ATD Blog

Appreciative Inquiry: Another HPI Tool

Thursday, December 29, 2016

One of the key elements to understanding and using human-performance improvement (HPI) is developing an HPI mindset. Specifically, the underlying principles of HPI help you move from the traditional “training is the answer” mindset to a “performance is the answer” mindset. HPI practitioners will also develop a robust toolset that allows a much more holistic view of organizations, and organizational issues, at all levels.

One very exciting tool we can use is called Appreciative Inquiry (AI). The traditional problem-solving approach of focusing on what is wrong or broken can sometimes yield very illuminating causes and is very common—we often strive to fix everything. AI takes the opposite approach, suggesting that if we look for what works in an organization, we can appreciate it, build upon it, and achieve success.

There are some assumptions that are usually not visible or verbalized, but exist on an unconscious level. They must be made visible and discussed before the group can challenge their beliefs and create change. And we all know that organizational change can be very difficult at best.

In The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, Sue Annis Hammond lists eight key assumptions that drive AI:

  1. “In every society, organization, or group something works.”
  2. “What we focus on becomes our reality.”
  3. “Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.”
  4. “The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.”
  5. “People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).”
  6. “If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what is best about the past.”
  7. “It is important to value differences.”
  8. “The language we use creates our reality.”

The model for AI can be described as the “5-D cycle.”

  • Define: Choosing the topic to inquire about. It is critical to pick the right topic of importance because the very act of asking questions in an organization begins to influence the group in some way.
  • Discover: Using a series of focused questions to identify the best of an organization. This phase is for not only  gathering information, but also shaping change.
  • Dream: Asking what the best could be. This phase is taking a deep dive into what hopes and aspirations can be used to re-create success factors identified in the Discover phase, and begin forming an idea of what high-level performance can be.
  • Design: Developing concrete steps for success and performance. This phase is often described by using “provocative propositions” that answer the question, “How do we accomplish what we dreamed?”
  • Deliver/Destiny: Putting all the previous steps into action to accomplish the desired results and increase performance.

Using AI can result in transformational organizational results, and it ties in well with the HPI model. In HPI, we conduct a performance analysis; by using AI, we can explore positive experiences and begin to reframe the conversation surrounding strengths analysis. This also begins to create change (see the eight assumptions above).

We can also use the Dream phase of AI to help us understand and quantify desired performance, another aspect of the HPI model. Then we can use the Design phase of AI to begin selecting, developing, and designing solutions to achieve our desired results. And because the very process of asking questions begins to influence change—just as HPI has change management wrapped around every phase—AI includes implementation (or Destiny).


There are times when the traditional, problem-solving approach is not sufficient. Because AI pays attention to organizational strengths and focuses on creating a positive future, it can be a very enriching tool in the HPI practitioner’s toolset.

By attending the HPI Certificate Program, you will learn how to use the ATD HPI model, apply the three critical components of HPI, link organizational goals to human performance, outline a strategy for finding and addressing performance gaps, and describe a process for evaluating the impact of your HPI solutions.

Bottom line: Developing a new mindset and skill set can help you turn the corner to a powerful results-based approach to help you achieve organizational success.


About the Author

Chris Ross has been a performance consultant, trainer, lecturer and presenter for over 30 years. He owns The Engagement Effect, a multi-discipline training and consulting firm with over clients throughout North America.  The Engagement Effect provides solutions in performance improvement, leadership and supervisory development, employee selection and engagement, strategic planning, and risk management. He has worked with over 800 organizations. Ross has earned professional certification in Workplace Learning and Performance (CPLP) through ATD and is additionally recognized by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals as a Certified Safety Professional (CSP).  Ross has presented over a thousand training classes, workshops, seminars, keynote speeches and presentations. He facilitated hundreds of workshops for FranklinCovey, DiSC and is a Master Trainer for Development Dimensions International. Additionally he travels throughout the US and Canada as an Implementation Specialist for SafeStart, a division of Electrolab Training Systems.  A frequent contributor and columnist for “Alaska Contractor,” “Council Prospector,” and numerous other publications; he also authored a piece for the recently published book, “Consultant Business Development Guide: Starting and Succeeding with a SH&E Consulting Practice.”

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