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Change Management Model

A Strength-Based Approach to Change

Imagine a change management model which starts by affirming what is right in an organisation. Intuitively we sense that, as with individuals, organisational growth and change is most effective when it builds on our strengths. Yet again and again, what we know and sense to be good advice is not demonstrated in good practice. Much of the change in our organisations would benefit greatly from starting from a strength-based position, rather than a deficit mind-set of focusing on what is wrong. If nothing else, this might change the way we face change.

Appreciative Inquiry has gained increasing recognition as a strength-based approach to creating change in organisations. In the late 1980’s David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, two academics from Case Western University, developed Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry seeks to create new ideas that aid the development of an organisation. At its heart is a questioning process which focuses on the positive rather than the negative.

Why is this significant? Well it is argued that most change processes are predicated on problem-solving processes, which start by asking “what’s the problem”. The focus of energy is then typically on what we want to do less of and working to “fix” the problem.

A change management model which feeds opportunities and starves problems

Change Management Model

The difference between a problem focused approach and an opportunity orientation has long been argued strongly by Peter Drucker . In “The Effective Executive,” Drucker suggests:

It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem – which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.

He advocates feeding opportunities and starving problems. In fact he raises an interesting and challenging set of guides to how you decide what to focus on in an organisation. To identify priorities he suggests we should:

  • “Pick” the future rather than the past.
  • Focus on opportunities rather than on problems.
  • Choose your own direction – rather than climb on the bandwagon
  • Aim high – for something that will make a difference, rather than something that is “safe” and easy to do.

Appreciative Inquiry

Drucker’s views fit well with the aspirational and appreciative emphasis of David Cooperider’s Appreciative Inquiry change management model. Unlike a problem focused approach, Appreciative Inquiry starts from a different basis. It asks: “what do we want more of?” It “appreciates” what is currently working well in the organisation.

Appreciative Inquiry as a change management model assumes that organisations grow in the direction of what they repeatedly ask questions about, and what they focus their attention on. The change management model has four stages:

  • Discover – Appreciate “what is”. Ask: “what gives life?” Appreciate the best of what is currently happening in the organisation.
  • Dream. – Imagine possibilities. Ask: “What might be?”
  • Design – Define what you want to do. Ask: “What should be?”
  • Destiny – Create the reality you want to see. Ask: “What will be?”

Alternatively you could use the following four steps:

  • Inquire – appreciate the best of what is.
  • Imagine – what might be?
  • Innovate – what should be?
  • Implement – navigate the change.

A change management model which affirms and appreciates what is good and done well provides a healthy way to begin change. Building change based on current strengths takes the best of what you into the future you want to create. It seems strange that we haven’t done this enough in our organisations. Imagine the difference if we did?

If you’d like to read more about the theory of organisational change, see our articles: “Theory of Change Management” and ”What is Change Management”.


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