Appreciating values

The first part of our series on Appreciative Inquiry set out the evolution of the approach. This month, Bruno Dalbiez and Caryn Vanstone look at how Nokia adopted it to revitalise corporate values

In September 2002, Nokia’s board considered a proposal on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) that would involve cross sections of the entire organisation. There would be structured conversations purposely focused on concrete success stories to generate passion, commitment, and action. In essence, rather than train the organisation in its values, there would be an inquiry into where the values were already most alive.

The proposal generated a positive response. Four members of the executive board volunteered to be part of the first pilot, planned for November 2002. They convened a group of about 20 people drawn from a worldwide cross-section of businesses, functions, geographies and organisational levels. This group would pilot the approach, and then become the ‘core team’, which would co-own and sponsor the rest of the project.

In November 2002, the group met for a two-day workshop, facilitated by one of the world’s authorities on the AI summit process, Frank Barrett. The objectives were to:

  • Gain an understanding of the AI approach by experiencing the ‘4D cycle’ for themselves, and then decide whether to proceed
  • Turn a loosely-described project (‘revitalising the values’) into more precise topics of inquiry for the organisation
  • Plan the next steps and take ownership for them.

There are several different methods associated with AI. The 4D cycle (see right) is probably the most well known and used. It comprises:

  • Discovery phase: Participants interview each other in pairs to inquire into high-point experiences. The group articulates the themes and patterns arising in a clear and understandable way. Everyone understands what supports and enables these high-point experiences – often called The Positive Core.
  • Dream phase: This is a process of collective innovation and improvisation, where the group starts to describe its ideals of the future. It takes what it has learned (the themes and patterns) and adds strong provocation, amplification and extension. This builds on the best of the past while encouraging the breaking of rules to create something new. This process is one of ongoing sense-making and negotiation. As leaders are present, there is no sense of “asking someone outside the room” for permission later. The dreams are articulated in both expressive form (creative, humorous, moving, passionate) and through high quality, well thought through analysis.
  • Design phase: The group starts to translate the essence of their dreams into the everyday practicalities of organisational life through which their work gets done. For example, particular policies, processes, structures, cultural norms, physical conditions and relationships. The group articulates propositions about these ‘organisational factors’ – changes that need to happen to allow their ‘dreams’ to flourish.
  • Destiny phase: Using an emergent process (such as Open Space conferences, where there are no pre-announced schedules, for example) people can nominate areas where they would like to take action arising directly out of the Dream and Design phases. Groups form around these ‘mini-projects’ and have some time to work on getting an experiment off the ground. The work at this phase is informed by the idea of improvisation.

We would be working to help people grasp the positive, ’emergent’ qualities of experimentation guided by simple principles. They are invited to be like jazz bands co-creating their own music, rather than a symphony orchestra, with pre-written music to follow.

At the end of the event there is a brief, creative ‘show and tell’ about the work that has been achieved, and some agreements on the next steps.

Some infrastructure may need to be established in advance to support groups that will continue to work on a global, virtual basis following the event to bring those projects to fruition.

Different organisations and situations demand different approaches. Nokia’s core team decided on a structured, high-profile approach – which involved a large-scale summit based on the 4D cycle (see diagram over the page). A three-and-a-half day event for around 200 people was devised to inquire into leadership at its best.

A planning team of representatives from the 20-strong core team, Bruno Dalbiez – who suggested AI as an approach, Caryn Vanstone from Ashridge Consulting, Frank Barrett and a superb supporting team led by Antti Miettinen in Helsinki, manager organisation development processes, all worked together during the winter months. The date for the summit was set for April 2003, and the venue was selected.

In the same period, every member of the core team did AI interviews with between one and 15 Nokia people each, worldwide. The interview material was used to create around 100 posters that covered the walls of the conference room at the summit itself in April. This was aimed at steeping the participants in real stories, real events and real people, rather than the rhetoric that often accompanies conferences.

Local HR and business leaders were asked to invite people who were highly networked – people who knew everything and everyone – while maintaining diversity (new staff and experienced veterans and so forth).

The event, co-facilitated by Vanstone and Barrett, was highly challenging. One issue raised by having such a high-profile event is that it suddenly feels very high investment. This triggers the urge to predetermine outcomes and guarantee success, and anxieties begin to run high. At first glance, the very fact that around 200 people from all around the world, including many senior figures, are investing three-and-a-half days to work together, seems to go against a successful outcome. The desire to ‘make it work’ can act against the trusting, non-deterministic and emergent nature of the work itself.

The core team and the facilitation team both remember moments of doubt, high tension and pressure, as well as moments of extraordinary positive energy during the summit.

The 4D cycle creates times of high energy (most notably during the Dream phase) where passions can run high, which can be challenging when working in a cross-cultural group. In any learning process, there are moments of high animation and deep reflection – and this is true of the AI process, too. The Design phase, for example, can sometimes be experienced as a low energy, over-analytical period full of uncertainty.

Action groups

On the last day – the Destiny Phase – 18 action groups were formed around projects they identified during the Dream and Design phases. Some examples of chosen topics include:

  • One Nokia to the customer
  • Relight the fire (values)
  • Innovation culture
  • Positive performance management – applying AI to improving performance
  • Small company spirit and processes – spirit of the small, fast organisation.

One of the most significant outputs came from the ‘Relight the fire’ team – an updated description of the company values, presented to and approved by the group executive board, and recently spread throughout the company. The original objective had become a lively, relevant output – a rethinking of the values in today’s world. Not just an espousal, but a genuine recommitment to them through localised conversations.

One benefit is the practice now spreading throughout Nokia of using inquiring, emergent forms of change and innovation. A US group that attended the summit partnered with Ashridge Consulting in the US at the end of 2003 to run the first in a series of summit-style innovation, leadership and customer-focused events.

Appreciative ways of working are now seeping into workshops, meetings, team days, performance improvement processes and coaching, and have even been integrated with other approaches into core strategic events in the company. Nokia is finding that this way of working contributes to bringing the process of change and renewal to life.

Background to change

In 2000, Nokia group’s executive board was exploring ways to revitalise the Nokia Values – created 10 years earlier – which had guided Nokia through a period of extraordinary growth. In 2002, the idea on revitalisation gained momentum. It was picked up and championed by Nokia’s senior vice-president of HR, Hallstein Moerk, who convened a small group to generate ideas.

Bruno Dalbiez of Nokia’s organisation development and change team, suggested that Appreciative Inquiry (AI) could be an appropriate approach for what Moerk and the board wanted to accomplish. Working alongside Ashridge Consulting, Nokia brought in Frank Barrett to explain AI in more depth. Moerk later took a concrete proposal to the Nokia group’s executive board.


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