One evening, Pierre Rochon, loving husband and father of two, was sitting around the dinner table listening to his family talk about how their days had gone. As he considered similar discussions over the past weeks, it occurred to him that they spent a lot of time complaining about all of the difficult things that had happened during their day — from school to work to personal issues, the dinner table seemed to be a time for griping, which led to a frustrating and anxious rest of the evening until bedtime.
Upon reflection, Pierre noticed that typically, his opening question to his wife and daughters was the same: “How was your day?” This seemingly neutral question somehow opened the box to negativity. He decided, therefore, to change the question. Fortuitously, he had been exposed to the Appreciative Inquiry model and knew that change begins with the first question, and that what we feed, with words and thoughts, will grow.
The next night at dinner, Pierre sat down and asked “So, what was the best moment you had today?” There was silence around the table. As Pierre says now, several years later, “It was a bit odd at first, but it became the norm and it was energizing!” As the family members shifted their energy and focused on the positive aspects of each other’s day, the conversation became more uplifting and participative. The tone of each evening changed as anxiety and complaints significantly declined. As his daughters have grown through their teen and adult years, Pierre has maintained a positive relationship with both of them — something that he credits partially to a solid start from these affirmative and appreciative dinnertime conversations.
Delivery/Destiny, the fourth and final stage of the Appreciative Inquiry cycle, is the stage where the proverbial rubber hits the road — this is where organizations co-construct a sustainable preferred future embracing system-wide innovation, and it all starts at the individual level.
Up to this stage, the Appreciative Inquiry cycle and exercises have been largely theoretical, although leading in a natural direction for positive action. Starting with an appreciative interview, participants in the process gained a constructive understanding of what has been successful in the past, and what has worked successfully that they wish to continue doing in the future. They then considered questions such as: “What if we were so successful more often? What would our world look like then?” Together, they created an aligned, affirmative dream state of the future, complete with stakeholder relationships and possibility statements for different formal elements of the whole system.
This sounds like a lot of discussion and possibly hot air. However, organizations — be they corporations, families, societies or other such groups — do not prosper and grow on pure talk. There must, at some point, be action and accountability. That is the very foundation of Appreciative Inquiry, and drives this fourth stage.
The Delivery/Destiny phase is an on-going process that allows the innovation to continue in order to assure sustainability. This is a time to communicate the changes through all levels of the organization, to celebrate success, and to create an environment that allows for collaboration, cooperation and creativity.
The four key parts of the Destiny phase are:
Action includes championship, buy-in and ownership to sustain momentum of the change. Pierre Rochon, who is also Head of Organization Development Services in the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada, was introduced to Appreciative Inquiry about 10 years ago, and used this approach with a seemingly unlikely candidate: the Department of National Defense (DND) now called National Defense and the Canadian Forces. Typically seen as a “command and control” organization, DND leadership in the HR community championed this new approach to transformational change and, through a two-day symposium which included appreciative interviews as a starting point, they became ambassadors for this program.
One year later, the DND HR community held a large-scale summit with 75 people, half of whom had participated in the previous symposium, to assess progress and redirect energy as required. Before coming into the summit, each person had to appreciatively interview three others to find changes that resulted from the original symposium. The stories collected, in just one year, wallpapered an entire wall 6ft high by 20ft long. A truly impressive testament not only to the Appreciative Inquiry process, but also to the action, championship, buy-in and ownership across the organization to produce and sustain the positive changes.
Innovation includes improvisation and appreciative learning cultures. Jazz is an apt comparison to use for improvisation: it allows players to have some understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities, but provides space for individuals to seize opportunities when they arise, thus allowing a whole other set of opportunities to arise.
With Pierre Rochon’s work with DND, there are still Appreciative Inquiry models in use, several years later. Just last year, a new network of managers was created, and they used an Appreciative Inquiry approach to help the network define what it wants to be. However nowhere are improvisation and appreciation more valued than in Pierre Rochon’s volunteer work as a marriage preparation counsellor with his church.
With so many couples living together before marriage, the traditional marriage preparation courses, where engaged couples discuss topics like finance and sexuality, were no longer relevant. So Pierre Rochon designed a marriage preparation course around the principles of Appreciative Inquiry, and, along with his wife, guided couples through the design and creation of the marriage they wish to live.
The response has been extremely positive and favourable, with couples noticing not only a difference in how they interact with each other, but also how they behave and live with their children and friends. Appreciative Inquiry has allowed these couples to appreciatively learn from each other and their experiences, and to seize new opportunities on the fly as they arise.
These couples also illustrate collaboration, which is integral to the success of the destiny phase. Since very little is accomplished in organizations — or in marriages and families — in a vacuum, whole systems perspectives are encouraged that involve all stakeholders. So the question arises: How will organization members collectively and in partnership actualize and sustain their dreams?
With newly-married couples, they have likely committed to reviewing their dream future state for their successful marriage on a regular basis. One of the favourable comments coming out of the redesigned marriage preparation course is that couples don’t focus enough on what is working—indeed, couples tend to talk about everything else! But, through supportive collaboration and a continued focus on what is working, these families will grow in the direction of their positive aspirations.
The final key to realizing the destiny/delivery stage is commitment. This is the fuel that keeps the growth ongoing. Commitment is nurtured by two building blocks: consistent inquiry and dialogue. As Stephen Covey emphasized in Habit 7 of his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you must sharpen the saw through a continual cycle of “learn, commit, do — and then learn, commit and do again.”
Pierre Rochon recalls one evening when his youngest daughter brought a friend over for dinner. He overheard his daughter speaking to her friend before dinner, saying “Look, my dad will ask you something at dinner and it may seem a bit weird, but just go along with it and see what comes of it.” Through his own commitment to crafting and maintaining a new family discussion norm, Pierre had also engendered commitment in his daughter to the appreciative process, and she supported the family’s growth in that positive direction by bringing her friend into the appreciative discussion as well.
The story does not end here. It does not have to be just the story of one person, one organization, or one family. Throughout this Appreciative Inquiry series, stories of many people across different organizations have been shared. Response to this series has been positive, and many readers have paused for considerable reflection on this Appreciative Inquiry approach, and what it could mean to them. It may seem overwhelming and complex, but really, it can all begin so simply. Remember: change begins with the first question, and we grow in the direction of our questions and dreams. So, what was the best moment of your day today?