I’ve been hearing people saying that organization development and processes that focus on the positive – on building on what works well – are just a fad. While I don’t believe, think, or feel that this is a fad, I do encounter consultants and managers running “appreciative inquiry” events that are just plain boring or even completely wrong for the organization. In these scenarios, everyone behaves (or wants to behave) like the person in the recent commercial who is calling the airline to get an early flight out to escape the meeting – or perhaps they feel energized and good – but no lasting transformation occurs. What are the key components that distinguish a generative, transformative process from just another fun meeting?
It begins with good planning. If you’re bringing in an outside advisor or consultant, they need to be a skilled facilitator and someone who has the ability to facilitate a generative process. Then, instead of starting by telling everyone where you want to end up and how to get there, leaders should look for where innovation and creativity are already happening in your organization. Recognize it and get everyone involved in building an agreement about what needs will be met and what you are trying to accomplish.
Be committed to acting. Once the agreement is established, leaders step aside and affirm their permission to act. Ask everyone to create a commitment to act. This can be done by identifying one initial step that will lead forward. Leaders can then continue to bring the focus to what they want more of and fan the fire through focus, recognition, encouragement, and resources. Leaders create accountability and motivation by enabling people to grow and change, allowing autonomy while overseeing the process, and by creating meaning.
None of this alone will allow the process to be generative and transformative. The best predictor of success is the quality of leadership. Trust and transparency, legitimacy and commitment, communication and passion from leaders all increase the potential for success. Engaging people in the organization who are not directly involved, managing the informal networks as well as the formal structure all increase the potential for success.
Creating agreement about what can be accomplished together, building a commitment to action, giving structure to the process, and generating positive energy can mobilize action to meet the needs and reach the goals. Perhaps we’ll discover the courage to end management as we know it.