.
  • The first and last step in this process is a major event in which essentially all employees of the company take part. The "research group" presents its results and some of the most touching stories with the founder are told. The past is honored and the pioneer says goodbye. Now the big event is about accepting the challenges of the present and the future together and preparing for them. Based on the information from the surveys, joint future plans are made and ideas for the first steps in implementation are developed. The implementation phase is still ahead of us and therefore cannot be presented here.

Typically American?

European consultants are partly enthusiastic about this simple and effective approach, but partly also skeptical: How can you give advice without problem analysis? What about our balance of "both sides of the coin?" Isn't looking at the positive side boring too? What happens to the criticism, the anger, the anger? Is that compatible in Europe? Isn't it just American "think pink"?

There is no doubt that AI must be adapted to the specific cultural phenomena in Europe. Just the strongly emotional language of the American colleagues - "What gives life to the organization?" - is hardly connectable in our room. Here, the consultation process and the language must be tailored to the respective circumstances.

From a systemic point of view, AI is most effective and helpful where this positive perspective creates a new difference in the system. For example, where problems have previously been dealt with with lengthy analyzes and petty goals and "first-order" solutions. Even where the corporate culture focuses primarily on deficits and deficiencies and thereby usually reinforces them, AI sets a new standard.

In my experience, one limitation of the use of AI is in situations that have escalated to a high emotional level, for example conflict situations. AI can only take effect there if the valves can be opened first and people can express what bothers them, annoys or offends them. In the subsequent search for solutions, however, AI is again very valuable.

For many systemic consultants, AI is not entirely new: solution orientation, resource orientation have always been part of the basic attitudes of systemic consulting. The only new thing about AI is the radicalism and consistency of the appreciation. AI is therefore a valuable addition and further development of the range of systemic consulting tools.

Author: Dr. Ruth Seliger, managing partner of Train Consulting.

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