Principles of Appreciative Organizing
Whitney (2007a) notes that if “there is recognizable life in all things, a series of questions then arises. What is it that gives life to human organizing? What makes one organization more life affirming and sustaining than another? What gives vitality to social collectivities?”
Whitney (2007a) further says that the nine principles of appreciative organizing provide a preliminary answer to these questions. These principles are thoughts about what gives life to human organizations and communities. And indirectly, they offer ideas for designing life affirming, appreciative organizations.
1. Evolutionary purpose. “Purpose has long been recognized as a central organizing element for communities and organizations. A clear and compelling purpose awakens the heart and mind of people and serves as a collaborative call to action. It is the strength of purpose as an organizing element that raises the question: What is the nature of purpose that gives life to human organizing?”
“Appreciative organizing calls for the purpose of business to be socially uplifting --- emotionally and tangibly. An evolutionary purpose is inspiring to those who work for and with the organization, beneficial to those who use its products and services, and leaves a small footprint or even strengthens the environment. An evolutionary purpose requires a kind of organizational ahisma, a sense of doing no harm. This in turn requires a strategic sensibility to the long term implications of business decisions, directions, and strategies.”
Evolutionary purpose involves a transformation from short-term gain to focus on the ideal future. This means that “an evolutionary purpose ensures that life will continue and thrive – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually into the future. Life affirming organizations accept accountability for environmental sustainability and social profitability as well as fiscal responsibility. This requires that hard choices be made to ensure that business strategies are financially rewarding and long term socially rewarding.”
“Appreciative organizing values the institution of business and its significance in society. It asks simply that the leaders of business, like the leaders of this health care company, use their power and influence mindfully to ensure that today’s business decisions are good for society’s future.”
Evolutionary purpose also involves a transformation from sustainable sales to selling sustainability. “Appreciative organizing recognizes the power of business and poses the question: How can business use its significant influence toward sustainability? Life affirming organizations address this question in the design of their products and services, in their relationship with the environment and in their marketing and sales strategies. The more the purpose of a business focuses on sustainability, the greater its life affirming impact.”
Evolutionary purpose also involves a transformation from the use of human resources to elevation of human potential. “Appreciative organizing is an invitation to organize for the purpose of elevating human potential, personally and collectively. This requires the recognition of work as a noble endeavor, a way of learning and growing, and a way of serving the good of the whole. Appreciative organizations find ways to use the work of the business – whether it is roasting and selling coffee, manufacturing automobiles or building homes – as a learning ground for the development of all stakeholders…A commitment to elevating human potential is an evolutionary purpose that leads to both engaged employees and a sustainable world.”
2. Harmonious wholeness. “The world is now recognized and experienced as one global whole…we are daily reminded that life on earth is one life. This realization presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for the design of organizations and communities. Any organization, no matter how local, must now consider and account for its place in the whole.”
“Appreciative organizations shift from practices and structures that separate people and break things apart to practices of wholeness…Wholeness brings out the best of people. By drawing on diverse ideas and aligning strengths, it creates one harmonious direction forward.”
“When the whole of an organization or community experiences harmony remarkable results occur. Harmony allows for diversity. Indeed, it depends on diversity. Organizing through harmony is a way of both honoring differences and creating a committed path forward. As harmony, or resonance among differences, increases in organizations and communities so too does the degree of life.”
Harmonious wholeness involves a transformation from logos to holos. “Logics separate parts to make them manageable. Wholes deepen relatedness to bring them into harmony. Logics explain the past, offer reasons to act and consequences for not acting. Stories and experiences of the whole give meaning, heal and inspire new possibilities for action.”
“Holos recognizes that at any given time, in any given situation there are many diverse perspectives in relation to one other. Curiosity about multiple stories and explanations leads to a generative sense of wholeness, a harmony among differences affording identity and meaningfulness for all involved. Appreciative organizations…are enlivened by questions of how to be wholly inclusive, how to engage the whole in deliberations and decisions, and how to shift from logos to holos as the basis for engagement, decisions and actions.”
Harmonious wholeness also involves a transformation from separateness to not separateness. “Philosophers and physicists, biologists and shamans all testify to the essential interrelatedness of all life. We breath the same air, we live in the same global flow of being, we are of the same essence be it biological or spiritual. Organizations designed from a knowing of non separateness attend to the chain of life from beginning to end, from input to output.“
Harmonious wholeness also involves a transformation from chaos to harmony. “Diversity can no longer be reduced to ease the burden of managers or aid efficiency. That is a trade off that is not life giving. The vitality of an organization or community expands when diverse ideas, practices and cultures are harmonized into one meaningful whole. Appreciative organizing depends on processes for harmonizing the diverse interests, abilities, and dreams of people.”
“Visions point the way; harmony weaves people together and unites diverse interests into aligned action.”
3. Appreciative leadership. “Each era ushers in a new form of leadership appropriate to the time and situation at hand. The industrial age brought hierarchies and bureaucracies. The information age sports networks and distributed systems. The most defining challenge of our time is the diverse reach of globalization. The reinvention of civil society, organizations and communities in the global age requires a “contactful” form of leadership. The global age, defined by an awareness of interdependence and extreme diversity, calls for a relationally grounded, dialogically expressed form of leadership. Appreciative Leadership that focuses on bringing out the best of people, organizations and communities, through conscious acts of discovery, dream and design, is an answer to that call.”
Appreciative leadership involves a transformation from talking heads to conversations that matter. “Life giving organizations value communication as a relational act, not merely a transfer of information. Recognizing that meaning is made in conversations Appreciative Leaders create opportunities for people of all functions and levels to come together for inquiry and dialogue. Commitment, energy, and vitality rise with curiosity and open conversation.”
“Appreciative leaders foster conversations that matter.”
Appreciative leadership involves a transformation from dominance to partnership. “Appreciative leadership is a shift from me to we, from telling to asking, from power over to power with.. It is through ‘withness’ that meaning is made and life is constructed.”
“Appreciative leadership encourages people at all levels and in all functions of an organization to enter into dialogue with their stakeholders, to trust collaborative processes as a way of moving forward to optimal results. People commit to what they help create. The move away from dominance toward partnership is a move toward workplace democracy. It requires that some people find the courage to speak up while others find the confidence to listen up. Partnership practices include engaging with others in all levels of planning and decision making: from product design to strategic planning; from peer hiring to salary administration. Most significantly, life giving organizations engage all the people whose future it is in dialogue, decision making and design of the future. Processes like Appreciative Inquiry become a daily practice for inclusion and open dialogue.”
Appreciative leadership involves a transformation from sole (the buck stops here) to soul (answering the call). “The top down leadership style of all too many large corporate hierarchies reward executives as if they are the only ones making anything happen. Appreciative leadership in contrast, focuses on bringing out the best of people and teams, aligning strengths to create success, and appreciating everyone’s unique and value added contribution. The more this is both an emotional and financial practice, the greater the life affirming quality of the organization.”
4. Positive emotional climate. The value of a positive emotional climate cannot be overemphasized. Goleman (1995) clearly affirms the need for managers to demonstrate sensitivities to the feelings of team members and colleagues, as well as their own. Fredrickson (2003) makes the business case for good feelings at work. Her research shows a direct empirical correlation between the presence and experience of positive emotions such as joy, optimism, and curiosity and high impact business goals such as innovation, achievement, and cooperation. Cameron, Dutton, and Quinn (2003) also indicate that not only does a positive emotional climate feel good, it is good business. This research and writing on positive emotions and organizational scholarship suggests that the more positive the emotional climate, the more life affirming and viable the business. Three shifts are called for to move today’s organizations up the scale toward more life affirming forms of interaction.
Positive emotional climate involves a shift from criticism to appreciation. The dominant pattern of interaction and relatedness in most organizations today is defined by criticism. People who speak out do so at the risk of prompting others, superiors and peers alike, to respond with critical and often personally demeaning comments. The result can be devastating – to the confidence of employees and their willingness to take the risks needed for innovation and integrity within the organization.
“Appreciation --- valuing of ideas, skills and aspirations can have just the opposite effect.”
Positive emotional climate also involves a shift from feqr to safety. “The greatest shift that must occur to bring people and organizations to life is the shift from a climate of fear to a climate of safety. When people are afraid to speak up, to express their ideas and feelings, and to be their authentic selves it is very hard, some would say even impossible, for them to trust others in order to collaborate or be creative.”
“When an organization sets life as a priority it continuously seeks ways to create a sense of safety and add value to the life of people within and external to the organization. This means that life-affirming organizations are both adapting to the changes around them and serving as advocates for a better world. They hold up the right of all people to a healthy and happy life – to a world that works for all.”
Positive emotional climate also involves a shift from rational to natural and indigenous ways of knowing and expression. The “key to a positive emotional climate is appreciation for the many ways people know what they know and express what they know…To enhance the life-affirming nature of organizations, it must be balanced with an understanding of “life as a natural organic process.” Ways of being and knowing that are natural to indigenous, tribal people, farmers, fisher people and others who live close to nature are not a lesser way of knowing or being. They are simply different and once recognized, appreciated and integrated into organizational life can actually lead to a much healthier and happier quality of life for us all.”
“Relational, communal ways of being often place more of a premium on the celebration of life than on work then do rational and linear ways of knowing.” I
…”In the design of global organizations, it cannot be an either or. We must learn from one another and be willing to join in and participate in ways of being that integrates and balances rational and relational, individual and communal, modern and mystical.”
5. Strong centers of meaning. “Vitality in organizations increases with meaningfulness. And meaningfulness varies from social group to social group, from generation to generation and from person to person. The nature of meaningful work and organizing shifts as each new generation enters the workforce…The organization design question is then, ‘how do we design organizations that allows for differing groups of people to experience meaning harmoniously in relation to one another?’”
“Strong centers of meaning are more often socially negotiated and determined than assigned. When people are given choices about how they can participate and have opportunities for expression strong centers of meaning emerge. Freedom of choice about participation and expression enables people with differing skills, abilities, and learning styles, etc. to find meaning in relation to one another, and to make a vital contribution to the whole organization.”
Whitney and Trosten-Bloom (2003) found that ‘freedom to choose their form of participation” at work is one of six freedoms valued by employees. They correlate the six freedoms with the liberation of power, or potential, at work.
Strong centers of meaning require a shift from control to choice. “Along with generational differences, there are cultural, ethnic, and religious differences requiring greater degrees of freedom in the workplace. Creating opportunities for greater choice, in areas of significance to employees of varying generations, as well as cultures and ethnicities, gives life to organizing and enhances loyalty, retention and commitment. As diversity increased in an organization or community, so does the need for freedom of choice. By offering possibilities and encouraging volition appreciative organizing enlivens people personally and collectively.”
Strong centers of meaning also require a shift from authority to collaborative authoring. Friedman (2005) points out that collaboration is key to success in the twenty-first century. He states that “The best companies are the best collaborators. In the flat world, more and more businesses will be done through collaboration within and between companies, for a very simple reason: The next layers of value creation – whether in technology, marketing, biomedicine, or manufacturing – are becoming so complex that no single firm or department is going to be able to master them alone.”
“Along with this unquestionable call for collaboration comes a dramatic shift in the meaning of authority. Organizations that are collaboratively capable move beyond the notion that people possess authority ‘over’ resources, responsibilities and other people to a notion of people co-authoring the future. Everything from products, services, processes and budgets become horizontally organized and co-authored by people whose skills are equally valued and needed in order to achieve their collective goals.”
“Co-authoring and sharing power recognizes the power, or potential, that stems from relatedness rather than power over or against. It requires both the knowledge of one’s own strengths and capabilities and a willingness to inquire into and learn about others.’” McNamee and Gergen (1999) suggest that shared responsibility goes hand in hand with the co-creation of shared meaning and results.
Strong centers of meaning also require a shift from seeking ‘right’ to liberating voice. “In a global environment ‘seeking to be right’ more often than not results in conflict, people feeling disrespected, and the disintegration of relationships. The artistry of creating harmony among differences depends on accepting and liberating multiple forms of expression as a rich palette of possibilities. As Whitney and Trosten-Bloom (2003)discovered that when people feel heard, they feel safe to give their best. Opportunities to share information, ideas, and stories of success liberate voice, afford the experience of being heard and lead to innovative co-authoring of the future.
6. Just in time structures. “Design requirements change over time and situation. Designs and styles of clothing vary based upon the values of society, generational preferences and materials at hand. So too do the designs of organizations and communities vary. As each new technology is introduced it creates both an imperative and blue print for the redesign of other structures of organizing.”
Just in time structures are flexible and established for a period of time and are not expected to last indefinitely.
Just in time structures require a transformation from hierarchical to distributed. “The move toward distributed structures is underway. Aided by the internet more and more organizations are shifting power from the center to the periphery. Distributed centers of excellence defined by practice areas, product and service niches, interest areas or local geographies enable global organizations to be viable and relevant as they reach around the world.”
“Hierarchies are no longer the most effective way to make things happen; and they are certainly not the most life giving. Hierarchically driven, top down ideas, products, and services meet with resistance the moment they are rolled out, not necessarily because they are bad ideas but because end users, customers, and others along the value chain were not involved in the process. Distributed structures engage stakeholders --- the entire value chain - on a regular basis. They are ways of organizing to do business that are of enlivening the whole.”
Just in time structures require a transformation from assigned role to the continuous alignment of strengths. “Appreciative organizing invites a shift from assigned roles to the continuous alignment of strengths. In this way work is most efficiently done by people who have the skills and abilities to do it, and who enjoy doing it. Delegation of work to people in roles, rather than to people with interest and capacity, contributes to low performance and lack of follow through. People are energized by work that is designed to use the full range of their unique talents and skills. People are enlivened by work that they find interesting and fun.” Yerkes (2001) writes about this as the fun/work fusion.
“Moving from role-based work to strengths-based work requires a shift of assumptions about people and growth.” In order to select, train, and develop people, Buckingham and Clifton (2001) recommend managers to begin with the following two assumptions (p.8): a) Each person’s talents are enduring and unique. b) Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strengths.
“Managers and supervisors who take this counsel change the way they do their jobs. They shift from assigning roles and delegating work to aligning strengths and ensuring the success of people and teams. The result is that the live-giving quotient of their organization and its members soars.”
Just in time structures require a transformation from clock time to relational time. “Life-centered organizations find ways to let loose of clock time and instill practices in support of relational time. Processes such as job sharing, flexible time, flexible benefits, home offices, virtual teams, day care and elder care centers at work, meditation rooms and sabbaticals enable people to live more freely on relational time. Organizations designed to ebb and flow with developmental rhythms of life, are able to support members as they move through natural life transitions and benefit from a fully engaged workforce.”
7. Liberation economics. “The conscious design of currencies, reward systems, economic policies and practices within organizations, communities and globally holds great promise for transformation. The redesign of financial systems is most often considered as a way to ‘better motivate’ and ‘get more out of our people.’ Seldom does an organization or community consider the redesign of its financial systems as having the evolutionary potential that it has.
Liberation economics involves the designing of economic policies and practices that enable access to education and healthcare for all and designing of an economic system that creates a balance of autonomy and collective social justice across the globe. The economic process fosters collaboration among people who themselves feel cared for and confident to contribute to the good of the whole. It is not only possible, it is essential to design economic systems through a positive, life-giving lens.
Liberation economics also requires a shift from secrecy to transparency. “It is impossible for people to participate fully and to contribute their best without access to information about costs, salaries, revenues, profits, etc…Secrecy about finances renders stakeholders unable to act and creates systemic distrust. Transparency about finances, open access to budgets, costs, and even salaries, creates more life-giving and liberating organizations. The design of fully transparent economic and financial systems creates the conditions for both trust and the need for education.”
Liberation economics also needs a shift from mystification to education. “To add life to economic systems we must approach them with an eye to education…Simplification, demystification, and economic education raise the degree of life in an organization or community by giving people information, skills and access to vital resources needed to care for themselves, their families, and their extended communities.”
Liberation economics also demands a change from singular to complimentary currencies. “Currencies serve organizations and communities in a wide variety of ways. They allow for connection and exchange among people. They facilitate the movement of goods and services. And they define value. In most cases, currencies are designed to achieve business aims. Pricing strategies, for example, vary from wholesale to retail, from department store to discount store. Pricing can depend on the quantity purchased or with airline tickets varies according to time of purchase. In each case a pricing strategy has been designed – to increase sales, to render competition too expensive, or to entice first time customers.”
“Businesses have even designed new currencies to stimulate sales and to create customer loyalty. Consider airline frequent flyer points which have grown to include hotels, rental cars, movie theatres and for some people, every purchase they make with a credit card. Frequent user points have established value and are exchangeable for tangible goods and services.”
“Recognizing the flexibility we have to design currencies for specific purposes, appreciative organizing challenges us to design currencies aimed directly at human well-being. A crucial set of questions then emerges: how might currencies be designed to support social justice and reduce the expanding gap between rich and poor? How might currencies serve as a pathway out of poverty for those so willing? How might currencies be designed to elevate human dignity and respect for self and others?”
“Appreciative organizing is a shift from using currencies to define privilege to creating complimentary currencies that give life to multiple kinds of wealth.” Lietarer (2001) tells a story after story of the development and application of complimentary currencies. He describes how they enable a broader base of people within a community to provide services and be paid in a meaningful way. Time dollars (p. 189 – 192), for example, allow members of a community to offer services ranging from rides to the doctor’s office, dog walking, repairing plumbing and baking cookies for a meeting to be valued and paid for by other members in the time dollars network. Time dollars not only provide a way for people to give and receive needed and highly valuable services. They create opportunities for people to feel valuable and appreciated for their contributions. In many organizations this plays out as flexible benefits and recognition packages. On a larger scale, complimentary currencies hold great potential as a pathway out of poverty and as a vehicle to liberate creativity, confidence and caring.
8. Engaged participation. “Appreciative organizing takes the shift toward engaged participation one step further. Based on the assumption that the people whose future it is must be in the process of creating the future appreciative organizing is a full voice, inclusive process. This creates an essential requirement for engaged participation at all levels, functions and activities.”
Engaged participation requires a shift from employment to self- organizing membership. “Global, information based organizing calls for a shift from employees who are hired by a centralized organization to processes for stimulating, accepting and integrating self organizing membership. This shift requires clear ‘boundaries of belonging:’ what is required to become a member and what is expected of members once accepted.”
Engaged participation also requires a shift from span of control to circles of resonance. In bureaucratic organizations, a manager delegate his or her objectives to those within his or her span of control. Tasks and activities are assigned down the chain of command and distributed across the span of control. At best, people receiving assignments have a say in what they are assigned. Generally, they do not have a voice in setting the vision, defining the strategy or determining priorities they are expected to fullfill.
“In life-affirming organizations people can choose to self organize in order to address locally relevant issues. They have the freedom and are supported in forming circles, or local hubs, based on shared resonance, affinity and interest. The design of circles of resonance enables people to take initiative to collaborate. It provides a way for people to gather with others of their choice, to set their own goals and plan for action all the while being part of the whole. Volition creates momentum for accountability, cooperation and service to the whole. People who are able to choose to work from their strengths, for causes that matter to them, tend to bring more enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to what they do. This shift from span of control to circles of resonance creates energy and commitment to results.”
Engaged participation also requires a shift from top down to cohering center. “The need to link, connect, coordinate or integrate the activities of local circles creates a need for a central cohering body of people and processes. Along with a compelling purpose and set of principles, the cohering center serves to unite, but not make common, the differing and unique local circles.”
“Rather than a top down executive body which initiates strategies and activities, the cohering center creates coordinating processes to support the initiative and work of the local circles of resonance. The locus of authority shifts away from: the few at the top directing the many who do the work. It shifts toward: the many doing the work calling forth the need for central support and authority. A strong cohering center supports circles of local resonance in authoring their own future while being aware of, sensitive to and integrated with the needs of the whole. Its over-arching function is to create harmony among the unique and essential parts of the whole.”
9. Caring culture. “Implicit in life-affirming organizing is a deep and abiding sense of care which shows itself in a myriad of ways – care for people, care for relationships, care for self, care for commitments made, care for the quality of work, care for results, care for the way things are done, care for words used in an advertising campaign, care for the life experience, care for nature, care for the sacred, care for our relationship with the divine.”
“The word care resonates deeply among people. It creates safety, builds trust and contributes to the creation of a harmonious work environment. Offers of care open hearts and minds. They unleash energy for cooperation and productivity. Acts of care give life and are positively contagious. Appreciative organizing brings caring to life in all arenas an organization or community.”
“Cultures of caring embody three dimensions of caring: one, taking care of, as in “we care for our customers;” two, being mindful of, as in “we care about the impact we have on the environment;” and three, having significance, as in “we care about integrity.” Caring practices also fall into these three dimensions: taking care of; mindfulness and significance.”
“When people are cared for they have energy and effort to care for others. When leaders, managers and supervisors care for people those people learn to care for others. Research into customer service has long suggested that the way employees are treated is directly correlated to how they treat customers…Happy people provide happy service.”
“In addition to having energy to care for others, people who work in caring environments learn how to nurture and care for others. They develop a mindfulness of caring, as well as life giving attitudes and skills. Caring for people should be included in business 101, along with caring for markets, finances and strategies as it has a direct effect on business success, profits and the life giving quality or the organization.”
Caring for people involves as shift from supervision to support for success. “A culture of caring relationships move from supervision to support for success. The purpose of supervisors, or more likely mentors, is to support success. It is not to oversee, inspect or ensure that things are done the right way. It is to appreciatively coach, guide, and mentor for success.” Indeed, supporting success is a good business.
Caring for people also involves as shift from dual personalities to whole person. “Life-affirming organizations recognize people as whole and integral. They make the shift from treating people as two personalities - the person at work and the person at home – to recognizing the whole person at work. This includes attending to mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well being.”
“The International Center for Spirit at Work, founded by Judi Neal, each year recognizes companies around the world that have experienced success by incorporating whole person, spiritually enlivening practices into the workplace. During a recent conversation, ICSW board member and international consultant, Sabine Bredemeyer commented on the many benefits of caring for the whole person at work, ‘When a person’s mental, physical and spiritual needs are nourished and appreciated at work their genius potential can fully unfold. The synergy of different potentials and individual talents then creates a unique creativity and productivity that does not have to fear competition. The concentrated power of people who fully live out their potential creates organizations that are safe and sustainable in our world of globalization.’”
Caring for people also involves as shift from ready, fire, aim to mindfulness. “…When caring becomes the norm, nothing changes and everything changes. People are still working, with one another, to achieve mutually accepted goals and objectives. What is different is the consciousness with which they work. In a caring culture, work is the practice field for spiritual cultivation. It is the means for learning, growing and fulfilling one’s spiritual potential. It is the means for enhancing the collective consciousness of society. It is the means of evolution…Caring cultures do not espouse action for the sake of action, change for the sake of change, or faster for the sake of faster. They develop mindfulness in the way decisions are made and work is done.”
Mindfulness may lead to ‘slow success’ like in the fable of the turtle who wins the race with the hare. Mindfulness may lead to the discovery of a simpler way (Wheatley & Keller-Rogers, 1996). Mindfulness will lead to doing work with deeper and more sincere respect for life and still being successful.