Employee surveys have been around for a long time. The current terminology is “employee engagement survey.” Years ago we called them “employee opinion surveys.” The goal of these surveys is to improve the organization.
The macro process is almost identical in every organization. First, the survey is administered, which involves a campaign from HR to maximize participation. A campaign is necessary because employees generally don’t look forward to participating. The results are analyzed and presented to the company. Managers and executives generally don’t look forward to this step. It’s often painful, but it’s considered necessary for improvement. Then, based on the results, strategies are initiated to improve the organization as measured by the next survey, and then the cycle repeats.
Lately, I’m reading more and more articles pointing out that all this activity isn’t resulting in measurable organizational improvement. This is analogous to the current trend questioning the value of annual performance evaluations. Many organizations are demonstrating the courage to quit doing traditional performance evaluations. Perhaps we should question the value of these very costly employee engagement surveys. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) presents an attractive alternative to the current engagement survey strategy.
Here is a quotation from the Appreciative Inquiry page in Wikipedia: “Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a model for analysis, decision-making and the creation of strategic change, particularly within companies and other organizations. It was developed at Case Western Reserve University‘s department of organizational behavior, starting with a 1987 article by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva.”
Cooperrider and Srivastva recognized that the kinds of questions one asks control the kinds of answers one receives. Engagement survey questions typically focus on what’s wrong, asking employees to think about deficits, deficiencies and problems. This results in a certain snapshot of the culture, and not a very uplifting one. But is it an objective snapshot? What would happen, they wondered, if we asked a qualitatively different set of questions? What kind of snapshot would we get if we asked employees what’s right about the organization? What are our strengths? What are we proud of? What accounts for our most meaningful successes and high points?
Depending on the set of questions, you get two very different snapshots of the organization. To me, it doesn’t make sense to ask which is more accurate. They’re both accurate. To me, the important question is which is more helpful in bringing about meaningful improvement?
Vince Lombardi, legendary coach, answered that question years ago. He rejected the common wisdom that reviewing and analyzing unsuccessful plays was the best way to improve team performance. He realized that it was much more effective to analyze successful plays and think about how to create more of them. He was doing Appreciative Inquiry before there was a name for it.
The goal of this post is to make readers aware of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and to encourage investigation and learning about how the application of AI can contribute to individual and organizational improvement.
Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.