In an article at Melcrum, Sam Berrisford writes about how the BBC used Appreciative Inquiry as an engagement technique to involve employees in a major cultural transformation.
According to Berrisford, Appreciative Inquiry or AI uses structured dialogue to ask employees what is good about the organization at present and in the past, learning from the organization’s experience and knowledge to “generate a collective image of a new and better future for an organization.” He says it breaks the cycle of negative thinking, is positive and forward-looking, and releases the creativity and development potential of the organization.
Berrisford relates how the BBC, in mid-2002, was perceived by employees to be “a difficult place to be creative, where teamwork was low, leadership poor and competitive behavior was high on personal agendas.” This was when the executive committee, led by director general Greg Dyke, decided to do something to change the corporate culture.
The program of change, Berrisford reports, was called “Making It Happen,” using AI in an employee consultation exercise called “Just Imagine.” For the next six months, some 40 percent of employees voluntarily attended sessions where they were paired up to do reciprocal interviews using three key questions:
· What has been the most creative/valued experience in your time at the BBC?
· What were the conditions that made that experience possible?
· If those experiences were to become the norm, how would the BBC have to change?
According to Berrisford, stories, quotes and ideas for action were recorded on laptops during the sessions and more than 98,000 ideas and suggestions were captured, analyzed and fed back to BBC change teams for evaluation and implementation, eventually leading to 35 initiatives for change in the company.
He quotes Greg Dykes saying in his book, Inside Story: “The amount of raw data that came from staff who had participated in the Just Imagine sessions was worth its weight in gold. Most of all, it gave me a powerful mandate for change.”
Berrisford declares that the organizational mindset at BBC was significantly changed by the AI process and principles because it “reconnected people with their emotions and gave them a positive sense of what could be,” resulting in positive energy that created a powerful momentum with people feeling that their opinions mattered and that they could make a difference. He adds that “it set up a willingness to be involved which still permeates our workplace” and “helped build communication within and between teams and through the line and, most importantly, (it) ensured ownership and ‘buy in’ to our corporate values.”
Berrisford gives much credit to the charismatic and committed leadership of Greg Dyke who, he said, “associated himself strongly and personally with the project and developed a powerful emotional connection with large numbers of BBC staff - and they with him.”
After Dyke’s resignation and the appointment of Mark Thompson as the new director general, Berrisford says the BBC is “seeking to make a further radical transformation” building on relationships developed in the AI process.
In closing, Berrisford differentiates AI from other face-to-face encounters in that it is creative and life-enhancing, “releasing positive energy from the communication between individuals to their personal benefit and the overall well-being of the organization of which they are a part.”
This is the type of communication any organization will definitely benefit from.