Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or an organization. It’s an organisation development process or philosophy that involves and engages individuals within an organization in its turnaround, renewal, change and focused performance.
Put another way, it’s an approach that believes in the power of positive thinking and seeks to draw out the inner superhero in every employee rather than a self-fulfilling belief that all employees are dullards or innately villainous.
Used effectively, it enhances an organisation’s capacity for collaboration and change. It’s a fantastic way of signaling an energising alternative to the depressing and draining, downsizing mentality of a recession.
Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a cycle of 4 processes focusing on:
- DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes and behaviours that work well.
- DREAM: The envisioning of processes and behaviours that would work well in the future.
- DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes and behaviours that would work well.
- DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.
Even the headings are inspirational.
The basic idea is to build organizations around what works, rather than just trying to fix what doesn’t. It is the opposite of problem solving. Instead of focusing on gaps and inadequacies to find blame and remediate skills or practices, AI focuses on how to create more of the occasional exceptional performance that is occurring (and there will be examples), regardless of conditions, because a core of strengths is aligned.
The approach acknowledges the contribution of individuals, in order to increase trust and inspire best practice. The method aims to create meaning by drawing from stories of concrete successes with the potential of becoming best practices and lends itself to cross-functional social activities. It can be enjoyable and natural to many managers, who, let’s face it, are often sociable people when they come out from behind the badge.
There are a variety of approaches to implementing Appreciative Inquiry, including mass-mobilized interviews and a large, diverse gathering called an Appreciative Inquiry Summit Both approaches involve bringing very large, diverse groups of people together to study and build upon the best in an organization or community.
The basic philosophy of AI is also found in other positively oriented approaches to individual change as well as organizational change. AI fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, or a situation. The idea of building on strength, rather than just focusing on faults and weakness is a powerful idea in use in mentoring programs, and excellent performance evaluations – where superheroes come into their own.
If you’re wondering what to do with your employee survey and are a little nervous about how any internal benchmarking activity will be received; if you’ve had enough of the pessimism and would like to know more about the power of Appreciative Inquiry or just need a hand spotting those brand champions quietly battling the economic doom and gloom, get in touch. We’re happy to share ideas.
March 13, 2013
It was a privilege to share my thoughts on maintaining employee engagement during challenging times with the wonderful HR people representing the housing associations of Wales at the HR conference organised by Community Housing Cymru.
Banking crises aside, few people have a more difficult task than this dedicated band of HR folk right now but none are as dedicated to climbing the engagement staircase*.
During my talk, I advocated a simple but balanced approach to employee engagement in the current climate, aimed at improving involvement levels first. Regardless of the sometimes mystifying rhetoric surrounding the subject, it’s undoubtedly better to set a few goals and to perform well than to overcomplicate matters and freeze. So I was uplifted and not a little impressed to hear Stephen Cook, CEO of Valleys to Coast (V2C) outline the essentially straightforward but very effective way in which they have addressed employee engagement challenges within their region, quite rightly positioning the initiatives they have taken as examples of leadership best practices rather than overwhelming employees with an impossibly complex engagement programme.
During the last three years, in response to thorough and widespread consultation, V2C have employed a clear and essentially straightforward series of initiatives under three headings :
- Line Management
- Job Security & Recognition
Initiatives have been led by HR in conjunction with line managers and the senior team and have included initiatives like job swap days; employee consultations and networking events; leadership training and a revised performance management and reward process.
As a consequence, they have significantly improved many of the key indicators all the more impressive given this has been achieved in the face of a severe economic downturn.
Notable improvements include:
- Colleagues feeling valued
- Colleagues who believe their Snr Manager is accessible
- Colleagues who believe Chief Exec is visible/accessible
I can think of a host of CEOs who would kill for results half as good as those or to find themselves at No 13 in the Times Best Companies poll, as their near neighbours Coastal Housing just have. Proof positive once again, of the link between leadership, culture and performance and plenty of food for thought for anyone struggling with the seemingly slippery issue of employee engagement right now.
*The engagement staircase is a simple but effective representation of the engagement journey as showcased in Brand Engagement (Palgrave 2007).
February 27, 2013
I really like Joss Stone. She has a voice and a style that seems to have been grafted onto her 20-something physique. I’m also willing to confess that I sometimes find myself humming along to Jamie Cullum or Katie Melua, very talented artists in their own right.
But after I’ve finally downloaded an album or two, I’ll inevitably turn on the radio and have a chance encounter with Billie Holiday; Miles Davis or Sarah Vaughan and instantly regain a sense of perspective about my recently purchased sixth-form soul.
I really don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man. But for me, you really do have to have lived a little before you can authentically transmit the ebb and flow of love and life and all the other intricacies of relationships.
This may seem like a bizarre subject but my contentious pop v soul thesis does have some resonance (honest!) when reflecting on the importance of culture development as a driver of sustainable organisation change. Why? Because it frankly takes a mature attitude (true soul, if you like) from the leadership team to appreciate the importance and therefore the value of internal culture development.
In my experience, especially in these troubled times, true leaders who’ve experienced the power of cultural transformation won’t be the ones issuing popular sound-bites, or schmultzy metaphors. They most definitely won’t be promoting internal marketing to justify, post-rationalise or even sweep up after change.
They will be the ones who will be kicking off the change process by consulting people. They will be passionate about engaging employees with the big picture, goals, the desired culture and the honest change process. Furthermore they will be role modelling the change they want to see, not just talking about or delegating it. These leaders know that effective culture development is critical to achieving change. They appreciate that it isn’t a reactive tool to be used to post-rationalise the new world experienced by the survivors.
So the moral of this tale is, if you’ve got to engage your employees with change (and in this environment, who hasn’t?), better make sure you look beyond the trendy purveyors of pop. It’s worth consulting your leadership back catalogue. There will be plenty of material available – and the tunes are classics for a reason.
*article first appeared in the CIPD publication People Management in 2009
February 19, 2013
Ian’s latest People Management column examines the last round of brand implosions including RBS and the NHS and asks a number of searching questions of the HR population:
- why did you become an HR professional, was it for the job or the vocation?
- are you able to see the cause and effect behind culture problems?
- systemic solutions are needed but first and foremost, what can HR execs do to prevent future brand catastrophes?
So if you’re tired of playing “whack a mole” crisis management, look in on the CIPD site, take a look at the post in context and do join in the debate.
November 6, 2012
The November edition of Admap in which Ian regularly features, explores the vital role of the employee in creating engaging brand experiences whether in the physical or virtual shopping space.
In collaboration with retail environment specialists M Worldwide, Ian asserts that as customer choice increases, employees always make the difference between a truly innovative, enriching and engaging service experience whether delivered online or face-to-face.
He singles out the emergence of holistic brand offerings like Nuffield* and Lloyds Pharmacy as examples of organisations who “get it” and strive to “get it right” by collaborating with and engaging their brand champions to ensure that they fulfill their ambitious service promises.
Click on the link below to read the article in full**:
*Talking about our work creating the Nuffield Service Promise and Champions Engagement strategy, our client said: “You introduced some fantastic ideas, challenged our people to discover what they need to be as leaders, and created high quality, engaging materials.”
**The article is, of course, a collaboration between the authors and the publication and is reproduced with permission of Admap.
October 23, 2012
Journalist and broadcaster Ian Fraser’s blog was characteristically forthright in its criticism of the latest high-profile PR/brand disaster for RBS when he called CEO Stephen Hester’s LSE lecture “platitudinous bullshit.” I have some sympathy for the RBS boss given the scale of the task he opted to shoulder, but have to say that Fraser’s not far off the mark in this instance.
As our US friends would say, it really does seem more than a little lame for any City CEO to be decrying Milton Friedman’s so-called doctrine of greed given it was this self-same doctrine that delivered the extraordinary bonuses shareholders and senior stakeholders enjoyed for so many years, a doctrine they would doubtless readily endorse again should those days return. After all, what exactly has the RBS boss during his now extensive tenure done to address culture management shortfalls since the crash? More to the point, if he and his contemporaries are really serious about re-engineering the banking culture and customer relationship, why is there hardly ever any mention of the role long-suffering employees have to play as workaday brand custodians on the increasingly hostile front line where they have no choice but to try to be the keepers of the promises made to consumers?
It certainly doesn’t do much for Hester’s cause if you consider the lecture about culture his then Barclays counterpart Bob Diamond gave us all not long before his ignominious departure for failings within the Barclays internal leadership framework, values and behaviours.
It’s one thing to fill column inches with empty hyperbole about the importance of customer service. But when faced with debacles like the Sanatander u-turn; major payment systems problems; pending Libor issues and OFT investigations etc it may well be time to start taking those rock-bottom employee engagement statistics seriously. This was something I brought to the attention of the RBS boss when he first acquired the reins only to be told that he “had the matter in hand”. The problem is, that was over four years ago.
As I said at the beginning, I do have a great deal of sympathy for the RBS chief. I’ve long held the view that the CEO can only be primus inter pares or fist among equals at best in spite of their lightning rod status in the PR department and press. But as I mention in my latest People Management blog, what’s perhaps most puzzling about the empty filibustering under the culture change banner is that these keynote addresses rarely acknowledge the role of the HR function and first line managers as the ultimate cultural barometers, coaches and role models.
HR as currently configured, may have a lingering image problem, certainly if recent leadership opinion polls are to be believed. But I’ve never witnessed successful culture change without some sort of committed partnership between the office of the CEO and that of the HRD.
We’ve certainly been hearing increasingly levels of lip-service about culture. Both internal and external stakeholders of our game-changing brands have had enough of the platitudinous PR, it’s time for some tangible action. Given their pivotal role as facilitators of critical people processes like recruitment; induction; performance management; learning and development; internal communication and the employment brand generally, the key components of internal brand equity, I can’t imagine a better opportunity for HRDs to step forward and grasp the culture change agenda and in the process transform perceptions of the profession for good. The time has undoubtedly come for transformation-focused CEOs to back them and re-distribute the load, as they know they should.
Like the millions of people suffering withdrawal symptoms after the extinguishing of the London 2012 Olympic torch in the wake of an epic games, I was deeply moved and hugely impressed by the awe-inspiring opening to the London 2012 Paralympics watched by a UK tv audience of over 20 million people.
As that grizzled hack Simon Barnes of The Times put it:
“The opening ceremony began last night with a Big Bang, in just about every sense of the term, and some words from Professor Stephen Hawking, the world’s most agile mind once again leaping free from the ruined body. It was all good inspirational stuff, but doomed to be forever second-best to the inspirational things we will see as the Games start today.”
Watching those extraordinary scenes of exceptional people it reminded me of the Motability brand re-launch which remains one of the most successful transformation programmes I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with and which still puts so many FTSE 100 change journeys to shame.
In the space of two years, Motability went from an apparent employment back water with a laid-back charitable culture to an extremely professional, top 50 organisation in the Times Best Companies poll; Local Employer of the Year; operator of Europe’s largest vehicle fleet and “best thing since sliced bread” in the eyes of their customers who, along with the dealerships, rated the organisation as a premium brand. No surprise then that the stories of so many of the athletes competing in the games, who also happen to be Motability customers, resonate with the brand. Not for profit doesn’t mean unfit for business.
It’s depressing to hear talk of values, culture change and engagement trip so easily from the tongues of so many business leaders in recent times without the intentions or actions to back up the fine words. But when your founding mission was to liberate people with disabilities from the confines of the trike through the simple device of providing the use of a motorcar, perhaps it’s easier to engage the right people in the right way and inspire them with values like Friendly; Flexible and Facilitating. Perhaps. But first they need to feel proud to be part of an organisation that can be as hard-nosed on behalf of their customers as it is accommodating to its customers, which is where the culture bit comes in.
Under the leadership of an inspirational CEO, Mike Betts, the Motability management team transformed the way they do things, the internal culture, in the space of 18 months by opening with a process of engagement via consultation and then role modelling their core values as they set about evolving the processes that mattered most to their people from recruitment through to communication and appraisal.
The engagement of key stakeholders from garages through to manufacturers came next with contract and service levels re-negotiated to the point that the re-designed Motability brand and logo moved confidently to pride of place on forecourts and industry publications. Motability is now a leading player in the UK car market with 1 in 12 or so cars sold in the UK going to a Motability customer.
The 2012 Paralympics is the first in the history of the games to be completely sold out. As always, however, it is the athletes who give the games their soul. What made Motability’s transformation different for me was that there was a universal belief in the core purpose and desired culture of the organisation, from front of house through to the most senior of leaders. It is always the employees, the workaday brand champions who give the organisation its soul. And once they had learned to blend commerciality with passion and conviction while remaining true to the integrity of their core purpose, the brand grew wings. If only the leaders of the abundant beleaguered brands could feel that for themselves, perhaps the spirit of the Paralympic village could work its magic in corporate HQ. In fact, Oliver Holt could have been writing about Motability when he penned these words to describe last night’s events:
“Before a new flame was lit in this magical London summer, the words of an Ian Dury song rang out around the Olympic Stadium. ‘Hello to you out there in Normal Land,’ the lyrics to Spasticus Autisticus went, ‘you may not comprehend my tale or understand.’ Normal Land watched on. Not with distaste. Or disdain. Those kinds of emotions began to seep away a long time ago. Not even with indifference. No, Normal Land gazed at the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympics with admiration, even a little envy.”
* you can read more about the Motability transformation journey in Brand Engagement (I.P. Buckingham 2007).
Writing for Management Today Michael Northcott has just announced that “the spread eagle has hired one of the City’s biggest legal figures to conduct an internal review of the bank’s culture and practices.”
Clearly the Libor and leadership scandal has hit Barclays the hardest so far and now, to try to put this particularly persistent debacle to bed, the bank has brought in what they are calling an expert to lead an ‘independent business practices review’.
Anthony Salz, a corporate lawyer who has been with one of the world’s largest law firms, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringe for more than 30 years and for the last 10 was the firm’s senior partner and now vice-chairman at Rothschild, will lead the review. Apparently he will be supported by what is being called ” a team of dedicated staff “ and “will have a professional services firm behind him”.
I’m not sure how reassuring that will be for shareholders, customers, communities and staff alike, however.
Northcott comments “Perhaps bringing in one of the City’s most accomplished lawyers will be a breath of fresh air for the trading floors”. Commenting on his appointment, Salz said: ‘I very much hope that this review will significantly assist Barclays in rebuilding trust and reaffirming its position as one of our leading institutions.’ That’ll take some doing, Ant…
The announcement comes amid rumours that former Treasury minister Lord O’Donnell is the front-runner to succeed former chairman of Barclays Marcus Agius, although O’Donnell claims nobody from the bank has actually approached him for discussions about the role. He has also been favourite for taking over as governor of the Bank of England next year, but, since money might talk for this career civil servant looking for some decent wedge to top up his pension, we reckon he’d probably go for Barclays. Those millions won’t grab themselves, will they?”
Ironically, only a year or so ago, I was addressing an audience of senior partners from professional services firms who were very clearly just attempting to start the journey towards making the link between culture, behaviour and brand. Most of the talk was of patriarchal cultures, undifferentiated brands and closed shops with little appreciation for the power of culture as a key differentiator. Yet now one of those firms is expected to become a key catalyst for change within the FS sector!
Attempting to put all skepticism aside, as a senior partner within comms, change and brand agencies and someone with in-depth knowledge of the financial services industry; as a communications, change and culture development specialist who has worked both in-house and across sectors, including within professional services at the highest of levels, this really does read like a PR nightmare.
With all the best will in the world how can external stakeholders be expected to swallow the notion that anyone so infused with the culture of the establishment and seemingly devoid of either classic or contemporary culture change credentials can be entrusted to have the objectivity, knowledge or, I’m afraid to say, credibility to either undertake a comprehensive and insightful review or more importantly develop the strategy to bring about the sustainable transformation needed?
I’m sure I speak for most people when I scrape my jaw from the floor wishing the Barclays board well, especially given what’s at stake.
Brace yourselves gentlemen! Good luck, and in the meantime, you might want to read this…….while picking up a copy of this, pdq:
July 17, 2012
Fascinating to read Rosie Baker’s post in Marketing Week today that, according to a study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), brands risk losing customers by failing to create customer experiences that match up to promises made in marketing campaigns ~cue drum roll to mark rather large penny dropping~
Her comments were hopefully delivered with tongue firmly set in cheek as the revelation is akin to a hungover teenager waking up stunned from a very messy party to find that she didn’t come home alone after all yet would inevitably have to remember the name of that body sleeping beside her and sharpish.
The report found that the problem stems from a “damaging disconnect” between boardroom, marketing departments and customer experience. We’ve been warning of this since before the Interbrand days, but would definitely add HR and comms into that mix given they are predominantly responsible after all, for that vital promise keeping community, the employees.
The study says that marketing and brand leaders’ priorities should be seeking to take a more active role in “educating ‘up’ in the organisation” and to build brand understanding across all levels of employees (although not mentioned in the study, that’ll be the HR & comms bit!).
Seemingly seven out of ten (69 per cent) marketers believe that investing in customer experience is more effective than investment into marketing communications when it comes to building brands, but only 13 per cent believe that their company “excels” at delivering a day-to-day brand experience that matches up to what the brand promises (culture and behaviour).
It found that while customer insight and research are being shared across business units, and senior leaders, it rarely permeates the ranks of the organisation. Only 14 per cent of the marketers surveyed said it was the main driver of decision-making.
A third of organisations were found to not use the brand guidelines that are in place, while half of organisations that don’t use customer experience or employee brand behaviour guidelines. That’s 50% of the surveyed organisations failing to climb the very first step on the staircase to brand engagement heaven!
Thomas Brown, head of insights at the CIM, in a quote that could have been taken direct from Brand Engagement(2007) or one of Ian’s many articles, says: “Essentially, brands are built on promises but it’s the experience you have of an organisation that constitutes reality.
“This study shows that leadership and belief have the greatest impact on successfully delivering a branded customer experience … this suggests you can lead your way to a branded experience, but not manage your way there.”
The Branded Customer Experience Benchmark, carried out by Lippincote, surveyed insights from 100 senior marketers at international organisations including Elizabeth Fagin, marketing director at Boots and Markus Kramer, global marketing director of Aston Martin and Mike Harrison, chief brand officer of Timberland.
In light of the escalating spate of brand disasters from the News of the World through to Barclays and G4S, perhaps it’s time the marketing community accepted that, spurred on by this type of research and the big brand body count it’s becoming increasingly likely that CEOs are going to expect much greater”bang” for much less “buck”!
Well, the answer to catching up and climbing that engagement staircase oddly enough lies with plucking up the courage to first and foremost embrace current bedfellows. Then who knows, it may just be the start of something beautifully sustainable after all.