Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry: Riverbend employees explore possibilities

As a lead up to creating the Strategic Plan, Riverbend conducted an Appreciative Inquiry process to gather feedback from current staff about organizational strengths, as well as explore a range of structural, managerial, and career-building possibilities.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a model for analysis, decision-making, and the creation of change that was developed in the 1970s by David Cooperrider, Sursh Srivastva, Diana Whitney and others at Case Western Reserve University. AI works on the assumption that whatever you want more of already exists in all organizations. While traditional problem-solving processes separate and dissect pieces of a system, AI generates images that affirm the forces that give life and energy to a system.

Anyone who has ever experienced an Appreciative Inquiry process can attest to the value of putting a positive frame on solving problems, and building an organization utilizing what works, rather than just trying to fix what doesn’t. A range of AI case studies and other resources are available at the Case Western website.

The employee comments presented below are a small, but representative, sample of the comments we recorded during Riverbend’s Appreciative Inquiry process. Comments are organized into categorical themes below:


Support from leadership and colleagues

  • Space is created to make us all feel like an important part of the puzzle.
  • I have phenomenal colleagues who help me stay strong.
  • The whole staff is supportive and caring — with each other and clients
  • My supervisor said: “No, you didn’t fail. You’re not a God. You’re human.”
  • We hear the term “wrap around” all the time, and boy, was I “wrapped around” during a challenging personal crisis.
  • The person who supervised me gave me wings.
  • By working with my supervisor, I was able to explore and find out what really interests me, and how to develop those skills.
  • When I felt less competent working with clients living with eating disorders, my supervisor granted a request for more training.
  • I never feel like I’m on an island.
  • There is lots of opportunity for mentorship at Riverbend.
  • My supervisor trusts that I will do my job to the best of my ability and that I don’t need to be constantly directed.
  • Riverbend provides the flexibility to both live my life and do my job well.
  • There was plenty of flexibility and support from colleagues during a time of personal crisis.

Teams and team development

  • There’s a lot of team support. One of the best demonstrations of that support that I can think of happened last winter when a client needed assistance and a colleague walked with me through a snowstorm to the client’s home. That support made the walk tolerable — it was snowing hard! — and the client visit more effective.
  • You get to be a real human being at Riverbend. We have permission to be a whole person.
  • The seed is provided by the clinician, and grants are the water that lets it grow. Thank you to the grant writers!
  • Everyone’s voice is heard, Everyone’s voice is valued.
  • Multidisciplinary teams –people with different skill sets and using different lenses to look at problems come together at RIverbend. That’s what it’s all about.
  • Being part of an effective and supportive team is why I all like being a Riverbend employee.
  • Riverbend values the clinical opinions of its clinicians! In so many behavioral health organizations the clinical opinion takes a back seat to administrative issues.
  • At Riverbend we need each other and benefit from each other every day. I can’t do my job in a vacuum, and that’s a good thing!
  • Taking the time to share experiences and successes at team meetings creates a sense of hopefulness – as well as appreciation for the incredibly hard work we do.

Appreciative inquiry and communication

  • It was great to discuss how we’ve been supported, nurtured, and developed professionally (and personally) by our supervisors.
  • Expressing the positive things showed how all Riverbend employees are committed to making this agency a resource for healing.
  • Feeling valued and listened to as an employee is what makes Riverbend a great place to work.
  • Its about trust. We trust our leadership and our colleagues, and when something difficult comes up, there is confidence that things will work out!
  • I can get swept away with all the difficulties, but focusing on treating our clients in the best way we can is what brings us together.
  • I have a renewed respect for the complexity of our work, and how much ‘heart’ there is in it when we’re at our best.
  • The process reinforced for me the power of appreciation and how appreciation, gratitude, and compassion are at the core of positive change. Appreciative inquiry doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but simply comes at reality from a perspective that welcomes the possibilities.
  • At Riverbend, people feel comfortable enough to be vocal with their thoughts and ideas. This makes change easier, and more successful, because everyone has been a part of the conversation.
  • Open communication — and the acknowledgment of our successes/loyalty/dedication — keeps morale upbeat and positive.

Client change and engagement

  • The best thing about my job is witnessing a client having their own “aha” moment.
  • Helping clients help themselves is innately rewarding.
  • Providing clients with the skills they need to make good decisions and lead more full and satisfying lives, is what this work is all about.
  • It is rewarding to help people get on their feet and live a life of dignity and respect.
  • The best reward: Seeing people living with a severe mental illness really improve their lives.
  • The main rewards of this work can be the smallest things – like the note I got from a client’s mother recently. It was short, and just said: “You were my rock that night.” Things like that always make my day!
  • It is always rewarding to see hopelessness transform to hopefulness.
  • We are changing lives and making things better for our community’s most vulnerable populations.