Appreciative Inquiry: Making a positive impact


Elbert Hubbard said “Positive anything is better than negative nothing.” With that quote in mind, I would like to introduce an Organization Development [“OD”] intervention that analyses the positive aspects of organizations. Although, Survey Feedback and Management by Objectives are highly regarded OD techniques, they focus on deficiencies, such as negative feedback and unmet goals. A more recent approach to organizational development known as Appreciative Inquiry helps organizations break out of this focus on negative dynamics by emphasizing the positive and the possible (Harigopal, 2001). Specifically, appreciative inquiry is an OD intervention that focuses attention away from an organization’s shortcomings and toward its capabilities and it potential (Greenberg, 2005). It is based on the assumption that members of organizations already know the problems they face and that they stand to benefit more by focusing on what is possible.

As currently practiced, the process of appreciative inquiry follows four straight-forward steps I have listed below:

1.) Discovery: The discovery step involves identifying the positive aspects of the organization, the best of “what is.” This is frequently accomplished by documenting the positive reactions of customers or people from the organization or other organizations.

2.) Dreaming: Through the process of discovering the organization’s strengths, it is possible to begin dreaming by envisioning “what might be.” By discussing dreams for a theoretically ideal organization, employees are free to reveal their ideal hopes and dreams.

3.) Designing: The designing stage involves having a dialogue in which participants discuss their ideas about “what should be.” The underlying idea is that by listening to others in a highly receptive manner, it is possible to understand others’ ideas and to come to a common understanding of what the future should look like.

4.) Delivering:  After having jointly discussed the ideal star of affairs, members of the organization are ready to begin instituting a plan for delivering their ideas. This involves establishing specific objectives and directions regarding “what will be.”

Because appreciative inquiry is considered a fairly new approach to OD, it has not been as widely used as other interventions. However, those organizations in which it has been used have quite pleased with the results (Bushe & Coetzer, 1995; Greenberg, 2005).


Bushe, G. R., & Coetzer, G. (1995). Appreciative inquiry as a team-developed intervention: A controlled experiment. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 31, 13-30.

Greenberg, J. (2005). Managing behavior in organizations. Pearson Prentice Hall.

Harigopal, K. (2001). Management of organizational change: Leveraging transformation. Newbury Park, CA: Sage



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