By: David Hart
Last week we ran a very successful workshop for the Membership and Association sector on planning strategic change, with a particular focus on using the Appreciative Inquiry technique.
Why do our strategies for change so often fail to achieve everything they set out to do? How often have we seen change consultants who seem to ‘float above’ the organisation, delivering a strategy that impresses the Board, but which just doesn’t seem to land at grass-roots level and perhaps even ends up in the bin?
Many of us are familiar with the traditional change management approaches where a ‘vision’ is developed by the Board or CEO and we attempt to bring the rest of the organisation along with us through a range of engagement and communication initiatives – often driven ‘top-down’.
Our work with not-for-profit organisations in recent years has shown us that other approaches are needed if change initiatives are to be more effective in our sector – approaches that build on the energy and potential we already have. Discovering and working with techniques like Viral Change™, NLP and Appreciative Inquiry has made a real difference to organisations planning and delivering successful change. It’s not that the traditional change-management approaches are wrong – the principles of vision, coherence and planning are critical – but in using additional tools such as Appreciative Inquiry we can be much more effective in ensuring the approach we take is the right one for us, and that our change strategies are both effective and sustainable.
Our workshop last week, with around 30 managers and leaders in the Association sector, focused on using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a tool to address some of the significant issues facing us today. Abby Parkes-Wright of Optimist Consulting challenged participants around what the key issues for the sector are and Jane Royden (AI specialist from E AND H) facilitated the AI discovery and creation sessions.
The AI approach is deceptively simple – comprising just five steps, of which we worked through the first four in the workshop:
The discovery phase helps us to identify and focus on the positive things we already have, and the things our organisation feels good about – we look at what people were doing, thinking and saying to make it as good as it was. With an understanding of the best of what is, the AI approach then asks to think about what might be – not in a conventional way, but through placing ourselves at a point in the future where we have achieved something great, and thinking about what it feels like, what people are now doing and saying, and looking back at what we did to achieve it.
From the imagining of what might be we now start to think about what can be – how can we do what we imagined and make that kind of success a reality? In Appreciative Inquiry, this is done through the development of what are called ‘provocative propositions’ – grounded in the understanding and reality of our organisation, these are statements that describe the future as if it were already happening and form a basis from which we can prepare for, plan and deliver sustainable change. The provocative propositions developed in our short session last week showed the power of the approach, with one organisation having a new ‘successful individual membership option that generates income’ and another being ‘able to make all decisions in a good way within 2 weeks’. Participants found the event and the AI method really valuable.
The AI approach has proved effective in engaging staff in contributing, co-creating and delivering sustainable change in a wide range of organisations, from the Association that needed to find ways of delivering member services more effectively, to the group of forty social-workers who needed to make financial savings whilst maintaining service standards. If you think this approach might be helpful for your organisation, or just want to know more, then contact Jane Royden at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone her on 07815 886 864.