How Enterprise Social enables Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry seeks to unlock innovation and bring creativity to the forefront - focusing on strengths to transform organisations to a high-engagement high-commitment workforce. Our guest blogger Jeremy Scrivens describes this in detail in his recent posts. Jeremy suggests a new focus whereby managers develop an eye that can appreciate and surface the good and the possible in order to bring about the elevation and combination of strengths to the customer and the world. So how can enterprise social networks play an enabling role in helping achieve the transformation goals of Appreciative Inquiry?

Clearly this transformation requires a lot of effective communication and collaboration. Enterprise Social Networks enable that communication and collaboration - although we hasten to add that ESN is a not "about" communication and collaboration rather it is "about" business outcomes.

Appreciative Inquiry is grounded in the real task of management

Let's stop and reflect on the basics, just in case Appreciative Inquiry sounds a little cultish or removed from the hard cut and thrust of business.

Peter Drucker said that the essence of good management is invariant - in a nutshell he said that the task of leadership is to align strengths in ways that make a system's weaknesses irrelevant. In order to build out an execution plan against that principle we have to focus on the positive; focus on stopping demotivating people and on starting to motivate them. There is no point in focusing on the weaknesses, and if you do the strengths will never become aligned.  In this sense Appreciative Inquiry is perfectly aligned with Peter Drucker's most basic commandment to management.

Plant Discussion ToyotaAnother example is lean manufacturing or the Deming / Toyota continuous improvement model. What is often missed in the Western execution is the fundamental focus on people which the Japanese model embraces as an essential pillar of transformation (see Karen Martin).

The Japanese model has embedded within it respect for people, people development, collaborative strategy development and it provides all employees the real opportunity to make improvements. It also respects and encourages a view of the person as a "whole employee" not just a cog in a continuous improvement wheel. So this process, which has guided the might of Japanese manufacturing, is strongly aligned with the principles Appreciative Inquiry.

How do Enterprise Social Networks help Appreciative Inquiry?

Given the reality that Appreciative Inquiry does offer a practical process to pursue growth, how does an Enterprise Social network help?

Here are some ideas, focused on the roles of individuals, managers and executives.

Individuals, Appreciative Inquiry, and internal social networks

For individuals, what drives engagement includes ownership, clarity and action. Individuals need to know what they want, and what the organisation needs, and then take action to achieve both. An Enterprise Social Network can play a particular role here - at the broadest level - in delivering clarity. That is because an ESN helps break down silos and hierarchies and provides transparency in decision-making and open communication between individuals and their managers and executives. Of course this requires the managers and executives are willing to be transparent and participating and engaged in the Enterprise Social Network.

Managers use Enterprise Social Networks to facilitate Appreciative Inquiry

For managers an ESN supports their need to coach, build relationships and engage in dialogue with their team. An ESN can help a manager's understanding of each individual’s talents, interests and needs and then match those with the organization’s objectives while at the same time creating personal, trusting relationships. Furthermore, they need to discuss engagement often as during this time of cultural change repetition is needed. A properly designed and implemented ESN can readily support these managerial needs for developing better engagement.

Executives build openness with internal social networks

Executives need to build trust, openness and an "appreciative" culture. An ESN helps executives walk the talk to demonstrate consistency in words and actions, to communicate a lot (and with a lot of depth), and to align all business practices and behaviours throughout the organisation. An ESN helps executives not only find and focus on the strengths, but to be seen to be doing so. It helps them align the strengths, and it helps them demonstrate respect for their people as "real" whole people - not just "human resources". Partly, it does this by showing the employees that the executives are themselves whole people and not just automatons serving Wall Street.

Coming the full circle back to employees, when it comes to drivers of engagement, clarity on the organisation's priorities, getting feedback, having opportunities to use skills, and career development remain at the top of the list for a majority. An ESN can play an important enabling role in all of these drivers.

Of course we are not saying that an ESN is necessary and sufficient.  There are many interlocking parts and an ESN without alignment with other initiatives will not make much difference. What drives an employee in practice can be deeply personal and this requires person to person discussion and empathy to understand it and integrate it into the program. In this it's true to say that the ESN plays only a minor supporting role.

ESN plays an important enabling role

Overall a properly designed and implemented Enterprise Social Network, used to focus on transformational initiatives, is an important enabler of the objectives sought by Appreciative Inquiry.

Hear Jeremy speak on this topic at our Business Leaders Luncheon February 27th, in Melbourne. Free, by invitation only.

Walter Adamson 

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