17 years ago while attending American University’s Masters in Science in Organization Development program I was first introduced to the concept of appreciative inquiry. David Cooperrider formulated AI (Appreciative Inquiry) in 1987. According to researcher Gervase Bushe, “AI advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is, in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur.” I was so intrigued by the theory and the idea of looking for the good in people and organizations versus what is wrong.
As part of the grad school program I was challenged to provide pro-bono consulting services to an organization and to set up my own consulting practice. I was determined to center my consulting practice around appreciative inquiry and to use it in the pro-bono consulting I would provide. My own twist on the theory was originally to call it “the zone”, like when Michael Jordan was on fire and could not miss a shot. That state of being in the zone morphed into being in the groove. I had landed on it, my consulting practice name would be Groove Management. I found this dancing Rastafarian character as my logo and crafted a website. I created a mission statement for the company as well:
“Helping organizations to find their groove and achieve peak performance:
While many of my classmates approached non-profit organizations for their pro-bono consulting services, I took a different approach. I decided to target the most intriguing company in the DC market, The Motley Fool. At the time, The Motley Fool was one of the top finance websites, served as AOLs finance page and had syndicated article in major newspapers. Most importantly the company was making headlines as a great place to work.
I was determined to get my foot in the door and to learn what made them so special. I wrote a letter to Tom Gardner co-founder of the Motley Fool. The letter was written to appeal to his foolishness. I still recall it stating that I was out to prove that you can get great things for free in this world, including consulting services from Groove Management. Tom must have been intrigued by the letter because I received a call from Duffy Winters another Motley Fool employee inviting me in to meet with her and Lee Burbage the head of HR.
That meeting turned into a discussion about what makes the Motley Fool such a great place to work and how can they leverage that greatness to grow the careers of their employees. Duffy and Lee agreed to hire me/Groove Management to interview employees to learn more about their culture from an appreciative inquiry approach and to create a recommendation for developing Foolish managers.
The employee interviews included a pre-defined set of questions that were asked of all employees. The one question that stood out the most was the following:
“What is the core factor that gives vitality and life to the Motley Fool? Without it, the organization as it is now would cease to exist?”
The answers to that question helped me to define the Motley Fool’s “groove”. There were two things that rang true with everyone I spoke with: 1) Humor 2) Helping People.
The Motley Fool was a fun place to work because people took their work seriously but not themselves. That humor made people humble and not afraid to be wrong. Helping people made the organization mission based and customer focused.
Fast Forward to 2014
While Groove Management began in 2001 as a grad school project and I dabbled with it throughout the years, it was not until 2014 that I fully committed to making it my full time job. The website evolved throughout the years, but in 2014 I left my corporate job to pursue Groove Management full time. I made a few minor tweaks including an updated logo, a refined mission statement and a new approach to the question that worked so well with the Motley Fool. Today’s mission statement:
“Helping individuals and organizations to maximize performance by focusing on their strengths”
The updated logo is much more corporate than the dancing Rastafarian. You can read more about the logo here.
The appreciative inquiry question about the core factor that gives vitality has morphed into the following which we use daily with clients:
“What makes you (individual or organization) better, special or different”?
This simple question has led individuals to find greater purpose and meaning in their careers through our coaching and has helped organizations to redefine their vision, mission and values. It is a simple question that can be so difficult to answer.
Finding My Groove
I know what makes me, better, special or different. I have found my Groove in running this company and getting to work with amazing clients to help them find their groove and be better. I have carried with me the humor from the Motley Fool as well as good and bad experiences from each of my corporate roles.
I look forward to helping more individuals and organizations to find their groove in the years ahead.