[Republished blog assignment for my CMNS 380 class from Winter, 2012]
Uniting Generations in the Workplace Using the Appreciative Inquiry Approach
Picture a bright, colourful and well established garden. Visualize pink and yellow roses, purple lavender and fresh spring daffodils. Notice how each and every plant lives together symbiotically to create this garden. The new, young green shoots stand side by side with the older more seasoned bushes and shrubs.
Here every plant feeds from the same nutrients in the soil, the same water from the earth and the same bright sunshine. The garden plants all require positive attention- fertilizing, watering and tilling of the soil- to grow to their full potential.
Now imagine your multigenerational workplace as the same garden. It contains older, well established members who have built a solid foundation of “roots” within the workplace. They have weathered the seasons holding together the “soil” of the establishment through policy and procedure. It also contains new less established workers…some who may only last a season or two. Bringing with them vibrant color and changes to the structure of the workplace garden.
In this picture workers appreciate that everyone adds value to the workplace garden. They all understand the strengths of the organization…they continually focus on “what is working” in the workplace garden and not “what is missing”. This vision-of what is working-acts to create growth and success for the workers.
The caring gardeners, or workplace leaders, provide positive essential “nutrients” to assist the workplace garden in achieving its success. Never hacking and chopping at problems, criticizing and destroying delicate possibilities in the process.
The Appreciative Inquiry Approach
What if we decided to focus our energy on “what is working” instead of “what is missing” in the workplace? We would no longer have a deficit-focused approach highlighting failures and invoking criticism but an inquiry that appreciates the positive.
What if we, as the members of an organization, also believed that an emphasis on negative thinking can dampen opportunities for creative resolution? Recognizing that believing it should be “fixed” implies that it is “broken”. That paying attention to the “problems” simply amplifies them.
This is the Appreciative Inquiry Approach, or AI, and it was developed at Case Western Reserve University in the 1980’s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva . The basic premise of AI is that “organisations change in the direction in which they inquire.’ So an organisation which inquires into problems will keep finding problems but an organisation which attempts to appreciate what is best in itself will discover more and more that is good” (Seel, 2008)
How Will Appreciative Inquiry Assist in Uniting a Multigenerational Workplace?
“Not only do we see what we believe, but the very act of believing it creates it.” (Bushe, 1995)
Appreciative Inquiry is an asset-based approach that focuses on the value contributed by each and every person within the organization-regardless of age. The AI approach does not focus on changing people. It allows people to be involved with building the kinds of organizations they want to be a part of.
AI creates collaboration between multigenerational workers by building consent within the system about “what can and should be?” So although there may be differences in the communication styles and attitudes, within the multigenerational workplace, AI can help to unite organizations by allowing people to inquire together using the “4-D” approach:
- DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
- DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
- DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
- DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design*
AI shifts the focus of the multigenerational workplace away from the differences that exist (the deficit) and toward affirmation of the benefits and strengths of the group…a valuable approach in today’s multigenerational environment.
“Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.”(Cooperrider & Whitney, 1995)
Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D. (2007). Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change. In P. Holman & T. Devane (eds.), The Change Handbook, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., pages 245-263.
Richard Seel, 2008. “Appreciative Inquiry.” http://www.new-paradigm.co.uk/Appreciative.htm
Bushe, G.R. & Coetzer, G. (1995). Appreciative inquiry as a team development intervention: A controlled experiment. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 31:1, 19-31.