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Strengths-based assessment and planning

We’re building our capabilities in using Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to assessment and planning and recently had the opportunity to interview one of the pioneers of this technique, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, principal of the Center for Positive Change. During our conversation I was expressing some anxiety with facilitating groups that include members who consistently drag down the energy of the group with their negative comments and pessimistic outlooks. She gave me a very simple question to ask to turn the conversation around: “What do we want instead?”

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to change management that builds on the idea that organizations have greater success in transformation when building on strengths instead of focusing on deficits. In another post, we’ll discuss this technique at greater length but as an example, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses opportunities, and threats) is typically used in a deficit-focused change initiative, and a SOAR analysis (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results) in a strengths-focused initiative.

Asking “what do we want instead” keeps the group focused on the future instead of the organization’s past problems:

  • A deficit approach: “Employees don’t fill out their timesheets on time.” Why don’t they fill out their timesheets on time? What problems are getting in the way? What barriers exist?
  • A strengths-based approach: “Employees don’t fill out their timesheets on time.” What do we want instead? How can we get there? Where is this happening consistently in our organization?

This is a very subtle shift in approach but leads the group to consider the factors that make it more likely for employees to fill out their timesheets and reinforce those factors, leading to more success with compliance. Give it a try in your organization and let us know if it helps you handle the Negative Nancys and Nates.

Here are two graphics from the Appreciative Inquiry Commons that graphically compare traditional and appreciative approaches.


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