A good friend and client sent an email last week with links to information about “appreciative inquiry (AI).”  In short, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them.”(Organizational Development and the Strengths Revolution: A Guide to Leading Change and Transformation, Wiley and Son, 2005).  I want to highlight how some of the thinking behind this approach can be used in your CX improvement efforts.

Current Problem-Solving Approach

When we first start with a new ExperienceConnect client, typically the first focus is what they aren’t doing well.  Nothing inherently wrong but it is interesting and reflects the fact that we seem to be wired to focus on the negative.  According to psychologists, we have an inherent “negativity bias.” This bias is rooted in our evolution, as it was crucial to know the right things to eat versus the wrong things.

How Does This Bias Impact Decision Making?

Managers tend to focus on the unwell, the dysfunctional, and the screwed up.  In some situations, such as a struggling company, this is appropriate.  But in other, less stressful, situations, such an approach causes managers to overlook inherent company strengths.  The impact is especially damaging in CX decision making.  Perhaps more than many other business activities, improving the customer experience is as much about creating employee engagement as anything else.  While it is essential to understand where problems are and correct them, a continuous focus on fixing “What’s wrong” doesn’t engage people.  If anything, it lessens interest and engagement.

What to Do About It?

  • First, be aware of your own internal biases, assumptions, and perspectives. A short story best illustrates this.  Several years ago, we started a project with a large OEM client.  We had been working on the project for 5 or 6 months when my contact got a call from the CEO.  He questioned whether the information he was receiving was accurate.  When asked why the CEO said he did not believe customers liked their products that well.  Until that point, he had gotten involved only when there were significant problems.  His perspective was skewed by experience only seeing when things went off the tracks.
  • Determine if an issue to be solved should be framed more as a problem than an opportunity. For example, a client may have 20 locations, and 15 are performing well. How do you frame the problem to be solved?  Do you need to fix the under-performers and analyze what the 15 are doing well and identify what can be learned and shared with other locations?  The last frame is far more effective than the former.
  • Be willing to ”let” things happen and delay personal gratification of Identifying and fixing a problem feels to most of us.  Being patient to develop an understanding of the strengths of your team and building on them takes a bit longer, but everyone will celebrate the reward!

There is more reading about Appreciative Inquiry at the links below.  I also draw your attention to the short but excellent article on the subject, Positive Safety Cultures: What are we doing right? Dr. John Kello.

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