Dec 5

Developing An Appreciative Eye

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

I just came back from Kathmandu, Nepal where the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference was held. Over 400 people from more than 40 countries from NGOs (=Non-Governmental Organizations), institutions, Government, communities and business had attended the conference.

What is AI (=Appreciative Inquiry)? AI is a philosophy and a process that can be applied to any organizational change process or model. AI was developed and popularized by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University and Suresh Srivastva already in the 1980s . A worldwide, resourceful portal for AI is at The basic idea of AI is to build organizations around what works rather than trying to fix what doesn’t. Instead of the all too commonly applied “deficit-thinking” approach, AI focuses on “possibility thinking”. Some people call that also “deciding whether you are in the construction business or in the wrecking business”.

AI is the study and exploration of what gives life to human systems when they function at their best. The co-creation of a positive, shared image of the future may well be the most prolific activity that individuals and organizations can engage in if their aim is to help bring to fruition a significant future. One important new learnig for me in the conference was that when we co-design the future, negative patterns go away in human systems. People have more confidence going into the (unknown) future when they carry forward parts of the (known) present and past. And if we carry parts of the present and the past into the future, they should be what are and were the best parts.

Organizations typically change in the way they inquire. Simply put, if we continue to search for problems, we will continue to find problems. But if we look for what is best and learn from it, we will find more and more of what is good and we can magnify and multiply our success.

The late Peter Drucker, one of the most influential management thinkers, stated: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.” AI is a strengths-based approach. It is a particular way of asking positive questions and envisioning the future. The AI – methodology consists of four processes, the so-called 4 D – technique, that an organization will go through after a relevant topic has been identified:

Phase 1:  DISCOVERY    Appreciate “the best of what is”

Phase 2:  DREAM             Imagine “what could be”

Phase 3:  DESIGN             Determine “what should be’

Phase 4:  DELIVER          Create “what will be”

AI has been used extensively to foster change in businesses, NGOs, communities, governments and institutions.

Let me give you an example for the process: Supposed an organization wants to strengthen its customer service. During the discovery phase, the AI – Team (often people from the Human Resources Department) will ask employees what currently works with regard to customer service. In the dream phase, the staff will envision how great customer service would look like in this company. In the design phase, they will determine the process and the structure of the outstanding customer service they dreamt about. Finally, in the delivery phase, the employees will start with the implementation of a concrete action plan.

Some of the benefits of AI are as follows:

- strengthening relationships

- creating opportunities for people to be heard and to contribute

- enabling people to dream

- giving people the support to act

- unleashing power by engaging people

When you focus on what works and you dream of the possibilities, it’s very inspiring to people. In such situations, you can observe the energy that is created. Martin Seligman, the American positive psychology guru, uses the term “flourishing”. People flourish when they are in a state of optimal well-being, which is composed of pleasure (positive emotions), self-actualization (positive meaning) and flow (positive actions).

According to David Cooperrider, “organizations are, first and foremost, centers of human relatedness and relationships come alive when there is an apreciative eye”.

We have to start to understand what drives the organization: people!

 If we take care of our people, everything else happens!

At Merck Thailand, we introduced AI about five years ago in a project titled “Strengthening Our Values Realization System”. We wanted to build upon the short survey “Living Our Values” that we had conducted earlier on. The results had revealed that we were performing well in living our values, that we are on the right track and that we could do even better.

Through the application of AI we wanted to get more detailed and qualitative information about the way our values were perceived by our staff and in what way we were acting according to our company’s values. Therefore, we assembled a project team within the Human Resources Department that developed a set of strengthening questions that focused on positive aspects of personal and organizational behaviour. Some examples:

- What is for you the meaning of our six core values?

- What is good about our six core values?

- In what way can you identify yourself with our company’s core values?

- In what way do they reflect your own personal values?

- Can you think of situations in which these values are shown in everyday’s work, either by yourself or others? Please describe these situations as detailed as possible.

- Etc.

The AI – Team interviewed about 30 randomly selected employees across our company. Afterwards, the interview results were summarized. One month later, we organized a Values Realization Summit where about 40 employees at every hierarchical level and expertise participated on a voluntary base. During the summit, success stories were shared, mutually agreed upon definitions for the values were worked out and behavioural guidelines that we need to follow in order to make sure we live our values, were developed.

About one month later, our HR / AI – Team organized a “Values Realization Info Day” where the definitions for our values and the behavioural guidelines were introduced to all our 150 employees and success stories were shared.

The benefits that we got from our “Strenghtening Our Values Realization System” – project were manyfold:

a) the power of positive thinking:

- inspiring, energizing, hope-generating, motivating conversations

b) the power of story telling:

- allows people to experience the positive situation a second time

- concrete and lively, easy to remember

- detects underlying enabling conditions

- learning from the organization’s success stories

c) the power of connecting

- common ground, enables relationship building and strengthening

- generates trust, people reveal important personal views

d) the power of engagement

- employees contribute to the development of the company

Re-told peak times and best experiences of the individual and the organization will not only improve the present, but will also create the future of the organization. At Merck Thailand, we once collected all stories from employees and customers where they have perceived us as a caring company (care is our core value) and published them in a booklet that was distributed to all employees. The uplifting stories were liked by all staff, even incoming ones, since they immediately got the message what the company is all about. The booklet had also a high impact in terms of branding, especially employer branding.

My own experiences with AI have all been very positive. AI is a very powerful process that can create value for all stakeholders. Nevertheless, I feel that I have not used it often enough. The AI conference in Nepal gave me the inspiration to apply the AI – philosophy in future much more often, not only in a business environment, but also in my private life. I am determined to develop a more appreciative eye, enabling me to see the true and the good, the better and the possible.

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 5th, 2009 at 19:36 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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  1. David Shaked says:

    Hello Heinz,

    We met and had a couple of good chats in Nepal… hopefully you still remember me.
    I came across your blog and enjoyed reading it!

    Hope our paths will cross again,
    David Shaked
    London, UK

  2. Heinz Landau Heinz Landau says:

    Dear David,

    Of course, I remember you and our discussion in Kathmandu. Thanks a lot for your interest and your kind feedback on our blog.

    By the way, I hope you keep on promoting and using AI (=”Appreciative Inquiry”}, since it is such a valuable process and way of thinking. During the conference in Nepal, I decided to share more information about AI with others. That’s one reason why I wrote about it in my recent blog.

    Best regards and take care, Heinz

  3. class Acts says:

    Thanks for finally talking about > Developing An Appreciative Eye | The Care Guys < Liked it!