Appreciative Inquiry – The Bits I Love

Today I revisited my Appreciative Inquiry (AI) notes from the course I did a few years ago. Every time I re-read them I am reminded about how much I love the principles of AI and their way of describing things. One thing I really liked is that it is also know as ‘generative inquiry’ which may make more sense to people. Here are a few more of my favourite bits.


It is important to understand the principle that as soon as you open your mouth and give your change voice it changes things and has an impact.

­This is so important for change. The first thing you say about your change shapes how people view it going forward. It is hard to rewind and change their view once one has been established. Get your thoughts together, your language right and then open your mouth.


We must move from focusing on needing to know the answers to asking the right questions. We must also understand that these questions are fateful.

The other day I had a conversation about change and data. I felt uncomfortable but I didn’t know why until I sat with it an mulled it over. This AI point captures what my gut was telling me but my head wasn’t getting! While data is important we have to make sure we are asking the right questions rather than just focusing on the data/numbers/answers we are looking for.


While it feels complex, the aim is to create environments that are both/and rather than either/or.

This is a hard but important point. It takes a radical shift in thinking for most people. In the discussions you are having or the options you are considering is it possible to have both/and rather than ending up with an either/or? Can you consider both, all, be inclusive? What happens as a result? Give it a go!


In organisations there is a difference between culture (mainly permanent) and climate (passing).

The culture of an organisation is complex and made up of a number of elements. While organisations can change their culture it is mainly permanent (think NHS). However, within cultures you also have climates. I.e. at team level. Where a new manager or new team member or new project can change the climate of a team. It is important to understand both and work with both levels when considering change projects.


AI can be likened to jazz, it is self-organising but in its perceived chaos is order and beauty.

Chaos isn’t always bad and what is chaos to one person is not chaos to another. I never liked jazz until my best friend took me to see her brother drum at a jazz club in London. It was amazing. Chatting to him after and learning about his love of drumming and jazz helped me see its order and beauty. AI and change can feel chaotic but if you explain it or get people to understand it they can learn to be comfortable with it or even love it!


“What would happen if we saw organisations as gifts and miracles not problems to be solved” – David Cooperider

For some people the terms ‘gifts and miracles’ is too fluffy and you can’t fix stuff without looking at the problems (I kept typing issues instead of miracles so I get it, it’s ingrained!). However, when you explain it is about balance, about both/and rather than either/or people feel happier.


As we talk and behave we are created.

For me this is about ownership and accountability. As humans we are responsible for our behaviours and how we react to stuff. We have no control over others but we have control over how we respond. We need to be mindful of the fact that everything we say and do shows who we are and what we believe in and as a result it creates us.


Need to assume when disagreement happens both are right.

This is back to the both/and principle but this point is about leading from this position. We need to try, in every situation to lead from a position about being inquisitive in how both can be right and trying to find the answer to this.


Maybe we need to talk about flaming platforms rather than burning ones. Flaming platforms focus on the amazing, glowing future that needs to be created rather than a fear based sense of urgency that creates a closed threat response.

This point is so important to me especially in relation to my work with the NHS. The NHS is a hot bed for creating a sense or urgency based on fear and it is paralysing for people. People become like rabbits in headlights, they raise their barriers for protection to the threat, they retreat to places of safety, they disengage. AI’s principles of pulling people forward based on positive visions instead of getting them to run forward based on fear is one that really resonates with me.


Positive Core – A map of all the achievements of an organisation and all the moments of innovation and breakthrough.

When I am invited into organisations that have already started their change process they usually have a ton of post its or documents listing the issues and risks they are trying to eradicate. How much more energising would it be if the project started by creating a positive core and using this to learn how to move forward rather than starting with the issues? Again, both can exist. Use the positive core to find the solutions, skills, behaviours from previous successes to the current risks and issues.


Striking a groove/ dynamic synchronisation – Attunement to others (appreciatively) and negotiating a shared sense of the beat.  

I just love these words. In every change action we should be asking if that is moving us forward in a shared way. Are our actions combining, joining, creating cohesion? If they are not maybe they are the wrong actions. Look at what other ones have worked better.

I am glad I have had time to expand these and add more meaning. I hope you find it useful too.



[Note: This blog has been amended to add more detail to the initial AI related headings and added to WordPress rather than LinkedIn.]


What is wrong with people? A modern day call to arms!


I mean it seriously, what is wrong with people? Why is it that people think that creating work environments where staff are the last consideration is acceptable? When did we forget how we would want to be treated and how we would want the world of work to be? 

On a daily basis I talk to friends, family, colleagues and clients who share stories with me that are just so disheartening. Stories of toxic, unsupportive work places where anything goes as long as the money rolls in. Places where people are formally reported for being ‘too nice’, where praise is scarce, aggression and fear is rife and everyone for themselves is the default. It is so overwhelmingly depressing. Do people not realise that these companies are surviving despite of these approaches not because of them?

There is another way. A way where people are aware of themselves and their impact on others, a way where people and companies thrive and flourish as a result of understanding the importance and potential of creating happy, human work environments. Work places where highly profitable, successful businesses are a result of people truly caring about their staff and their customers.

This isn’t a fairy tale its real life. Its happening, people all over are proving that happy workplaces create highly successful businesses but we need more. Its going to take momentum, confidence, the power of multiple voices so as @PhilWillcox stated the other day here, its time to choose and I vote for happy so I’m in, are you? 


Career Chameleon

The more time I spend on twitter the more time I find myself asking the question ‘where do I fit?’. I can see the OD specialists, the L&D specialists, the coaches, the social media bods, the HR generalists, the recruiters, the stakeholder engagement peeps, the change agents, the happiness gurus, the laughologists, the thought leaders, the strategist, the futureologists, the psychologists,  it goes on and on.

Throughout my career having a job title that captured what I did proved increasingly more difficult and by my last job it felt like it needed to be changed on a weekly basis depending on what the next task entailed. As I grew and developed I no longer worked in a way that could be defined in a traditional way from day to day. I changed, adapted, wore a different hat for each circumstance, flexed and weaved creating happy clients and great outputs but in the end fit none of the limited boxes or job titles the company were able to perceive.

As I went freelance I naively thought this issue would go away but I still find myself having to fill out forms that request a job title and ‘so… what do you do?’ is still the main question we ask when meeting new people.  It hasn’t got any easier and as I stare at twitter it seems to become harder by the minute.

Part of me doesn’t want to define myself,  part of me doesn’t want to limit myself with a title, part of me knows people need it to understand who I am and whether they could hire me and part of me is just really restless with not knowing for myself.  

As the word of work changes, job titles are going to get harder and harder to define and we already seen a wave of new ‘cool’ job titles and then a move back to more traditional job titles when the cool ones just confused everybody.  On different days I could be any of the above things depending on my location, audience and even levels of confidence. I guess I can call myself whatever I want, maybe changing from day to day and client to client is no bad thing but as I look at job adverts and the never ending recruiting e-mails, matching people by previous job title is still a highly used approach.

As numbers of freelance workers continue to grow, so will the challenge of matching a non-traditional workforce to traditionalist ways of thinking about jobs and roles.  Does this make us freelancers jack of all trades and a master of none? Maybe to some, but for me I guess only by our increasingly outdated definition of a job.


It’s Not Me, It’s You – Finding a Job that Fits

Ever worked somewhere where you enjoyed what you do but something just didn’t feel quite right? Like every day you had to leave a part of yourself at the door or adjust your ways of thinking to get your job done? These are unfortunately common feelings for lots of people and is part of the reason people fail to fully thrive and grow.  Fear not, if you have these feelings it may not be that you are in the wrong job  just that you are working for the wrong organisation.

Over the past few weeks I have been talking to and working with a variety of people and organisations helping people to understand how they can create organisations and jobs they and others love. The world of work is changing, its being forced to by the growing access information about how other people feel about their jobs and how other organisations treat their staff and customers. People are networking and developing a far better understanding of their options and are pro-actively seeking jobs and ways of working that create a work-life flow rather than a black and white balance between work and home.

From the people I have spoken to and worked with I have seen that two camps seem to be forming in the world of work. For this blog I shall call these the  ‘The Traditionalists’ and ‘The Modernists’. There will definitely be shades of grey in-between but from my conversations with people, starting to think about which is more preferable/comfortable really helps people to start to articulate what they want for their future world of work.


Area The Traditionalists The Modernists
Structure Hierarchical structures where power and decisions are top down. Devolved, democratic structures where decisions are made by most suitable person or group.
Information Based on role and what is perceived as needed.  Transparent and free flowing regardless of role.
Value  Largely placed on years’ experience and sector knowledge. Based on approach to work, personal style and transferable skills.
Roles Based on specific tasks as set out in a job description.  Based on outputs and outcomes required by the business.
Tasks Are specific to certain people and roles. Are open to anyone who can add value.
Policies List what is and is not allowed setting rigid guidelines. Are un-restrictive and self-managed by individuals and teams.
Performance  Tracked using an annual appraisal process. Open, ongoing conversations against outcomes.
Rewards Based largely on numerical targets with linked financial reward. Based on outputs and experience of staff and customers. Range of rewards to best suit individual.
Input Hours at desk (presenteeism) used as a way to gauge level of input.  Input judged by outcomes achieved rather than hours worked/seen.


For some, The Modernist world of work is a major mindset shift and others less so so working out your current level of comfort for each of these areas is what is key. You may find you match some of The Traditionalist thinking and some of The Modernist thinking or you may have thought The Traditionalist style is what you wanted (as it may be all you have known) but knowing a new way is out there has totally changed your view. Which ever it has been for you knowing what you think about these things will help you work towards a job that better matches your needs. You spend far too much time at work to not do something you love and so understanding more about what you need from work is a great place to start. I hope this blog helps you get even closer to creating a future you love.





Social Media – The Power to Redefine – Part 2



In part 1 of my blog I showed how social media is changing people’s perceptions of careers, giving a greater view of the possibilities and supporting people to network like never before. I spoke about how I wouldn’t be where I am today, working in a way I love, alongside phenomenal people,  without social media.

As a result of my journey I am massively passionate about supporting people to do the same. When you spend most of your waking hours at work you have to love what you do. As the previous blog showed, for both Natalie and I, simply using social media to express our thoughts about what we were interested in led us to careers we love and it is possible for you too, I promise!

Here are my tips on using social media to make a start at redefining and creating a career you love;

1. Lurk and research
Social media is a big place, people out there have already been using it for a while so take time to observe and learn. Across the breadth of social media (Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, Google+ etc) find people and blogs that interest you (search key terms, look at online lists of people to follow, see who people interact with and who follows who), then follow people and just lurk and take it all in.. Read what people say, how they say it and how they interact with others. Understand what you like and what you don’t like and get a feel for your own preferred personal style and direction.

2. Start small
While lurking and research is useful you also just need to bite the bullet and make a start which can feel overwhelming. The brilliance of social media is that you can’t break it and you can delete so don’t be scared. Start small and don’t pressurise yourself, your first tweet, or blog doesn’t have to be a masterpiece you can build up to that 🙂

3. Go back
If you have already using social media it may be useful to go back and check whether there is anything that you no longer wish to be available. For example, you may have blogs that relate to your old career or tweets that were more for your friends than your career self. This  step isn’t a necessity and what is left out there or not can’t be dictated this is about personal choice and what you feel comfortable with.

4. Its not all about you
While you are proactively using social media to show people who you are and what you are about it isn’t all about you. Before putting anything out there make sure what you say is interesting and would be the sort of thing you would want to read from someone else. It’s not about making a point or telling people what you want them to know its about showing them you are someone interesting, that they feel they can learn from and/or enjoy interacting with.

5. Be consistent
A key part to people understanding what you want to be defined as is being consistent. The aim is for people to be able to find you, review your online  information and be able to tell if you will be an interesting person to follow. If one week you are tweeting about baking tips and another about the best way to buy a new car it will be hard for people to understand what you are about and whether you are interesting to them. This doesn’t mean finding a topic and never posting anything but that topic, it is about making sure that everything is related to your chosen area and is consistent with how you are defining yourself.

6. When writing, listen to your flow
When you do something you really enjoy time just flies, you get in the zone and before you know it its hours later and you’ve not even noticed. This is what positive psychologists call flow and realising whether you are in it or not is really useful. My best received blogs have happened when I find my flow and I now know if a blog feels difficult or stilted it’s either not the right topic or quite the right time to write it so I park it and come back to it at another time. Listening to your flow is therefore a great way to understand whether you are on the right track.

7. Join the conversation
Social media is made up of a collection of communication tools and therefore conversation is key. Interacting and joining conversations is a great way to get noticed and to build your online network. For example, find interesting twitter chats, LinkedIn groups, Google+ circles and get involved. Comment on people’s posts and show love for the things that have inspired you. If you are genuine and provide useful commentary people will hopefully converse back and your network and following will grow in return.

8. Success isn’t about the number of likes, retweets or shares its about happiness
Its very easy to judge your success (and get addicted to) how the rest of social media responds to you. While the aim of this blog is to help you increase your online presence, build networks and interact with people you can’t forget that the core reason for doing this is your own happiness. If stress is outweighing happiness you may need to reconsider your chosen focus. It may just need tweaking, it may need totally scrapping. The best bit is you can just start again and that’s ok.

9. Don’t forget real life
While social media is a great way to support how you redefine yourself and create a career you love, real life is still just as necessary. Natalie and I may have managed to change our careers and drive our business through social media but we had to meet people in real life too to make it all really happen.

10. Believe and have courage
And finally (and not specifically related to social media) you need to have belief that anything is possible and you can achieve it and then have the courage to move to a new path. I shall leave you with Natalie Waterworth’s (@n_waterworth) top 3 tips that she kindly shared that will definitely help you to do both of these things;

a.  Know it is ok to change your mind
You can change your career and your mind again and again until you find something that feels right. Keep pivoting until you get there. Change is not a sign of failure it is a step closer to success.

b. Reach out and build yourself a support community
Related to the points above, find people online, and in real life, who will support you on your journey. Create your very own ‘Board of Directors’ a set of people you can ask for tips, tricks and moral support. Make the most of their advice and support and know you don’t have to make every mistake yourself.

c. Be vulnerable
Take advice from the great Brené Brown, and be vulnerable. (If you haven’t watch her TED talk watch it now here). People will gravitate to you if you are true and honest and you put yourself out there and this will help you build the courage to keep going


Hope these tips have been helpful. If you want to share yours please tweet them at @sarahboydh #redefine.

Social Media – The Power To Redefine – Part 1


What do you want to be when you grow up is a question we get asked from a very young age. Its a pretty harmless question but it does give us the sense that we have to choose just one thing. I am not sure what parents would say if the response was ‘I’m going to be a teacher for a bit, then a photographer and then an entrepreneur and then who knows’ but who is to say that this is not a good career plan?


The power of social media is changing the way we see and interact with the world. We now have access to instant information, from different people, across a vast range of areas. Our understanding of the types of careers available and what a ‘typical’ career looks like is changing. We no longer have a limited view of our options and we now have the ability to network ourselves like never before and its liberating.


Previously work was related to years service, industry knowledge, specific examples from the past and far less about generic skills,  passion or out of work experiences. Social media is helping people change this.


I recently overheard this;


“A person is not a fixed thing. They are the stuff other  people know about them . You can make people know other things about you.  You can be whoever you want  to be.


It’s a great piece of advice and it perfectly sums up my recent career journey. Before Christmas I had a coffee with someone I had met on Twitter. They worked for a company that was really interesting to me. Talking to them made me realise I was on this work treadmill that was carrying me in a pre-determined direction and I wasn’t quite sure how to get off. I knew I had more to give than how my current job description defined me and so I set about finding out what I was interested in and what I would like to do next.


I took to twitter and connected with people I could learn from. I researched, engaged and interacted with people and information in a way that allowed me to learn new things about both myself, and what I was really passionate about. As a result I started blogging, talking about things I love, and showed people a different me. Now, 3 months later, I am successfully freelancing/running my own business working in partnership with some great people and organisations. I now support other people and companies to redefine who they are and what they do. I help people create futures they love and it is amazing.


Without social media and blogging this wouldn’t have been possible and I am not the only one social media has help redefine. Recently I met Natalie Waterworth (@n_waterworth- who I met through a person I had only just myself met through twitter!) and her story resonated with my own personal journey.


Natalie used to be a very successful financial trader, one of the first females on the trading floor of her company no less, but it didn’t feel right. Deciding to make a change, Natalie started her own online cleaning business, she got actively engaged in the start-up community and interacted with other like minded people on twitter. Through twitter she met her now business partner @Daria_Taylor.


At the time, Daria was also running a successful online cleaning business and through their shared experiences they forged a friendship. They soon realised that they had more in common than the cleaning business and they both still felt that, while successful, they had not quite found what they wanted to do. They soon started talking about what they call the ‘quarter crisis’, getting to 25 and still not feeling happy with their career. They talked about what is was like to be a ‘Millennial’ (people born post 1980) in the current world of work and how they felt disconnected and even different from other generations.


Passionate about their shared experiences and feelings they started blogging, putting information out through blogs and twitter about their personal experiences and what they felt people of their age needed from the world of work. Very soon their blogs got picked up by a number of people and big corporations who had also realised that this generation needed something different and now, 12 months on, their business, Talking Heads, is successfully working with top name corporations to better engage their graduate and Millennial workforce. Through social media they had both redefined what people knew about them and through this a new career was created and one they both love.


These experiences of redefining who we are through social media has been life changing for us and we are living examples of how you can change the stuff people know about you and therefore change the opportunities open to you. Part 2 of this blog will provide some practical top tips from Natalie and I to help people to do the same.

I am sure there are loads more people out there with similar success stories. I would love to hear from you and collate more stories to help inspire others and if you have any top tips for Part 2 please use the #redefine and I will storify and include in the blog.

HR Rebrand? What HR Can Learn From Successful Brands


Today a major HR conference is taking place in London (#HRTechEurope) and twitter is alive with conversation about HR. From the first few tweets it was clear that the stereotypes of HR being out of touch, not about employee happiness and only useful for transactional stuff are alive and kicking. People have mentioned the need for a HR rebrand and it got me thinking about how HR could learn from successful brands and re-brands.

1. Pay attention to what the public says about you

This one is timely given the tweets today. As a HR person, you may feel what people are saying is unfair that HR is not like that anymore but if the stereotypes are pervasive (and all stereotypes are usually based on some truth) then maybe HR needs to start paying more attention to what people are saying about it and really acknowledge how people perceive it.

As the Noughties got underway, the public view of McDonalds became increasingly negative. Programmes like ‘Super Size Me’ helped increase awareness of the health implications of high fat foods which led to the public stating McDonalds was bad for your health and was not something you should be feeding your children. Sales were impacted as customers looked to other brands for healthier options. Mcdonalds listened to what the public, understood the impact and adapted its brand. They added healthier options, family oriented environments and added the McCafe brand. Despite the cynics, sales have increased as a result the public perception changed.

If McDonalds hadn’t listened to what the public was saying they wouldn’t have moved with the times. Listening to what people say about you gives you insight to how well you are providing your service and how you may need to adapt it.

2. Change your behaviour not just what you say

Human Resources has been here before. It has already rebranded itself changing from ‘personnel’ to HR and many names in between. However, changing what you call yourself or how you describe yourself does not automatically change how people perceive you, you have to change your behaviours.

Take BP for example, they spent a lot of time and energy getting people to associate their brand with being environmentally responsible. Their latest logo is designed to reference sun and nature and support their proposition that they are a company that is ‘beyond petroleum’ and socially and environmentally engaged. However, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill showed the world that their behaviour did not match what they said and the impact on their organisation, brand and more importantly the environment was catastrophic.

While this is an extreme example it does show how you have to actually change what you do alongside what you say you do. Saying you are a proactive, strategic HR person or team and then waiting for the organisation to come to you with issues does not match up and people will feel duped. To change how you are perceived you must change how you behave.

3. Be a leader not a follower

Successful brands lead the way in how they are received. Regardless of whether they already have a good product or service they are always looking for new ways to meet customer demands. The greatest brands even work to meet customer need before the customer has even realised they had a new need!

Brands like Microsoft. Most of us were happy with Window’s 7. Thought it met all of our needs and then along came Windows 8 and it has revolutionised how we interact with computers and do our day to day work. At first it was so new not everyone understood its need but now with touch screen laptops, I for one, wouldn’t be without it.

Great HR departments proactively work with the businesses to provide ideas and solutions before the business has even realised it has a new need. They find new and better ways to create great organisations through its people they don’t wait as they know if they do it may already be too late.

4. Create a consistently high performing product or service to meet customer expectations

Top brands consistently deliver a high quality service that meets their customer expectation. You can call yourself whatever you like or redesign your logo but if your product or service is variable or poor your company will not be successful no matter how strong the brand is.

This happened to Harley Davidson. Despite a enormously strong brand the company almost went bankrupt as the quality and reliability of their motorcycles did not meet their customer expectations. Harley Davidson worked hard to understand their own inefficiencies and were not afraid to make the necessary changes which resulted in a far better product and a huge globally recognised and respected brand.

If you and your HR team are not actively reviewing your service regularly against the expectation of your ‘customer’ then you may be providing a poor or even just an OK service and this will become how people perceive you. If you want a wow service then you need to be actively creating a consistently high quality service for your organisation and while uncomfortable, this will involved taking an honest look at what you are currently providing.

5. Create an unforgettable experience

In a world where the workplace is becoming increasingly complex and less linear, how a person experiences their organisation is key. Brands already recognise that how a customer experiences them is vitally important to success and it is increasingly relevant for HR. In a culmination of lots of the above points, HR customer experience, like brand experience, is it is about understanding; ‘what does HR offer me’, ‘does it do what it says it will do’ ‘does it respond to my needs’ and ‘does it care about my future’. Aiming to answer these questions positively is where brands start and is a great start for HR.

A great example is Apple. All of its products are designed around customer experience, from the actual products to the stores you see them in and the packaging you take them home in. As a brand it offers its customer a range of beautiful products that change to meet the needs and expectations of the market place and its consistent approach means you always know what to expect from the brand.

HR departments are part of every key experience for an employee from recruitment through to understanding how well you are progressing and then your lasting impression when you leave the company. This is an incredibly powerful position to be in within an organisation. Imagine how things could be if you actively considered HR as a brand and the experiences it wants to create?

Hopefully this gives a bit of food for thought around the HR re-brand debate. Would love to know your though