Saturday, July 20, 2024

Creating Positive Change

So you want to create change? Change that will lead to the identification of a clear mission or purpose for your organization; change that will assist employees to find new meaning in their work; and the results of that work would be spectacular?

Who among us hasn’t dreamt of working in an environment like that, where the vision is known to all and our contribution to its achievement is specific and inspiring?

Usually we dismiss such dreams as unattainable because these types of organizations are rare; and while we espouse the need for positive change at work, we doubt that it’s even possible without compromising on results.

Instead, we prefer to rely on tested methods to instigate change. We conduct witch-hunts to purge organizations of unwanted elements. Other times, we launch smear campaigns against unwitting scapegoats to drive them out. Where we’re powerful enough to possess sweeping mandates, we use them to bulldoze through changes on which there is no real consensus. While all these processes may result in change, they fail to engender support or encourage people to rally around common objectives.

In many instances, calls for change come on the heels of negative evaluations, either concerning the organization or individual members. A detailed diagnosis of existing problems takes place, followed by an attempt to resolve those problems. Yet the more problems we discover, the more discouraged we become; and the more we blame each other for how they came about.

Under such circumstances, who wouldn’t dread change, or see it as threatening? This type of change gives rise to winners and losers, where those on the losing end bear the brunt of change.

If you’re interested in making improvements within your organization, group or community, take heart ÔÇô creating positive change is easier than you think. It doesn’t entail burying our heads in the sand about challenges that exist. Instead, it demands that we eschew troubleshooting and problem solving; and focus more on what we do right with a view to applying those lessons to what we do wrong.

Dissecting our strengths and using them to create even greater success can lead to incredible transformations. It is an engaging and energizing process which leads to cohesion, inspiration and improved results. As organizational behaviour experts, Cooperrider and Whitney write: “Link the positive core to any change agenda, and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.”

Building and sustaining an organization from its positive core, or its strengths, can be achieved through Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI is a process that studies the root causes of success, rather than the root causes of failure. It has been used in multiple settings in over 100 countries to encourage people in organizations to work toward a common vision and higher purpose. Here’s how it could help you.

Is your group embarking on a process to create, change or improve some aspect of its work? If you want to create the ideal organization; change organizational culture; devise effective strategies; or build a strong team, then AI is for you.

Every organization has strengths, which when it uses, it performs at its best. Use the Appreciative Inquiry 4-D cycle to discover what your best assets are in order to take your organization to new heights.

Appreciative Inquiry’s 4-Ds entail: Discovery – mapping the positive core of an organization; Dream – envisioning as a group what might be; Design ÔÇô specifically constructing what we want to be; and Destiny ÔÇô creating an action plan for what will be.

As part of the ‘Discovery’ phase, consider the positive core of your organization by asking yourself questions such as: who are we, individually and collectively? What are our strengths? Who are we at our best; and what dreams and hopes do we have for the future? Assess your capabilities and note them down.

Follow this with the ‘Dream’ phase, which consists of a visioning exercise such as the following: Imagine it’s the year 2014 and your organization has just won an award for being outstanding. Which attributes made you high-achievers; and what are people writing or saying about your organization as a result? How have you managed to inspire other people or organizations around you? Dream boldly; and make sure the dream lights your group up.

In the third ‘Design’ phase, create affirmative statements about your organization. For example: ‘the University of Botswana is a dynamic organization with opportunities for growth. The environment stimulates creativity and innovation; and it attracts the best staff.’ While these statements contain visionary proclamations, they will also motivate you to take action to make them a reality.

Now for the final ‘Destiny’ phase, specify what needs to be done to make your dreams a reality. As a group, generate possible actions and select the most inspiring; then form innovation teams to implement the new vision.

Human systems grow in the direction of what they most persistently, actively and collectively ask questions about. So focus your questions not on how to improve your weaknesses, but on how to use your strengths to bolster your success. It works.

Consistently imagine your organization performing at its very best – research shows that our actions in the present are linked to our image of the future. Studies carried out by Rosenthal and Jacobson in U.S. classrooms in the 1960s showed that imagining has the power to shape our behavior and performance in the present. Make sure you imagine an ideal future and have conversations about your highest ideals. This will not only create hope and energy, it will bring about palpable, positive change.

Marcel Proust said that “the real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but seeing with new eyes.”

Learn to see your organization and the individuals within it with new, appreciative eyes. You’ll be amazed at what you have accomplished; and will develop the confidence to pursue and achieve even bigger dreams.

For more information about Appreciative Inquiry or to find an AI facilitator, visit: or write to [email protected].


Read this week's paper