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Psychological approach to positive workforce

Sarah Lewis said Appreciative Inquiry – a theory first introduced by American professor David Cooperrider more than two decades ago – generates more positive energy within the workplace simply by approaching an issue from a completely different angle.

She added: “What is revolutionary about Appreciative Inquiry is that most organisations start with problem-solving approaches which work, but not so much with issues concerning the human dynamic.

“Traditional problem-solving approaches can cause morale to dip and for blame games to take centre stage, which is why we characterise this process as the deficit approach because the question being asked is: what haven’t we got?

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“Appreciative Inquiry, on the other hand, asks: ‘what have we got and how can we build on it?” she added.

Appreciative Inquiry has been credited as a useful tool for organisations facing rapid change or growth. It has been defined as a positive approach to business development that engages with all levels of a company, including its customers and suppliers.

Ms Lewis refers to Appreciative Inquiry as “filling the abundance bridge”, which has more positive connotations than the traditional idea of bridging the deficit gap. She said that by focusing on the positives of change, employees are often more receptive and can play a key role to implement the required development.

The steps required to implement this alternative procedure include looking beyond rational methods, focusing positively on potential developments, enabling employees to get on with their work and, fundamentally, recognising and celebrating any changes that have been made.

Ms Lewis said this simple and effective approach has many benefits for workplace environments and can create a healthy and highly-productive workforce.

“Appreciative Inquiry is motivational, energising, builds optimism for the future, increases social and group cohesion and, finally, I would say the change is co-created and therefore owned,” she added.

According to Ms Lewis, Appreciative Inquiry is a growing phenomenon in Europe that has slowly, in the past six years, begun spreading from not-for-profit groups and the public sector to the private sector.

In the US, however, she said it is much more widespread and was being used by a number of commercial organisations.

In 2011 Ms Lewis published a book, Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management: Using AI to Facilitate Organizational Development, to raise awareness on the theory from a UK perspective.

Adviser comment:

Andrew Morgan, director of Manchester-based Now Financial Solutions, said: “We are pretty open-minded on most things and before we set up the business, seven years ago, we went on a few courses and seminars to take into account the ingredients of the most successful businesses, which was very useful. We often have a two-hour directive meeting where we look where we are and how to evolve our business. When we first launched we said we would constantly relaunch and change every two years and so far this approach has worked well. You just cannot stand still and must always keep your proposition fresh. Ironically, at the end of 2011, we were thinking of how to implement a more positive approach and it led to our best ever year.”