Why Appreciation Matters at Work and in the Community
Use collaboration and positive psychology to rise above the challenges.
Posted Sep 14, 2020
In these challenging times, do you wish you could make a positive difference for yourself, your family, employer, and community? Some psychologists say that we should use an appreciative approach if we want to make the world a better place.
Author and business professor, Dr. Jacqueline Stavros, says to appreciate means to add value—and to value the person or situation. By appreciation, she means both gratitude for, and the growth of self, others, and communities. We can start by working together to discover our strengths (what are we great at), opportunities (what possibilities are available), and aspirations (what are our dreams and wishes) to achieve synergistic results (what are meaningful outcomes). Her work (SOAR) is the evolutionary output of three fields of study: Martin Seligman’s positive psychology, David Cooperrider’s Appreciative Inquiry (AI), and the world of strategy research.
Seligman (2013) is well known for his position that the pathological model of psychology is limited at best. Far better to focus on an individual’s strengths (which are easily improved) than to focus on a weakness over which the individual has little control.
Even earlier, Cooperrider began approaching organization development from an appreciative perspective (Whitney & Cooperrider, 2011). He suggested that if we focus on organizational strengths and inquire into opportunities, our organizations will actually appreciate or grow in value. Out of his 30-year work at Case Western Reserve, came his organization development 4-D model (discovery, dream, design, and delivery). He is best known for revitalizing the Cleveland Clinic and more recently, influencing the United Nations. By the way, appreciative inquiry is the 'operating system' for Stavros' SOAR framework of strategic thinking, planning, and leading (Stavros & Godwin, personal communication, 2020).
In the organizational strategy world, the typical approach is to define mission, vision, values, goals and objectives. “An organizational strategy is the sum of the actions a company intends to take to achieve long-term goals” (Johnson, 2019, page 1). AI and SOAR provide a positive framework for that strategic planning.
Strengths-based frameworks like AI and SOAR are cyclical, scalable, and inclusive (Stavros & Hinrichs, 2019). The process is cyclical because organizations, for example, can repeat the process, creating a sort of continuous upward spiral effect. Each iteration of the AI 4-D Cycle can move them toward greater effectiveness. Strengths-based frameworks like SOAR are scalable because they can be used at any level—by a team or a department all the way up to an alliance of nations. Finally, the processes are inclusive and even whole-system. Strengths-based frameworks seek input and involvement, not only from employees and customers, but from every player in the extended enterprise.
Attending a strengths-based summit is anything but conventional. Led by AI expert Dr. Lindsey Godwin, I attended a two-day summit that included 450 stakeholders of Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. Seated at round tables, the gymnasium was full of vested people from business, government, education at all levels, non-profits, and students (whole system). They followed Godwin through the entire AI 4-D process. Each table discovered the college’s strengths and opportunities. They dreamed (aspired) and co-created new designs for delivery (Ramaswamy & Gouillart, October 2010). The end of the two-day summit produced the makings of a long-term, achievable plan for the college with meaningful and measurable results. No real surprise that Champlain College now houses the Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry.
How do AI/SOAR work? For example, strengths-based frameworks allowed a non-profit to help those encountering life-threatening illness and their families. IT leaders from multiple government agencies collaborated for the first time and effectively coordinated their capabilities and services. A global hospitality merger took place by integrating international sales teams. Strengths-based approaches are all about getting together, getting creative, and then getting real (Stavros & Hinrichs, 2019).
All of that begs a bigger question. Could an appreciative approach unite a community or nation struggling with racial strife, school shootings, anxiety, depression and isolation, and even a pandemic? Could we start in our own communities by coming together and asking ourselves “What are we already doing well?” “What are our strengths?” “What opportunities are here?" "What do we aspire to become and then "How do we achieve results for our families, community and nation?” Looking at the world through my window at home, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Stavros, J. & Hinrichs, G. (2019). The Thin Book of SOAR (2nd ed.). Thin Book Publishing: Bend, Oregon, 72 pages.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2013). Flourish: a visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. First Atria Paperback edition March 2013. New York: Atria Paperback.
Whitney, D. and Cooperrider, D. (2011). Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. Readhowyouwant.com
Godwin, L. (2011, 2015). Examining the Impact of Moral Imagination on Organizational Decision Making. Business and Society, 54: 2, page(s): 254-278. https://doi.org/10.1177/0007650312443641
Ramaswamy, V. & Gouillart, F. (October 2010). Building the Co-Creative Enterprise. Harvard Business Review.
Johnson, S. (March 8, 2019). What is the meaning of organizational strategy? Houstonchronicle. com. https://smallbusiness.chron.com/meaning-organizational-strategy-59427.html.