Appreciative inquiry is a powerful tool for motivating and engaging employees. Instead of asking why something is not working or being critical of an employee’s work, think about taking a different approach. Ask the employee to think about a similar situation where he was successful. Then ask what enabled the success and how he and his manager knew that success was achieved. Then ask the employee to consider what might be the path to success in a present challenge. If you do not get a quick response, let the quiet sit for up to 30 seconds, even if it feels like an eternity. The odds are overwhelming that the employee will surface key insights leading to a successful outcome.
He may actually articulate the path forward, in which case you can just say “great, let’s proceed that way,” or something like that. Or, he may let you know that you previously gave him some important assistance or advice and that it would be very helpful if you did so again in the present challenge. Or, he may ask questions the answers to which give him the help he needs. Either way, you will get a positive reaction, a motivated employee and a path to success. What’s interesting is how easy this can be and how little you have to do to make this happen. It also takes all tension out of the conversation from both sides making it much easier to talk.
Successful executive coaches are experts at using appreciative inquiry to “un-stick” their clients from damaging mind frames. We’ve long been advocates for developing a coaching mindset in leaders and managers. Our leadership coaching mindset workshops focus particularly on appreciative inquiry, teaching and reinforcing this ability through a multi-step process where leaders:
- Become acquainted with appreciative inquiry through pre-reading
- Learn the details of appreciative inquiry in a brief presentation
- Get to see it in action through facilitator demonstrations
- Practice it extensively in small, facilitated breakout sessions
- Make specific measurable commitments for using the technique in future situations
- Are supported by targeted, post-workshop coaching to ensure that they properly master appreciative inquiry
When we hold these programs, I just love the ah-hahs in the practice sessions as leader after leader sees a much easier and more effective way to manage. It’s true transformative learning about how to drive employee engagement.