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Ask Score: Appreciative Inquiry; A New Tool for High Level Business Growth and Improvement

Ask Score
Appreciative Inquiry
A New Tool for High Level Business Growth and Improvement

In my most recent article, I introduced the term "Appreciative Inquiry", which is a system of organization development, which focuses upon the positive core of the firm, its most important achievements and greatest strengths. This positive core of accomplishment becomes the basis through which energies are concentrated via inquiry on the situation as is, as it should be, as it could be, and ultimately, as it will be. In this article we will look at each step in the process of 'Appreciative Inquiry' (AI) as a mean of propelling a firm to constant growth and high achievement by building and renewing its positive core.
The first step is to focus through AI on what is the current status of the firm in its major systems, including Marketing, Production, Finance, and Innovation in a positive way. Our inquiry is aimed at the discovery of what we, as a firm, do uncommonly well and to build from that positive core. The tools of AI at this stage are open communication, trust, and shared decision making. The targets of inquiry are typically present sales, costs and financial health.
The second step is to move beyond what is, to what should be. Here the focus of the AI is to build upon our positive core through constant improvement. The tools are teamwork, mutual respect and an open mind to new ideas and change. The targets of inquiry are planned (and expected) sales, costs and financial health. We are now squarely focused on what should be, which is constant improvement in each category.
The third step is to move from the basics of what is and what should be to what could be. We can use AI to envision a future of goal accomplishment and a business reputation for excellence in everything we do as an organization and individually. Here the tools of inquiry are the dreams of the future, unfettered by present day limitations of resources and other constraints. The targets are growth and profitability opportunities both within and outside of the current business lines and industry.
The fourth step is to concentrate energies on what will be. Here the focus becomes one of transformational leadership and unlimited potential. The tools of AI at this level are communication of the vision, and the building of commitment toward a new goal previously unimaginable. The targets are the distant horizons of an unlimited future. The power of transformational leadership at this stage is to energize everyone in working toward the realization of the vision.
In summary, we can use AI to initially focus employee and management effort on the positive core of the current business, things that represent the best achievements we have made to date. Building on that positive core, we can first make the present business as effective and efficient as possible, through a focus on what should be. We can then move to what could be, through envisioning a future of even greater accomplishment, and then finally, 'make it happen', through inspired transformational leadership.

Richard Walton, Counselor for SCORE, and President, Enterprise Resource Management Associates, Inc., of Hagerstown, Maryland. Cell phone: 301-462-9850, email:

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