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Traditional organizational approaches to organizational development emerged from behavioral research undertaken after World War II. That research led to the development in the late 1940’s and 1950’s of behavioral development strategies such as sensitivity training, survey feedback, socio-technical systems, and quality management.
During the 1950’s, researchers and managers began to utilize different elements of the various behavioral development strategies to create more comprehensive processes for planning and executing change in organizations. Models such as Lewin’s 3 step planned change model and Action Research constituted some of the traditional forms of organizational development.
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“Organization Development is an effort planned, organization-wide, and
managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness and health through
planned interventions in the organization's 'processes,' using behavioral-science
-- Beckhard, “Organization development: Strategies and Models”
This definition implies the focus on improving organizational quality and performance through problem solving and modifying those behaviours which caused the problem. It is a ‘doctor-patient’ type approach whereby an OD practitioner enters an organization in an attempt to ‘diagnose’ organizational problems and ‘prescribe’ a solution.
Appreciative inquiry (AI) represents a paradigm shift in the way which organizations approach organizational development. Propounded by David Cooperrider and Srivastva in 1987, AI’s main difference from the traditional approach is that it focuses on what the organization is doing right and its strengths rather than its problems. It seeks to build on the core strengths and competencies of an organization to aid in shaping its future.
COMPONENTS OF APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY
Appreciative inquiry can be thought of as consisting of 3 major components:
Discovery: this first step entails searching within the organization to reveal the best
examples of organizing and organization within the experience of
Understanding: OD practitioners then seek to understand the underlying driving forces
that led to the instances of superior performance, as defined by organizational
Amplifying: the underlying forces that contribute to the superior performance of both
people and processes are then reinforced and amplified.
AI is typically a 4 phase cycle known as the 4-D cycle (seen below).
( picture from file:///G:/What%20is%20Appreciative%20Inquiry.htm)
Firstly the nature of the inquiry must be carefully thought though. This should include representatives from all stakeholder groups to ensure its acceptance. Generally, three to five broad topics are collaboratively developed from which interview questions are further developed.
In the discovery phase, they explore participants’ peak experiences of each topic and all of their driving factors. These appreciative interviews tend to be intrinsically motivating as they bring out and invigorate the positive affect associated with the participants’ stories. The highlights of these appreciative interviews are then shared with groups which in essence creates a living database of superior performances. This phase tends to amplify the elements as they are captured on large surfaces by expressing them both in verbal and written format.
The next phase involves the envisioning of processes that would work well in the desired future. Collectively, participants are expected to creatively expand and elaborate on the images, metaphors, hopes and dreams that were generated in the previous phase. They are allowed the creative freedom to express their views through mediums such as skits, art and songs which are then shared with the entire group for the benefit of the organization.
In phase four, participants are expected to identify the key components of organizational systems and structures that would be necessary to support the attainment of the collectively desired future. It is not uncommon for the facilitator to introduce a new model of organizational structure or to give participants the necessary support in the generation of their own models. Participants also craft provocative propositions which are expressions of their expansive dreams as already realized in the present tense. Provocative propositions are crafted for each facet of the organizational structure and form the basis for developing vision-guided plans.
Lastly, in the delivery phase, participants select design statements that are most appealing to them and in self selected task groups, they work together to transform the design statements into action plans. Participants then also self select the action plans and projects which they would like to work on or support. This phase is infinite as it extends for the ongoing life of the organization.
COMPARISON BETWEEN AI AND THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH
The most basic differences between the traditional approach and appreciative inquiry can be summed up in the following table.
Appreciative inquiry differs from the traditional approach to organizational development in several ways. Firstly, the traditional view of the organization assumes that it is a constellation of problems waiting to be overcome whereas AI assumes that the organization is a source of infinite capacity and imagination. The traditional view tends to keep the organization at or close to its existing capabilities as it merely seeks to tweak people and processes, however, AI seeks to build and expand organization positives in ways that allow for ingenuity and initiative. The traditional view is negative in nature as it is concerned with problems, symptoms, causes, solutions, action plans and interventions. AI on the other hand thinks in terms of:
the true, the good, bettering and possibilities.
Secondly, the traditional approach assumes that there is an ideal position. This ‘ideal’ state exists when all of the identified existing problems have been resolved. AI conversely starts off at the ‘ideal’ and looks to expand and build on this state infinitely, leading to a more synergistic organizational development process.
Thirdly, the traditional approach often yields fragmented responses as it breaks down the organization into many problems. The approach is relatively slow as a result of having to deal with the problems consecutively. Also, the OD practitioner would experience greater resistance to change, the longer that the unconstructive behaviour was exhibited in the organization. Work habits and norms that are embedded in organizational culture can be extremely hard to change. Further, the solving of one problem often leads to the creation of another. AI on the other hand is much more efficient as it brings about an energy from a shared vision of a preferred future. It simultaneously builds enthusiasm, corporate confidence, and human energy. Organization members aid in driving the change rather than the OD practitioner having to force change as is typical in traditional approaches.
WHY AI IS MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH
The traditional approach seeks out and places blame on those found lacking in the organization and seeks to correct their problematic behaviour. The problem with this is that it tends to restore the organization to a previous level rather than moving the organization beyond this point. The method of appreciative inquiry, on the other hand, tends to be a relief to organizational members as it doesn’t focus on trying to change them by seeking out problematic behaviours. It instead causes persons to enter a positive and energized state as the focus and praise is on what they’re doing right in the organization. It is also encouraging as it invites people to engage in building the kinds of organizations that they are affiliated.
It's also easier to see envision the future vividly when it is rooted in the past experiences of organizational members, rather than trying to start with a blank canvas.
Additionally, it also greatly aids in the acceptance of change as it helps everyone see the need for change, explore new possibilities, and contribute to the solutions. This ensures that the vision is translated into reality and beliefs into practice though the alignment of both formal and informal organizational structures.
Often times when organizations are redesigned to solve perceived problems, some of the previous organizational goods are lost. Appreciative inquiry focuses on being driven by organization positives therefore minimizing these losses as redesign starts with the organizational goods.
THE CASE FOR THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH
Although it may appear that Appreciative Inquiry should always be used over the traditional approach, there are instances that would require a more problem solving based approach. For instance, very highly capital intensive organizations may find the traditional approach useful in improving organizational performance. To illustrate this, efficiency may be lower than required due to faulty machinery therefore fixing the problem machinery should solve this problem. It must however be noted again that this just restores the organization back to a previous level and does not take it beyond this level. A combination approach may therefore be beneficial.
In concluding, Appreciative Inquiry is one of the most successful organizational development strategies today, however, it must be noted that no one approach is always better for organizational development as each situation presents its own unique characteristics.