All businesses, regardless of their size or industry, thrive on the feedback they receive. It provides a clear vision of what is doing well and what requires improvement. However, the challenge often lies in sourcing feedback that is constructive, appreciative and encouraging, rather than disheartening or demotivating. This is where Appreciative Inquiry (AI) comes into play, using a positive approach to stimulate improvement and progress. 

What is Appreciative Inquiry (AI)?

AI is a model that pursues change in human systems, such as groups, organisations, or communities. Coined by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the ’80s, it focuses on identifying what works well in a situation and exploring how this can be enhanced, in contrast to problem-solving methods that focus on what’s wrong or broken and how to fix it.

Analysis of the traditional feedback model would reveal that it is inherently deficit-based. It manoeuvres people to focus on their weaknesses rather than drawing from their strengths. Appreciative Inquiry reimagines this model by viewing feedback from an appreciative lens, emphasising strengths and capabilities. The key appreciative inquiry principles revolve around four stages – Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny, often referred to as the “4D model”.

  1. The ‘Discovery’ phase is about recognising and appreciating the best of ‘what is’. This phase opens the floor for everyone to share thoughts on what is working well. The focus is not on the problems, but the root cause of success.
  2. The ‘Dream’ phase encourages individuals to visualise ‘what could be’. By creating a collective image of the future, stemming from the positive core established in the Discovery phase, a shared vision for the future is born.
  3. In the ‘Design’ phase, participants create ‘what should be’. They construct the ideal from the real, drawing on inspiration from the best of the past and envisioned future to design innovative strategies for achieving the desired future.
  4. Finally, the ‘Destiny’ phase involves making ‘what will be’. It’s here where action steps towards the dream are identified and committed to, thereby consolidating positive change.

Using Appreciative Inquiry in Feedback

AI’s application for feedback can help create a more positive work environment, encourage engagement, and fuel a culture of continuous improvement. By shifting the focal point from ‘problem-solving’ to ‘appreciating strengths’ and aiming to augment them, a significant transformation in how feedback is received will be achieved.

Start by focusing on strengths:

Instead of highlighting weaknesses, concentrate on the strengths.

Encourage growth by casting a spotlight on the capabilities and achievements that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Recognising employees’ talents fosters a sense of motivation, helping them realise their potential.

Ask positive questions:

The power of positive questioning leverages AI’s core principle. Constructive queries invite team members to share positive experiences and the unique strategies they deployed. This process unearths distinctive methods and provides insight into what works, encouraging shared learning.

Establish a future-oriented perspective:

Instigate conversations that encourage employees to imagine their future success. It helps to instil a sense of optimism, ambition, and drive, leading to increased motivation and job satisfaction.

Invite a collaborative culture:

Utilising AI in feedback sessions stimulates engagement and collaboration among team members. Everyone’s views are valued, creating a sense of unity and shared commitment to realising the collective dream.

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Benefits of Appreciative Inquiry Feedback

As the landscape of workforce culture continues to evolve, AI has emerged as a significant tool for organisations aiming to foster a positive environment. When used effectively, AI can transform feedback sessions into empowering moments of learning and growth.

  1. AI breeds positivity and boosts morale. By recognising and acknowledging employees’ strengths, organisations can encourage their workers to maintain a positive mindset. This positive reinforcement fosters increased engagement and productivity.
  2. AI encourages a growth mindset. By shifting the focus from the remediation of weaknesses to the amplification of strengths, individuals are stimulated to cultivate a mindset of growth and continuous improvement.
  3. AI nurtures a resilient and agile workforce. By fostering an atmosphere of positivity, firms cultivate resilience within their teams, enabling them to effectively handle and rebound from difficulties.
  4. AI aids in forging strong relationships. Its inherent collaborative nature promotes open interfaces among team members, fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding, and thereby strengthening relationships within the team.

In essence, Appreciative Inquiry offers a new perspective on gathering feedback.

It creates a positive approach to improvement, leading to enhanced communication, elevated morale, and a more resilient workforce. As organisations continue to navigate the evolving business environment, tools such as AI become even more crucial in fostering a dynamic, positive and thriving workplace.

The key to success lies in choosing to focus and build upon our strengths, rather than becoming consumed by our weaknesses.

Some questions to think about when thinking about Appreciative Inquiry

1. How familiar are you with the concept of Appreciative Inquiry (AI)?

2. Can you share examples of where you have seen AI used in a feedback context in your organisation?

3. How would you rate your organisation’s current feedback model? Does it concentrate more on weaknesses or strengths?

4. Looking at the ‘Discovery’ phase of AI, what would you say are some of your business’s main strengths?

5. During the ‘Dream’ phase, can you envision a future state for your business leveraging these aforementioned strengths?

6. Can you elaborate on how these strengths can be amplified to design the desired future state of your business as per the ‘Design’ phase?

7. Considering the ‘Destiny’ phase, what specific steps would you take to ensure the successful implementation of these strategies for positive change?

8. How do you observe the use of AI shifting the focus of feedback reception in your business culture?

9. How would you start focusing on strengths in feedback sessions for your team? Can you share some practical steps?

10. Can you give examples of some positive questions you should be asking to unearth distinctive methods and encourage shared learning?

11. How would you go about inculcating a future-oriented perspective in your coaching sessions?

12. How can AI be used to establish a culture of collaboration in your workplace?

13. How do you think implementing AI can boost morale in your team during feedback sessions?

14. How could AI foster a growth mindset in your organisation, especially during coaching and feedback scenarios?

15. Can you share how you think AI-based feedback could strengthen resilience within your team?

16. How do you envision AI strengthening relationships within your team during feedback sessions?

17. Have you seen any changes in communication or morale in your team since adopting an AI-based feedback approach?

18. In the dynamic business environment today, how crucial do you think tools such as AI are for the growth and development of your organisation?

19. Can you share a time when focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses during feedback resulted in a tangible improvement?

20. How would you commence implementing AI in your coaching and feedback sessions going forward, considering your learnings and the benefits to your organisation?

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