Hi Appreciative Inquiry is an interesting business tool!
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Retail Mantra - Using Appreciative Inquiry when faced with challenges
Solving Problems by looking at whats going right
By Mathew Jacob
Imagine that your inventory levels are high and you have left over merchandise from the previous period- but you desperately need new merchandise. Your cash is tight and your customers are getting increasingly demanding and competition is breathing down your neck. You are strongly suspecting that some of the approaches you are using are just not working.
Sounds familiar ?
One approach here is to focus on the things that aren't working, and think about how you can fix them. This is the conventional approach to problem-solving. In many cases it's the right one to use. However in others, all it does is bring you up to the same bland level as everyone else.
Another approach is to shift to a positive perspective, look at the things that are working, and build on them. In some situations this can be very powerful because, by focusing on positives, you can build the unique strengths which bring real success.
This is the premise behind "Appreciative Inquiry", a method of problem solving that was pioneered by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University in the mid 1980s.
To understand the basis of Appreciative Inquiry it is useful to look at the meaning of the two words in context.
Appreciation means to recognize and value the contributions or attributes of things and people around us.
Inquiry means to explore and discover, in the spirit of seeking to better understand, and being open to new possibilities.
When combined, this means that by appreciating what is good and valuable in the present situation, we can discover and learn about ways to effect positive change for the future.
Using Appreciative Inquiry: The 5D Approach
To apply Appreciative Inquiry to a problem solving situation, it's important to focus on positives. A positive energy approach helps you build on your strengths, just as conventional problem-solving can help you manage or eliminate your weaknesses.
The first step of the process is to identify and describe the problem you're trying to solve. From there you go on to look at the issue in four phases: Discovery, Dream, Design and Deliver. This approach is described in the 5 steps below.
Step 1. "Define" the Problem
Before you can analyze a situation, you need to define what it is you are looking at.
And, just as your decision to look at the positives will move you in a positive direction, defining your topic positively will help you look at its positive aspects. So, rather than seeking "Ways to fix the inventory Problems", for example, you'll choose "Ways to accelerate sales" This subtle change in wording can have huge implications for what you focus on.
Step 2. Discovery Phase "What is"
Here you need to look for the best of what has happened in the past, and what is currently working well. Involve as many people as sensibly possible, and design your questions to get people talking and telling stories about what they find is most valuable (or appreciated), and what works particularly well.
Using the example from the first stage, you could get a cross-functional team to examine what product choices had worked in the past, focussing on getting to the core of what they liked. In this situation, the following might be good discovery questions:
When you think back to when you made those choices, what was the the main driving factors while making those decisions ?
Tell me a story about when your merchandise was received enthusiastically by your customers.
What do you think is most important for success of the company?
Tell me about the time you felt proudest about the company.
When you've gathered enough raw information, you need to analyse the data and identify the factors that most contributed to the team or organisation's past successes. What is most valued? What did people find most motivating or fun? What instills the greatest pride? And so on.
Step 3. Dream Phase "what might be"
In this phase, you and your team dream of "what might be". Think about how you can take the positives you identified in the Discovery phase, and reinforce them to build real strengths.
In our example, you might choose to enhance and build the good points that everyone mentioned about the merchandise choices, and use this as a strong message to ensure these methods are encouraged in the future. You may also stop doing the things that aren't working, and use the money saved to reinforce the things that are.
Once you have agreed upon your dream or vision, you can take it to the Design phase.
Step 4. Design Phase "what should be"
Building on the Dream, this phase looks at the practicalities needed to support the vision. Here you start to drill down the types of systems, processes, and strategies that will enable the dream to be realised.
Step 5. Deliver Phase "what will be"
Sometimes called the Destiny phase, the last of the Ds is the implementation phase and it requires a great deal of planning and preparation. The key to successful delivery is ensuring that the Dream (vision) is the focal point. While the various parts of the team will typically have their own processes to complete, the overall result is a raft of changes that occur simultaneously throughout the organization, that all serve to support and sustain the dream.
The real strength of this technique comes from steps 1 and 2. Steps 3 to 5 are just standard implementation steps. If you have your own preferred approach for implementation, use this.
In this article, we're looking at Appreciative Inquiry as a problem-solving technique. You can also use it powerfully either as an organizational strategy tool or for personal development. In these contexts, you can simply focus on what you do well, and divert your efforts towards this, and away from the things you're not good at.
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