inCONVERSATION with Vikki Holloway

I’m sure you have been there, your department head explains that you and your team members are going to go on a three day course to uncover the problems in your company and determine what’s needed to make some transformational change.

Your heart sinks, the underlying stress that you have learned to live with in your current role increases and generates a fight or flight feeling. You will worry that this means change, this means risk, have you made a mistake and many other thoughts will flood your mind. Conversely you will think that another talking shop is never going to change the everyday problems that everybody has been living with since the business began.

We feel your pain. However, it doesn’t have to be like that. What would it be like if transformational change was made possible from a more appreciative view point; from a place where what you have achieved and what works is celebrated, understood and used to find new innovative business solutions?

…What would it be like if transformational change was made possible from a more appreciative view point…

This is the basis of a relatively new way of undertaking change called ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ and WINN sat down with Malvern based Vikki Holloway who facilities workshops and change programmes within organisations from this viewpoint.

With a background that started in the Police force, Vikki joined straight out of college, and then moved into helping offenders who had been released from prison create a new life on the ‘outside’. Vikki has learned that in what many people would label as a hopeless situation, there is always a positive way to create change. 

With over a decade of experience working within areas of the community that many would shy away from, she knew that a positive approach to problem recognition coupled with an open dialogue about the issue, generated results. She spent time undertaking internal reviews and performance management assessments across a range of public and third sector organisations and uncovered that one of the main sources of poor performance was stress. 

This may not sound like a revolutionary discovery, as almost everybody you talk to will say that they are stressed in some capacity or other, but how many people are actually addressing it? Vikki’s career path evolved and she worked with the International Stress Management Association to become a stress management advisor, working with individuals and organisations only to find that many companies had an almost blinkered view to the underlying stress within their workforce. Vikki highlighted that people under even low levels of stress will naturally limit their creativity but it was a difficult message for companies to hear and it seemed that there had to be a better way.

…people under even low levels of stress will naturally limit their creativity…

Many of Vikki’s private clients were coming to her with work related stress issues, keen to manage them on a personal level, as opposed to discussing them within their company. 

“Companies don’t like to admit that they have a problem with stress.” Vikki comments, “I would be asked to put on a stress management workshop over a lunchtime so it could be done quickly, which of course isn’t going to be successful” 

“If a company can concentrate on all aspects of its ‘health’, meaning mental health of staff, physical health, all round wellbeing, and the appreciation of everybody’s input, commitment and dedication, then it’s going to simply make it a better, more profitable company” 

This is where Appreciative Inquiry comes in. Vikki explains the concept as engaging staff at a different level and promoting what works best within a company. Now before you think that this is just trying to look at business through ‘rose tinted glasses’, it’s not. AI, as it gets shortened too, is NOT about ignoring problems it’s about approaching them differently by not apportioning blame but asking what can be done better using a generative process. 

Generativity is the creation of new metaphors, images and representations that have the ability to change how people think and are so compelling that people want to act on them.  Donald Schon’s research uses the convincing metaphor of ‘slum housing’.  With a description like that, how do you see it? Is it a ‘disease on society’ and thus requires eradication. What if it was spoken of as a ‘natural formed community’ that if supported can become self-sustaining? Positive generativity is the latter, and that which gives AI its transformational potential. 

When a company uses traditional tools for change, such as gap analysis or SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities threats) by its nature the focus is on the weaknesses and the threats, as opposed to understanding and appreciating what works well.

An alternative model is offered by AI called the ‘Five D Model’ This is Define, Discovery, Dream, Design and Deliver. 

Firstly, you must ‘Define’ your topic in a positive and affirmative way, then creatively ‘Discover’ what will bring this to life. With positivity filling the teams which are going through this process they will then be asked to ‘Dream’ on how this problem will look like once it’s solved, again a very positive way to approach change. Then comes the ‘Design’ element, which asks how this can become real and then concluded with the ‘Deliver’ on what needs to be done to make it happen.

…An alternative model is offered by AI called the ‘Five D Model’ This is Define, Discovery, Dream, Design and Deliver…

It would be very easy to let such discussions err towards the negative and allow anxiety and cynicism to creep in, but with the skills of a seasoned facilitator, such as Vikki, this rarely occurs.

“By building on positive social interactions within teams, people find it hard to actually fall back into their old ways of thinking and working because they have a new awareness” explained Vikki, “If a belief, such as ‘we can’t do that’ is shattered you simply cannot go back to it, knowing now that its’ simply not true”

Vikki assures her clients that transformational change that is engendered using AI can be life affirming and lead to a more committed, creative and innovative workforce.

Now what company doesn’t want that? If you have tried and failed to make transformational change or tried and failed to develop a culture of innovation, then perhaps it’s time to undertake a new way of thinking and embrace Appreciative Inquiry.

If you would like to find out more about Vikki and her work in Appreciative Inquiry then contact her through her LinkedIn page

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WINN brings innovators together, acting as a catalyst to create connections and collaborations across the diverse business landscape of Worcestershire.

Our belief is that great things can happen when people get together.

WINN is a Worcestershire Innovation Programme formed by Worcestershire County Council and the Worcestershire LEP