One of the world’s largest trucking companies in the US-trained 10,000 people in Appreciative Inquiry and used AI to launch its LEAN operations program and create a culture of high engagement where everyone aligned around a new strategy. A year later the company reported record quarterly earnings across its 300 facilities. Studies showed that 80% of the $75 million in operating ratio improvements came from the five facilities (out of 300.) These five were the places where the Appreciative Inquiry Summit was ‘piloted.” The company then went on to do sixty-five 500-person whole system in the room summits in the span of two years—whenever there was a big-league change agenda—for example, an AI Summit was designed to rapidly take $75 million dollars of cost out of its operations, which is accomplished in six months.
Another AI Summit was to design new dock layouts in order to meet the goal of doubling the throughput in its 300 load transfer facilities. Facility 671 became the design prototype and soon added one more shipment on every outbound load translating into +$429,000 Profit after taxes. A year later the model was implemented in 300 facilities from Chicago to Charlotte. The total impact annually was documented at + $13 million profit after taxes.
A sand mining and manufacturing company launched a program to become a green, sustainable development enterprise in order to grow the brand of “doing good and doing well.” Using Appreciative Inquiry to launch the several decades set of initiatives that continue to this day, the company brought 300 associates, customers, and stakeholders from every aspect of the supply chain to design new green products, lean and green processes, and new corporate principles. A year later the company reported the bottom-line impact of more than $7 million dollars and has gone on to receive four environmental leadership awards—including the nation’s top corporate citizen award from the US Chamber of Commerce. Since the company first introduced AI its revenues have grown from $150 million to nearly $2 billion per year. two years later when they were recognised as the top corporate citizen in the US, they also doubled their earnings with 40% per year earnings growth in each of the years following the summit. Today the company brings the whole system together every three years for advancing their core strategies. Again, something else is noteworthy in this ‘living proof” example: so powerful was the Appreciative Inquiry to the corporation’s success that the company and the CEO together soon donated over $15 million dollars to a local business school to spread this work, and the AI tools and mindsets, to students and executives across the region
The City of Cleveland: Designing a green city on a blue lake …Despite media attention on federal efforts to transition to a green economy, the real change happening is a quiet revolution taking places among US cities. Over 973 mayors have signed up to the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. However, even with the exponential growth of effort by cities, most of the action remains fragmented. Most initiatives are either within a specific sector or a small area of a city resulting in the absence of systemic approaches to change. In Cleveland, Mayor Jackson did not want to see the city fall behind, but to lead. As a member city in the UN Global Compact, Mayor Jackson heard about the power of systemic collaboration and drew together business leaders, grass-roots networks, universities, the faith community, the public schools and the design field to hold an unprecedented three-day design summit called ‘Creating an Economic Engine to Empower a Green City on a Blue Lake’. In addition, representatives of the White House and other cities around the US and Europe were present in order to study the process. Senior leaders from IBM, Ford, Microsoft, and Walmart participated.
Quite literally, the eyes of key leaders in sustainability were in Cleveland to learn how to create a local sustainable economy. The summit emerged with 25 prototypes for action: working on radical energy efficiency; transforming abandoned land into urban farms; sustainable mobility systems; and many more. Imagine their public hall looking like a design studio at Apple—25 design studios—groups taking on action and creating results like these:
- Renewable energy: Cleveland will now be the world’s first freshwater offshore wind energy prototype…the working group created a corporation to guide the effort and has raised over $60 million. They also received a grant to develop a %100 percent renewable energy plan.
- Transportation and walkable city: this working group completed the green streets ordinance and has ushered in more than 80 miles of new bike infrastructure throughout the city.
- Tree canopy: when this group started the tree canopy was 19%…they created a goal of 30% and will have put in 50,000 new trees by 2020.
- Energy Efficiency: This working group has catalysed energy retrofits on old apartments, manufacturing facilities, and public buildings at a savings of $170 million.
That’s what is happening in Cleveland. It’s not the kind of politics—the gridlock of dialogue—one sees in Congress. One article suggested it might be a new kind of democracy, not dialogical democracy, but design democracy, saying: ‘the best in human beings comes out, for example, the pioneering days of community barn-building, when whole systems design something together; that’s when trust-flows, new realities are felt and seen right there, and confidence grows’.
Noteworthy surprises or ‘A-ha’ Moments since launching your AI approach?
The biggest surprise is how the experience of wholeness brings out our better angels. When you get the whole system in the room for real strategic work—for example a trucking company with everyone from dockworkers and truck drivers to the CEO team of finance and marketing, and with external stakeholders from key customers to suppliers and community citizens—somehow when we are “whole” and not siloed, separated, and isolated people bring their best selves, not their worst. And every time leaders do this for the first time, they are very anxious and nervous. And there are always two comments afterwards. (1) “What was all the fuss about… David, you should have told me how powerful and positive this is” and (2) “How did we get so lucky to get such good people in the room?” And that’s the surprise. Almost always it is not a special group at all; it’s an average cross-section. But it’s the conditions created by the summit method.
Everyone has full voice, not half voice. Everyone is part of the real thing—this is not a focus group but real planning and designing of the future. Everyone is amazed at all the true strength inherent in the system.
Lots of things bring out our best. See the quotes at the end of what others are saying about Appreciative Inquiry.
How can our readers learn more about Appreciative Inquiry?
There are many of books on Amazon. And here is the website for the Appreciative Inquiry Commons—a place of great sharing of tools, articles, research studies, and workshops for leaders, HR and OD people, change agents, and managers in companies such as Apple, Johnson and Johnson, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and more. See below for a quick video overview of Appreciative Inquiry by Professor Lindsey Godwin, the Faculty Director of the Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry and the “AI Commons” portal at the Stiller School of Business.
There are world-class workshops on Appreciative Inquiry and strengths-based leadership. Champlain College is recognized as the global hub for the AI community including the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference and the International Journal for Appreciative Inquiry.
And we urge anyone interested in Appreciative Inquiry to register today for this upcoming (limited to 800 participants) Tampa Bay Conference ⤵︎
BONUS QUESTION: What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
As a father I loved creating one special thing to do specifically (just the two of us) with each child—Daniel, Matthew, and Hannah—something we could partner on that was unique for that child and brought us together in some kind of adventure. For example, Hannah and I got certified in scuba diving together—and to this day she is my greatest scuba diving partner. Just Hannah and I—great focused time—out in the oceans exploring our beautiful sea-life. What I love is the way we help each other. We are dialed in and in tune. And yes, she has saved me on multiple occasions!