A deficit approach to organisational development

How often do you listen to a new podcast, read a new book or explore innovation in the HR space and find a focus on what we, collective HR, are doing wrong?!

With a natural tendency for our brains to focus on a threat response, and given that our brains have five times more neurons dedicated to this threat response, this is understandable. We have a continual drive to improve, by identifying what is wrong and looking to fix it.

Yet after a while, a deficit-based view saps energy, motivation and goodwill from people – the very qualities you need to cultivate, in order to improve your organisation.

So how else can we look at organisational development?

Get appreciative about your HR practice

We can start with looking at what is already working. People like talking about their successes and actively engage in discussions that focus on what works well. When individuals are sharing positive stories with their colleagues, they gain confidence in their abilities. And if you have more people having these conversations, this catalyses positive change.

Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a well-known method for large group collaboration and innovation. David Cooperrider, from the Centre for Appreciative Inquiry, explains that in contrast to the traditional deficit-based approach, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organisations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. It is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to ‘inquire’ into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes.

Generating a positive image of the future influences our behaviour in the present, and that acts to bring about the anticipated positive result.

The organisational development theory and practice of AI is shown to increase profits, allow employees to be more creative, gain ‘buy-in’ with strategy, increase efficiency and boost engagement. This approach is successful across diverse workforces and organisations.

So let’s intentionally use AI with our processes, functions and delivery. Let’s look at what is working successfully in our HR systems and with our people, and learn from this information how to innovate, and develop more positive ripples to impact individuals and the business.

Rather than looking at our collective HR function or individual performance and engagement as a problem to be solved, take an AI approach: look to the profession, to people and to technology that is bubbling with innovation and strengths, and use AI to develop our people, our business and the world around us!

HR has a direct line to the heart of any business – your people. They are the competitive advantage in a tech-driven, agile global economy.  Through appreciative inquiry, HR has the opportunity to disrupt traditional deficit thinking, and to discover excellence, strengths and values in your people.


Click here to learn more about the Langley Group’s Positive HR Toolkit. The Positive HR Toolkit gives leaders and HR professionals the solutions to implementing positive people practices in the workplace.  Built on research from Positive Psychology and neuroscience, the solutions provide simple and easy to use tools for every stage of the employee lifecycle.