Can Strategy Facilitation be done in an “appreciative” way?

Is it possible to use the words Strategy and Appreciation in the same sentence? Perhaps a good start is to understand what we mean when we use those words:

Strategy:

  1. a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall plan ( master plan, grand design, game plan, plan of action, plan, policy, proposed action, scheme, blueprint, programme, procedure, approach, schedule.)
  1. the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle. (the art of war, military science, military tactics)

This seems quite familiar. “Strategy” seems like something that leaders do quite frequently in an attempt to create sustainable organisations. Appreciation on the other hand is not as familiar in the organisational settings I have encountered. Let’s examine the term.

Appreciation:

  1. recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something: valuing, respect, prizing, cherishing, treasuring, admiration, regard, esteem, high opinion
  2. gratitude: thanks, gratefulness, thankfulness, recognition, sense of obligation
  3. a full understanding of a situation: acknowledgement, recognition, realization, knowledge “the bank’s lack of appreciation of their problems
  4. a written assessment of something or piece of work: review, critique, criticism, critical analysis, commentary, write-up, notice, assessment, evaluation, judgement, rating, report

The word ‘Appreciation’ thus conveys both value in philosophical and economic terms and growth, as in the appreciation of capital – social and financial. An Appreciation thus seeks to see the value in and to set a value on.

So many of the skills we acquire as a result of our working lives have to do with exactly the opposite. We are called on to make situations and people better – the outcome of a performance appraisal is a development plan looking at the things we need to do better, and not appreciation of what we already have that is good. What we still need to improve on, is documented in detail, but very often, our wonderful uniqueness and gifts are not harnessed and utilised for the improvement of the whole.

A focus on appreciation thus requires a slight shift in paradigm. The shift is this: to get the best out of people, you need to appreciate and utilise the uniqueness of who they are and what they have to offer. This is not just a glib and/or idealistic statement – it has been proven over and over again by science and experience.

Strategy Facilitation

One of the key deliverables that leaders are accountable for is strategy, longer term planning, anticipating tomorrow in order to pro-actively put plans in place to ensure the long term sustainability of their organisations.

This is however difficult to do in a world that is filled with surprise, disruption and uncertainty. We have to prepare for the unexpected and to do this we must constantly revise our awareness (our appreciation) of the present, whilst simultaneously working towards creating the kinds of long-term outcomes we want, by crafting well-considered images of the future. Yes, we have to craft or shape the future. To do this, we have to follow an appreciative approach!

This important lesson for thinking about the future was summed up by Alan Kay, who created the computer interface that became the model for the first Apple Macintosh and then the basis for Windows: “the best way to predict the future,” Kay said, “is to create it.”

How to have an appreciative strategic conversation

I believe that the best people to sketch scenarios and shape the strategic direction for any organisation are those who are expected to implement the strategy. When engaged to facilitate a strategic session I involve as many stakeholders as possible and I encourage the conversation to be as participative as possible. I ask questions in order to stimulate the participants to re-examine their basic beliefs about the organisation.

I want people to bring their minds, their experiences and, most of all, their imagination to the meeting. Neuro Psychology has taught us that not one brain thinks alike and thus we need to structure our strategy sessions to embrace the imagination. It is imagination that allows people to think outside of the box and to be the creators of their own destinies.

Appreciative Strategy sessions are based on the principles of Collaboration and Quality Conversations as we seek to obtain a diversity of views and then gain alignment towards a co-created image of the future.

Through quality dialogue and widely shared co-created images of what we want the future to look like for the organisation, a shared picture of the future is created. Through this envisioning process, new realms of behavioural possibilities are opened up and chain reactions of self-organising change are created.

The economist Kenneth Boulding summarised this view effectively: “the human condition can almost be summed up in the observation that, whereas all experience are of the past, all decisions are about the future. The image of the future, therefore, is the key to all choice- orientated behaviour. The character and quality of the images of the future which prevail in a society are therefore the most important clue to its overall dynamics”.

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