Brainstorming meeting

How to Drive Positive Change

Do you find yourself avoiding and dreading change in the workplace? There's an easier way, and it starts with ensuring your change will actually have a positive impact.

Today's blog features guest blogger Renee Sutter discussing that troublesome "coworker" everyone has in the office: change. Renee is the Facilities Operations Project Coordinator for Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.

In most organizations, change is so embedded in the culture that it can practically be considered a full-time employee. Change often starts many projects, but fails to see them through completion. Change seems to mean well, but sometimes just misses the mark and makes work more difficult for the team.  Everyone loves to grumble about change while hanging around the water cooler, but they secretly worry all the talk about change is true. Change tends to roam around the office, checking out the workplace and pointing out problems. Most days, everyone spends their time avoiding change!

What if change really wasn't cumbersome and off the mark? What if you could help direct change toward a more positive outcome? Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an approach to change that focuses on the possibilities and opportunities, rather than the problems.

Appreciative Inquiry is an affirmative approach to personal and organizational transformation. The appreciative inquiry approach is based on the assumption that positive questions and conversations about vision, values, successes, and strengths have the power to enliven possibilities and engage people in creating exciting, new realities. (Haneberg, 2005)

Many workplaces tend to approach change by exclusively listing the problems and issues. Sometimes only a small portion of the team is included in the discussion and as a result, the resulting changes are shortsighted. Sometimes, the employees that were not included in the discussion become resistant to carrying out the changes.

 Appreciative Inquiry is an inclusive process that can involve all those affected by the change. The discussion can include not only team members, but other departments, vendors or even dedicated customers. When the discussion is inclusive, the team's tendency to resist the change will be minimized. When the discussion focuses on positive questions, participants are encouraged to produce more and better ideas. More importantly, the change will be creative and address the issue head on.

So, what is the difference between a typical discussion about change and the AI approach to change? Let's take a quick comparison of these approaches by tackling a common problem.

Problem: Employees are not cleaning up after their messes in the breakroom.

Typical Approach

AI Approach

Someone keeps leaving crumbs all over the counter. Seriously, can they not clean up after themselves?!

When does our breakroom look its best? What products or practices contribute to this?  

Dirty dishes are left for days "soaking" in the sink. It is disgusting!

What kind of product would make washing and drying dishes easier and faster? How often do we have a large amount of dishes that need to be cleaned?

The coffee airpot keeps dripping all over the counter and leaving awful coffee stains.

How can we capture these drips to keep them off the counter? What is the best coffee system for how our team operates?

I am the only person that actually cleans out the fridge or microwave and I'm tired of it!

How can we create an atmosphere of accountability to share this responsibility? What kind of system or communication can we use to implement this?


In the example above, the team might find the problems they are experiences are a result of poor breakroom design or lack of available products. They might also include a section in new employee training that addresses accountability and the organization culture. With the AI approach, the possibilities are endless!

Making these seemingly small adjustments to our approach to problems can open the door to create a more powerful and exciting vision for the future. Once the team has dreamed what they would love to see in the future, go ahead and design and implement it! You may just find that you not only solved one issue, but made significant changes to improve other issues as well.

Once you embrace the Appreciate Inquiry approach, change will no longer be something you avoid in the workplace.  You also will find by reframing the conversation, people will follow your lead and help design real possibilities for positive change.

References: Haneberg, Lisa (2005). Organization Development Basics. Alexandria, Virginia. ASTD Press.

Renee Sutter has worked in the Facilities Operations industry for six years, with the last three years at MSU Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) as the Facilities Operations Project Coordinator II. Her primary functions include providing coordination for the maintenance staff, organization for internal building projects, synchronization of large onsite events, and the facilitation of maintenance requests from MSUFCU employees at 20 office locations across Mid-Michigan. Born and raised in Michigan, Renee lives with her husband and two young boys in a small town about 30 minutes from Michigan's capital. She welcomes you to the blog and is looking for forward to the opportunity to blog and share with you.