The Organizational Strategist

May 28, 2010

Engage, Empower and Enthuse your Employees with Appreciative Inquiry Cascading Interviews

Filed under: Organizational Development, Strategy — Whit @ 12:09 am


There are many tasks involved with implementing a strategic initiative inside of an organization. Data gathering is often a necessary and time intensive task. Other important tasks are to generate enthusiasm about the initiative in order to bring people on board, ease the change the initiative will require, and make time to commit to undertaking the initiative. One more area that is very helpful is to make the initiative a topic at the “water cooler” areas. System-wide engagement is the ideal scope of an initiative because it would tap into every area and facet that pertains to the strategic initiative. That system may be all of the employees, a particular subset or a few parts of the whole organization. Appreciative Inquiry cascading interviews are a means to achieve all of those important tasks when undertaking such an initiative.

-How AI Cascading Interviews Work-

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) cascading interviews are primarily a means of spreading interview data gathering throughout an organization. The participants become deeply involved in the project through being interviewed and interviewing others. The interview process motivates employees, gets their buy in, and opens their eyes because of the appreciative and generative elements in it. Due to the energy involved in the process, employees share their thoughts and feelings about the topic(s) of interest because of their great experiences. Beyond those benefits, cascading interviews is a means to gather a huge amount of information in a short amount of time.

To do start a cascade of AI interviews, start with a core group, say 10 people, and do an appreciative inquiry interview with each one. During that interview, instruct them and let them know that they will then each interview 10 others. In this meeting, give clear directions, put forth guidelines/direction on whom to go to for their interviews, and describe how to go about next steps. The process continues where the interviewee becomes the interviewer. That interviewer passes along the same directions, guidelines and next steps. Those 100 who just got interviewed, each interview 10 more and so on until the desired number of interviews are obtained.

In short, cascading interviews are a very helpful tactic for data gathering. This can make it so the data gathering process is quick and easy, especially for the core designers because it distributes the workload. At the same time, it brings others on board who may be new to the initiative.

There are important points to keep in mind when setting up a cascading interview process. Below are points to consider and act upon:

  • The directions, guidelines and next steps should be crystal clear. What this means is that the design should be very tight and transferable. The spreading and shifting of roles (interviewee becoming the interviewer and teacher) can be confusing. Make it easy for them to do this to ensure success overall.
  • Have a clear, concise manner of bringing in the data. Set expectations up front on how the data should be collected and what/when the input will be called upon. This is important because it makes it so all of the interview results are fruitful in collecting information.

Through all of this there is more upfront design work because it needs to be highly organized and tightly designed. The need for a tighter design and organization is present because of the decentralized nature of the interview cascade. If the interviews were to only be done by one or a handful of people, the design could be made in a much looser fashion. If you think of the telephone game where people sit in a circle this can show how it is important to have clarity. The game works by having one person pass along a softly spoken message to his or her right. That person passes what he/she heard along to the next person to the right. This continues until the last person hears the message and states it out loud. Usually the initial message said and what was heard at the end are far from the same message. Like the telephone game, mixed messaging can result, which is why having a more thorough and encompassing design to include guidelines, structure, ease of delivery, ease of recording results and setting up the next steps are all important.


Appreciative Inquiry in itself is a very powerful approach to organizational change. It brings in the best of the organization and enables growth into grand new areas. By putting the power and ability to carry out AI interviews throughout an organization, the energy is infectious. The results are surprising and enlivening. The cascading interview approach is also a very helpful means to gather information quickly when the organizational strategists are unable to interview all of the interviewees themselves. The bigger the pool of interviewees the bigger the benefit that can be gained through cascading interviews. The tradeoff is to spend more time designing materials for other interviewees and interviewers. Consider using a cascade of AI interviews in your next strategic initiative and I bet you will marvel at the great results that are created.

May 20, 2010

Linking Strategy to Action: The Chains of Communication


Communication sets the flow of work, vitality, and pace of change. Strategy sets the direction and intended alignment of an organization. In order for that direction and alignment to be carried out, information must spread, be understood, and owned. Proper and thorough communication is the chain that links everyone together toward the same strategic purpose.

-Linking Chains of Communication-

The formulation of strategy is important and can be difficult. Once the strategy is set, the undertaking of implementation begins. However, if the follow through of communication is not done effectively then the strategy, no matter how insightful, game changing, innovative or powerful, will be all for naught. Effective strategy pulls upon the resources and capabilities of an organization to align them. With differing messages on what to do, how to do it, and where the organization should move forward, the strategy will not reach its full potential. While it may be that some stakeholders inside the organization do have the right message and understand the steps to take, those stakeholders will be undermined by all those that try to move forward in other directions.

To start the path forward properly, create a communication plan to spread the word, share milestone updates of progress, request input, and give tactical insight. The communication plan should be made with the following areas in mind.

  • Clarity of messaging – The information must be clear so that it is easily understood.
  • Consistency of messaging – The information must be continuously reinforced in all outreach efforts so every audience understands the same intention.
  • Pervasiveness of messaging – The information should spread to all relevant stakeholders.
  • Thoroughness of messaging – The information should reach all audiences in the manner that suits the audience.

To understand the relevant audiences for the communication plan, I suggest using the stakeholder groupings of the 4 I’s to help identify which kinds of messaging to put forth for the project(s).

Interested – Who would be interested in this project?

Informed – Who would be good to draw upon because they are informed in subject matter areas relating to this project?

Impacted – Who would be impacted throughout the course of this project?

Influenced – Who would be influenced by this project or who might be influential in implementing it?

Each stakeholder group should have its own messaging so that it is relevant to their needs. The core messaging should be clear, consistent, pervasive and thorough. Beyond the core of the messaging, slight nuances need to be present to reach different audiences and relate to the recipient’s interests. For instance, sending out a presentation deck on the benefits of a strategic initiative will be different for business audiences versus technical audiences, managers versus workers, field sales versus call center sales and so forth. It helps to think about the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) for each stakeholder group. This means that the messaging should be customized enough so that the value, relevant actions and background information is relevant to each audience.


Implementation of a strategy is no small feat. The amount of people involved, time taken to execute and follow through for implementation is drastically more complicated than the initial formulation of the strategy. Pulling together a tapestry of threads for communication creates a beautifully synthesized strategic implementation.

May 14, 2010

Sustaining the Spirit of Sustainability

Filed under: Organizational Development, Sustainability — Whit @ 10:36 pm


Sustainability, in its many forms and definitions, has gradually become a more important and pressing topic for organization managers, change agents, and thought leaders. At this time, there are few organizations that have made sustainability pervasive throughout their organization and many do not make sustainability a truly strategic initiative. There are courageous individuals who strive to influence, set or otherwise work to make organizations sustainable via internal or external actions. Unfortunately, many sustainability initiatives that you may hear about are nothing more than green washing to make an effort or organization appear to be environmentally friendly, which would then potentially influence consumer opinion. The more profound and impactful sustainability goes well beyond simply greening an organization a bit, as green washing does, to make it so that decision making, daily work, and future planning incorporate the triple bottom line into the organization’s thinking.

-Sustaining Yourself and the Potential of Sustainability-

There are many reasons for sustainability becoming more important. The value in pursuing a triple bottom line (People, Planet, and Profit) is immense. If an organization does adopt such a strategic and holistically encompassing undertaking, it would take a lot of time, effort, and continued dedication. Achieving a sustainable organization would be a long and enduring competitive advantage in many forms. Beyond that, I bet that it would feel immensely good to work with or for such an organization.

Fortunately for those who aspire to be the harbingers of sustainability, the need for sustainable organizations will only grow in time. With resources decreasing due to increasing world population, among other factors, and our world being more interconnected via global interactions, the advantage of sustainability will become ever more appealing and rewarding for an organization to pursue. I have hope that sustainability roles, contracts and other opportunities will become more abundant in the future.

Until such a time when organizations all adopt and aspire to obtain a holistic triple bottom line, there are steps that can be taken. There is much power in leading by example, modeling the change, and embracing the options that sustainability presents. By making gradual, persistent, and effective changes to oneself and one’s organization, the path toward sustainability can be set. Along the way, be sure that you and your own pursuits are not diminished or burnt out. Personally, I have, at times, become burnt out on trying to do the right thing and act on behalf of sustainable notions. It is tough being a leader. Leadership takes a lot of dedicated effort and not having a means of renewal and helpful avenue to channel difficulties could have lasting negative consequences. Be sure to take time for yourself. Renew the energy that you have. Take proactive measures if and when you can, but be smart about how you go about doing it. Be fair to yourself. Sustainability starts with the idealists, innovative champions and agents of change. It should spread naturally, not through force of will, or by leaning upon selected initiatives or people to carry the whole.

Some take-aways include the following:

–          Do not force sustainability upon your organization. It should be a natural growth that gradually gets more cultivated and spread throughout an organization.

–          Continually build, refine, and construct relationships, projects, and infrastructure to support everyone. Going too hard and too fast can cause problems. A distance runner sets a good pace and sticks to it. By sprinting too much, the stamina and ability to continue dwindles.

–          Stay strong and stay true over time. Achieving a sustainable organization, lifestyle, program or other initiative cannot happen overnight. Such initiatives need a longer term focus and thinking. The importance and relevance of sustainability initiatives will only grow as time goes on anyway so building inertia and success now can enable much later on.


The investiture of the triple bottom line into an organization is a holistic undertaking. In its own way, this is a very encompassing strategic aim because it would need to pull on the resources and capabilities to win and continue to win in market spaces. There are some organizations that have undertaken the triple bottom line, which should be applauded. On the other hand, there are far, far more that have not even begun to think along those lines. In order for those organizations that are new to sustainability to change their course, there needs to be influential, informed, and inspirational people employed that want to build sustainability into their organization. It may take time to find the right opportunity to create sustainability, but it is worth the diligence and effort for all those involved.

May 6, 2010

A Strategic Course of Action: Outsourcing and Partnership

Filed under: Organizational Development, Strategy, Sustainability — Whit @ 10:41 pm


Every organization has its strengths and its weaknesses. To create a strong, lasting competitive advantage the strengths of an organization must be very powerful and able to overshadow its weaknesses. At the same time, an entire organization should be kept healthy like how a boat should have strong oars or a motor to move without any holes in the hull to drag it down. Any weakness that causes its organization to sink should be minimized, patched, and brought up so that the organization, as a whole, is better.

-Forging Partnerships with Complementary Strengths-

In order to overcome the shortcomings in an organization, a number of things can be done. Creating a whole new function to replace the old is an option. However, this can take a lot of time, dedication, and resources in order to make this happen. This can be a very promising long term option if such a deep commitment can be made. An alternative is to make gradual changes (ex: process improvement, strategic divestment, or infrastructure upgrades) to work toward a more successful function. Yet this may take a very long time to reach the desired level and, without truly knowing root causes of organizational weakness, it can be very hard to sustain and renew improvement. Finally, there is relying on external help to replace, fix, rebuild or otherwise overcome the weakness in an organization. This can be accomplished through outsourcing a function.

If done right, outsourcing can become more than a quick fix to a troubled area. Outsourcing is often done in order to trim costs. The global economic network with differing material and labor costs makes outsourcing very promising for cost cutting purposes. Beyond that, outsourcing can become an opportunity for strategic partnership. This is a much more impactful and beneficial type of outsourcing as it becomes more relationship driven instead of simply give and take. What this means is to actively partner and engage with another organization to harness complementary organizational strengths. The ideal outsourcing candidate should be an organization that can offer its core strengths and sustainable competitive advantages in the relevant area. For instance, an organization that has very poor IT enablement and server infrastructure can partner with IBM to provide such support.

Ideally, two or more organizations could find pairings of strengths and weaknesses to complement each other and form a truly symbiotic relationship. This kind of partnering could lead beyond long lasting contracts and mutually reinforcing interactions. In the extreme, it could lead to merging organizations if the relationship and cross-organizational benefits are strong enough and the organizations are compatible in other ways as well.


Creating an enduring strategy is what organizations should strive to accomplish. However, that does not mean that all of the answers or ideas must be generated or grasped from inside the organization itself. Outsourcing can bring many benefits and help overcome many organizational difficulties. The external environment, while treacherous in many competitive landscapes, can be welcoming and invigorating.

Blog at