Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Positive image, positive action, positive result

The Affirmative Basis of Organizing
Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life

Traveling back from Adelaide, my wife read a paragraph and then we had a chat about it. The nearly five hour trip passed quickly, for a change, as we digested these two chapters.

Basically the messages are that
  1. if you have a positive picture for the future this will lead to positive action by yourself and others and the results will be good. The good thing about this article is that it points to research that supports this idea.
  2. the picture that others have of/for you will influence the outcomes and visa versa. People will tend to rise to meet the expectations implied in the picture you have of them.
  3. look for the good in all situations and people and focus on these
  4. it pays to be optimistic
  5. the problem solving approach to organisational improvement sends out negative deficit images that might be better directed to appreciative inquiry
Appreciative inquiry
The basic idea is to build organizations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't. The approach acknowledges the contribution of individuals, in order to increase trust and organizational alignment.(source: Wikipedia)
ie. appreciative is focussed on what works, problem solving is fixing stuff.

So much of these papers resonated for me, despite their difficult academic language mumbo jumbo style. I did however especially connect with the following

the simple logic underlying almost every formal performance-appraisal system. Stripped to essentials, the theoretical underpinnings run something like this: "If you want to evaluate performance (P), then you must evaluate the individual employee (E); in other words, 'P = E'." Armed with this theory, many managers have entered the performance-appraisal meeting shaking with the thought of having to pass godlike judgment on some employee. Similarly, the employee arrives at the meeting with an arsenal of defenses, designed to protect his or her hard-won self-esteem. Little genuine communication occurs during the meeting and virtually no problem-solving takes place. The paperwork is mechanically completed, then filed away in the personnel office until the next year. So powerful is this subtle P = E equation that any alternative goes virtually unnoticed, for example the Lewinian theory that behavior (performance) is a function of the person and the environment (in this case the organizational situation, the "OS" in which the employee works). Following this Lewinian line, the theory underlying performance appraisal would now have to be expanded to read P = E ´ OS. That is, P ¹ E. To adequately assess performance there must be an assessment of the individual in relation to the organizational setting in which he or she works and vice-versa. What would happen to the performance-appraisal process if this more complete theory were used as a basis for re-designing appraisal systems in organizations throughout the corporate world? Isn't it possible that such a theory could help shift the attribution process away from the person-blame to systems analysis?
This reminded me of the my earlier post that referenced the idea that the way that we attribute success or failure impacts on our ability to do well. In that post it stressed the importance of attributing causes to things that we have some control over. In the P=E formula above, the employee and the supervisor are perhaps thinking that they do not have control over the environment. Their images do not include this and so they are unable to influence it.

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  • At 11:12 am, Blogger Bill Kerr said…

    hi wara,

    Just a quick response (I haven't read the link, in a hurry this morning)

    Some change is harder to achieve and requires disruption of some sort. eg. some technologies and some ideas are disruptive to existing ways of doing things. That is clear from a historical perspective - the printing press, sun-centered solar system, Darwinian evolution. In these cases (and many others) those in control resist change. Appreciate inquiry did not impress the Church authorities who showed Galileo the instruments of torture, etc.

    I don't think our current period is basically different. But there has been an ongoing evolution in management techniques to try to keep systems relatively stable even though some of these systems seem to me to be pretty much irrational. The model of taking the system into account (not just the individuals) is an advance but I don't see how it follows that substantial systemic change will not involve some individuals being hurt at some stage. My guess is that its possible to make some incremental positive changes through an affirmative / appreciative approach but that mega-change requires both disruption and appreciation.

    I'd be interested in talking about this more - it's a big topic :-)


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