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Change Only Lasts - When They Think It Was Their Idea


Ask questions. Focus on strengths — not on what's wrong.  Build a "probability" of change, not a "possibility"

In every Change Management scenario that I've been involved in.  The stakeholders who I interview are desperate to tell me what's wrong with the organization.  They are in so much pain that the normal hesitancy of employees talking openly about their workplace or management disappears.  They want to be heard, and as a Change Agent, you need to be a safe place for them to communicate.  You need to be "Las Vegas".  What is said inside that room...  Stays in that room.

But as the Change Agent, (after you have (literally) recognized for them that they have been heard), you can't let "what's wrong" with the company dictate how the change will happen.  Not only will getting the stakeholders focusing on the strengths of the organization help you start to change their mindsets - but helping them define what IS working in the company will facilitate an inherently internal realization on their part.  THEY come to the conclusion that X, Y & Z _are_ strengths of the company.  What's the best tool for helping them come to the series of realizations needed to effect true change?  Well-formed questions — the heart of Appreciative Inquiry.

Below is a comparison of the Kotter Change Methodology and Appreciative Inquiry.  One is most certainly more formal than the other and, to be certain, many organizations have been changed (and consultants have billed big dollars for doing it) using Kotter's methodology.  However, I feel it focuses on what's wrong — and then gives 8 steps to fix them.  Lasting change doesn't happen in 8 steps.  8 steps are a great way to make linear managers feel like they are making progress, but (IMHO) Change doesn't happen linearly.  It's messy and requires adaptation and responsiveness.  It's usually top-down thinking that caused the need for change and top-down management (vs leadership) isn't going to change anything beyond the end of the consulting engagement.

I prefer a combination of approaches, but I always start with Appreciative Inquiry.  Appreciative Inquiry inverts the pyramid and uses the "weight" of the people and ideas within the organization to affect Change.  Much in the same way that David Marquet's Intent-based Leadership helps change behaviors by driving appropriate decision making (and empowerment) down to the people who are actually doing the work.  Intent-based Leadership was designed and works best in a heavily structured environment (like the US Navy where David Marquet developed it) vs what I call "Creator Environments" where procedures and outcomes are more fluid.  But that is a discussion for another blog.

Approaches to Change Management: John Kotter vs Appreciative Inquiry

As the business world struggles to recover from the devastating effects of the last year's global pandemic that almost crushed the economy, one area is eyed with keen interest - change management strategies. Businesses have had to do lots of adjusting, and there's still more to be done. There are bound to be loads of changes in the way we do business, moving into the future. 

Currently, the economy is volatile and will continue to be so, at least into the near foreseeable future. It requires change-savvy business leaders to navigate challenges as they emerge, adjust to new trends, spot and harness opportunities and help their organizations sail through.

In this article, we focus on two approaches to change management - John Kotter vs Appreciative Inquiry - to see how they compare and which of the two best suits your organization's needs. So, let's dive in.

John Kotter Change Management Approach

After years of observing organizations and business leaders formulate and execute strategies, John Kotter analyzed the success factors and developed a methodology for leading change. He called it the 8-Step Process for Leading Change.

John believes the strength of any organization lies in its people. Thus, his approach helps organizations harness and mobilize the power of its people to drive change. In John's opinion, every organization contends with the challenge of accelerating change. Mobilizing your people to embrace and adjust to change turns the challenge into an opportunity.

Below is a summary of the 8-Step Process for Leading Change. 

  1. Creating a sense of urgency to help everyone appreciate the need for change
  2. Building a guiding coalition of effective people, coordinating and communicating its activities
  3. Forming a strategic vision and initiatives 
  4. Enlisting a volunteer army to harness opportunities
  5. Enabling action by removing barriers like inefficient processes and hierarchies
  6. Generating short-term wins and recognizing them to motivate the team to carry on
  7. Sustaining acceleration until the vision becomes a reality
  8. Instituting change and ingraining it into the organization's culture

John considers this a pragmatic way of executing strategies that yield quantitative and qualitative results fast. Notable success areas include; costing, innovation, culture, growth, etc.

Appreciative Inquiry Change Management Approach

Appreciate Inquiry (AI) takes a different approach to change management. The brains behind this approach (David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva) maintain that organizations should focus on their strengths to drive change. 

They poke holes into traditional change management models whose focus is mainly on problem-solving. I.e., finding and fixing weaknesses. In their opinion, these approaches eat into an organization's resources without harnessing its potential. On the other hand, focusing on your strengths effectively transforms your company's culture as you're building on what's working.

Unlike the traditional weakness-focused approaches, which view organizations as problems that need solutions, the Appreciative Inquiry takes a more positive direction by identifying opportunities and ways of harnessing them, which is more growth-oriented.

Organizations can leverage on Appreciative Inquiry by;

  1. Defining the area of inquiry
  2. Discovering what is already working
  3. Dreaming to challenge the status quo
  4. Designing an ideal situation based on what you have and intend to achieve
  5. Creating your organization's destiny 

Probability vs Possibility

Once you get the stakeholders to realize that the organization, and the people in it, have strengths that can be leveraged.  Then you can start to talk about how these strengths signal that change WILL happen vs it only being "possible".  When organizations and people are in pain.  Change doesn't seem possible, but by focusing on the strengths you can give them a path to change.  They can see it for themselves.  When they see it for themselves ... then change is not just possible.  It's probable.

As you can see, this approach is designed to strengthen your organization's capacity by focusing on harnessing growth opportunities rather than patching inefficiencies. In a nutshell, AI thrives on its core principles - constructionist, simultaneity, anticipatory, poetic, and positive - to accelerate organizational change in a sustainable and more impactful way than other change management approaches. 

At Matters Group, we understand change management, more so AI's approach towards change management. Contact us today and learn how we can help your organization manage change and thrive despite the present uncertainties.

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