What is Appreciative Inquiry (AI)?

What is Appreciative Inquiry (AI)?

With the rapid changes and uncertainty surrounding the workplace, finding tools and strategies to approach organisational change and leadership development effectively has been top of mind for leaders. In fact, the Australian Institute of Management CEO Ben Foote reports in the Financial Review that enrolments for change management programs have doubled recently. This means for us as business leaders — and people managers — the idea of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is more important than ever to help workers navigate change successfully and drive better business outcomes.

Understanding Appreciative Inquiry
Essentially, Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-based approach to leadership development and organisational change. AI can be used by any number of individuals, teams and organisations — ultimately helping participants reach a shared vision through strategic innovation.

Organisations successfully implement Appreciative Inquiry through what’s known as the 4-D cycle. This cycle serves as a critical guide for teams to follow throughout the process, which intends to stimulate creativity as well as establish a commitment to change. The 4-Ds to follow for effective AI include:

  • Discovery: Discovery usually involves flipping a problem statement into an affirmative topic at the start — which is a statement or question that defines an area that needs improvement while engaging individuals to think in productive and creative ways. From here, the direction of change is determined and the process can officially begin.
  • Dream: At this point, individuals, team members or the organisation as a whole collectively assess their dreams versus achievements surrounding the problem or opportunity at hand. The outcome of this phase should involve organisations fostering innovation, employees creating a positive potential for building strategic opportunities and developing a sense of purpose to ensure participants are committed.
  • Design: After taking into consideration everything from the initial two phases, various ideas and designs to implement the solution are presented. The design phase is intended to bring thoughts to fruition to make the dream phase a reality. At this point, the organisation’s priorities are determined and a detailed picture is painted — which might include decisions, processes, collaborations and more.
  • Destiny: The last stage of the 4-D cycle focuses on execution. In the destiny phase, various plans and goals are specified and work is delegated to different teams. These working groups represent a collaborative approach to achieving a successful outcome.
A group of business people work together at a tableAppreciative Inquiry involves creativity, collaboration and a commitment to change in the workplace

From individuals to organisations both large and small, Appreciative Inquiry can be used for a variety of situations by a wide range of participants. Some of the most notable examples of successful AI in use include:

  • British Airways utilising an AI approach to improve their customer service.
  • The Global Relief and Development Organisation (GRDO) working toward collaborating with its partners as equals.
  • Walmart introducing the 4-D process to pursue sustainable value creation.
  • John Deere implementing AI to improve cost, quality and cycle time.

The use of AI across industries doesn’t end there, and with so many success stories it might be a great time to introduce the 4-D process in your workplace. If you’ve been looking for ways to implement the AI approach in your organisation, here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Start by asking employees and team members what they would like to discuss and learn about themselves as a collective.
  • Encourage them to settle on a topic that they feel is most important to address.
  • Promote clarification and precision of the topic for the most successful outcome.

According to a report from IBM, nearly 60% of projects aimed at achieving business change don’t fully meet their objectives. However, when it comes to fostering effective leadership development and organisational change in your workplace, Appreciative Inquiry is a powerful option to help your teams get there — and ICML can help. Learn more about our skill shots — presentations, workshops and webinars or contact us to discuss other training options today.


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