The Power of Yes: Leveraging What’s Good to Change What Isn’t

Appreciative Inquiry is a process of organizational development that essentially asks: What’s working around here? Appreciative Inquiry has no interest whatsoever in ‘What could you be doing better?’ or ‘What needs fixing?’ Those are just cleverly engineered ways of saying no.

Rather, we want to know what inspires our clients to say Yes. That is, the myriad of things – people, practices, products, events, ideas – that give them the energy to move forward. No is an energy sapper. Yes is an energy mover.

It’s a simple enough thing to do. Often it just requires a subtle shift in approach. For instance, instead of asking a co-worker, “What’s the holdup in getting that report out?” you might say “How can we help each other get that report out?” Instead of complaining about a system or process that isn’t working for you or anyone else on your team, think back to when the team was at its best and the work was humming along. Share the memory of that experience and ask team members for help in applying it to the current situation. In other words, lead from a place of shared strength, not from a place of dwindling reserves.

Appreciative Inquiry is an asset-based strategy. It starts with Yes not because it’s easier to start there (often it’s harder) but because we need to leverage what’s good before we can change what isn’t.

Anyone can practice Appreciative Inquiry. Anyone. Even the glass-is-half-empty people. Especially them, come to think of it.

An Appreciative Marketing Audit

The idea of Yes really resonates with people. It’s authentic and different and somehow provocative. In my past life, I facilitated five, 10 and 15-year strategic planning processes for nonprofit, mission-based organizations. The process started with a marketing audit, which was a day-long meeting with the management team aimed at building cohesiveness, harnessing the energy necessary for change, and leveraging the power of what they are already doing well.

The first step in the marketing audit was to collect stories from each person on the team, and from the group as a whole. Story is a powerful tool in this journey. Story is going to help you articulate your passion and energy, and story will reveal how negative thoughts can often sabotage personal and professional growth.

Try this exercise: Recount a moment or event – whether recent or in the past – when you or your team felt energized, confident or successful. The success doesn’t have to be big, and the confidence doesn’t have to be bold, but the energy should be palpable – strong enough that it moved something forward.

Now, unpack the experience behind the story. What was significant about that particular event? What was new or different in that moment that gave your team energy or increased your confidence? What practice, system or process enabled that moment to happen in the first place, or made it happen in a better way than ever before? Take note of your answers, for they are key to having more of those moments.

Step two in the marketing audit is to document provocative propositions. Say what? Yes, I literally mean propositions that are a bit provocative. Imagine what it would look like, sound like, feel like if you could sustain those moments long-term. Imagine using that thing that was working – the thing that brought you energy and confidence – as a tool. Rather than focus on the times when that thing wasn’t there, and having to muster the effort to go in search of it, just focus on the moment you had it in hand.

Propose to yourself a new reality, one based on what the tool is going to do for you, your team, or your business. Don’t play it safe. Be provocative. Make your provocative proposition to yourself first, and say it out loud. If it’s truly provocative, it’s liable to make you a little uncomfortable. That’s OK. But it should be doable, too. The appreciative process is about movement, after all, and forward is where we are headed.

A Change is Coming

Even if your organization has completed a five, 10 and 15-year strategic planning process, a marketing audit can still be a transformative and worthwhile thing to do. Especially if your organization is experiencing a problem with morale. And particularly if your organization’s culture could use a little fine-tuning.

A few key things come from the process of doing a marketing audit. First, organization managers and directors become more intentional in their language. The Yes! statements roll a little easier off the tongue. This translates to employees at all levels of the company. When a co-worker shares a problem they are having, their team members will be less likely to commisserate and more likely to offer suggestions and helpful input. That alone is a powerful shift in the organizational dynamic.

And the good news is—you don’t need to pay an organizational development professional to lead you through a marketing audit. Appoint the most positive, forward thinking, good communicator on your team to do it. Let them prompt the team in sharing stories, and documenting provocative propositions.

And if your organization doesn’t have the time or inclination to do this work, you can conduct your own marketing audit for yourself. Ask yourself: (1) what empowers me? (2) consider how this passion inspires your unique style and personality; (3) position yourself to lead from this place of energy and strength; and (4) make the first step forward, and every step thereafter, a straight line drawn from the source of this newfound identity.

And that brings us to identity. The four P’s of corporate identity or brand: passion, personality, position, promise. Passion is the joy that drives the enterprise. Personality is the organization’s style, its approach to the work. Position is the unique place the organization occupies in the marketplace. And promise is two things: the organization’s commitments and its potential. Together, these four P’s constitute an organization’s identity.

Let’s be clear. This part of the work is not about creating an identity for your company. It’s about articulating it and staying true to it. Using what you’ve got going for your company to — well, get going.

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