What is Appreciative Inquiry?

By Al Gonzalez

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

So what is appreciative inquiry anyway?

Have you ever heard the following phrase?

‘People join organizations but leave managers.’

Would you say you are the type of manager who people leave or the type of leader that makes people stay and with whom they want to work?

Are you trying to merely solve problems with your staff, or do you include them in creating a better reality?

Do your employees trust you? How do you know?

Happiness and Trust

In a recent podcast with David Hain, Director of Transformation Partners, based in Cardiff, Wales, we discussed some scary statistics about the declining level of trust in organizations around the world, as well as the benefits of happiness and trust in the workplace.

We then explored how the Appreciative Inquiry model can be used as a way to not only develop trust but also inspire others.

Let’s start with the benefits of happiness at work.

According to the Happiness at Work Global Index, empirical research involving 9,000 people from around the world reveals some astonishing findings. The data shows that employees who report being happiest at work:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues
  • Spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do
  • Take ten times less sick leave
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much

Research has identified five components that inform and build happiness at work.

These components are known as the 5 Cs, and they are:

  1. Contribution – the effort an individual or team makes
  2. Conviction – short-term motivation
  3. Culture – a feeling of fitting in at work
  4. Commitment – long-term engagement
  5. Confidence – the belief in one’s abilities

When the 5 Cs are established for employees in an organizational culture, they form an ecosystem that drives performance. When one C starts to fall, the others will become unstable in turn.

As you may have guessed, trust is critical in order for staff members to feel they can contribute with conviction to a workplace culture that values long-term commitment and believes in their capabilities.

Unfortunately, trust and employee engagement continues to decline.

A Maritz Research Poll offers a sobering glimpse at trust-diminishing issues facing organizations in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.

Their research found that:

  • 25% of participants said they had less trust in management than a year ago
  • 14% believed leaders in their company were ethical and honest. This means that 86% believe that their leaders are NOT ethical and honest!
  • 12% reported an employer who genuinely cared about employees
  • 7% thought senior management’s words and actions were consistent

Why is Trust Continuing to Decline?

The Maritz study summarized the problem this way: “Poor communication, lack of perceived caring, inconsistent behavior, and perceptions of favoritism were cited by respondents as the largest contributors to their lack of trust in senior leaders.”

During the podcast, David explained that trust is a crucial precursor to positive employee happiness and engagement.

Organizations that understand the importance of employee engagement enjoy the following benefits:

  • 16% greater profit margin
  • 19% greater operating income
  • 18% greater productivity
  • 2.6 times Earnings Per Share (EPS) growth
  • 12% greater customer loyalty
  • 50% fewer sick days
  • 87% less likely to leave the organization

What Does This Have to Do With Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry is a model that can help organizations come together in a spirit of trust and happiness.

It seeks to create a better reality through everyone working together and realizing their full potential.

When employees are treated as contributors to a better future, it is easier to establish a culture of trust and happiness at work.

Let’s think about this from the opposite perspective.

How engaged do you think employees are going to be if management treats them as problems to be solved?

Appreciative Inquiry is the opposite of what we often find in organizations, the classic problem-solving approach that seeks to:

  • Identify problems
  • Conduct cause analysis
  • Brainstorm solutions and analyze
  • Develop action plans/interventions

The message of the classic problem-solving approach is that employees are problems to be solved.

This is also called deficit thinking.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry focuses on possibilities:

  • Appreciate “What Is”
  • Imagine “What Might Be”
  • Determine “What Should Be”
  • Create “What Will Be”

The message of Appreciative Inquiry is that employees and organizations are systems of potential to be realized. People move towards that which they can envision.

Just the act of talking about possibilities increases the chance of bringing them about and starts the process of building trust.

Why Appreciative Inquiry Works

Doesn’t focus on changing people. The message isn’t about what employees have done wrong or have to stop doing. This is perfect for hard times when people are already facing confidence/belief issues.

Invites people to engage in building the kinds of organizations and communities that they want.

Too many organizations ‘do things to people and, as a result, exclude them from having the power to make things better.

Helps everyone see the need for change, explore new possibilities, and contribute to solutions.

This builds trust through dialogue – people are surprised to realize how the similarities between what they want and what they value.

Exploring (walking in each other’s moccasins) is in itself a trust-building activity that breaks down artificial silos, barriers, and stereotypes.

Translates a shared vision with purpose and principles into reality, belief, and practice.

The focus is on improving things in the future rather than addressing the ills of the past and is, therefore, less threatening and more community-building.

If you are interested in applying the Appreciative Inquiry Model, here are a few ways to approach conversations when change is needed:

What do you most value about yourself, your work, and the organization?

What are the signature strengths of the person, team, or organization?

If you had three wishes for this organization: what would they be?

What is Appreciate Inquiry?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez
Al has worked for 16 years helping others maximize the quality of their leadership at Motorola, CBS Sports, and Cornell University. He’s used these experiences to develop trust-based leadership tools for all levels of management.
  • Marty Koenig says:

    One more reason why more and more people are migrating to entrepreneurial careers. Because they are built on trust, and they don’t have to re-built trust after losing it from corporate think. Institutionalized deficit thinking. Instead of systems of potential to be realized.

    Entrepreurial companies inherently bring everyone into the conversation of what they envision. Talking about the possibilities.

    Corporatized companies don’t do that (generally, with few exceptions such as 3M and Zappos), and therefore don’t have institutionalized trust.

    Building communities inside corporations can happen, but a “asktheCEO” email address doesn’t cut it. That doesnt’ engage people in building an internal tribe of people that are passionate about building more raving fan customers. Loyalty wanes.

  • asrar ahned bughio says:


    Its seems that all are taken from frame work where people already doing to much work but problem is the Name which taken there is no any effect seems The actually all are work on business comunication used and little manegment touch so i advice to put some real exmple of real life to make more insure thanks

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