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“…it is not yet more or different theory that we need in management studies, but a better understanding of conversation and conversational realities.”

John Shotter Conversational Realities

The distinctive approach of Change Conversation® is that it is grounded in the actual ways we talk to get work done.

There are three powerful mechanisms bought to bear in a Change Conversation approach.

1. Reframing

So much of what managers do, and what senior managers require in the workplace, is beset with abstraction.

“Our ability to abstract is highly useful. Conversation would collapse without categories like ‘straight’, ‘past, present and future’, ‘responsibility’, ‘quality’, ‘safety’, ‘culture’, etc.. Our ability to abstract is also hugely problematic. It is too easy to build communications and systems entirely around concepts without grounding them in any actual context.” Mark Strom, Arts of the Wise Leader

George Orwell says that this renders our communications insincere

“A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

In contrast, we don’t shift the topic, we don’t use abstractions, we don’t introduce a new theory outside of peoples lived experience. WE DO provide a window on change that is a powerful reframe. People just do not think of work as conversation based. They reach instead for vague and peripheral levers like changing the symbolism of the t-shirt, or the use of visitor lanyards. But “Conversations are the way workers discover what they know, share it with their colleagues, and in the process create new knowledge for the organization. In the new economy, conversations are the most important form of work … so much so that the conversation is the organization.” Alan Webber, HBR

So to introduce a window on work that is core, not abstract, and readily accessible is a powerful reframe. Seeing work as conversations is

a) enabling and empowering

Everyone already has substantial expertise in how they talk to get their work done. Their ways of knowing are respected by this process.

b) participatory and dignifying

Existing knowledge of what works today is foundational to what will work tomorrow. Knowledge is drawn from those who will be moving into the new conversations, working right in their “zone of proximal development” (Vigotski), the growth edge of those involved.

2. Design

The core methodology of Change Conversation is design – the ability to take a user perspective on complex and ambiguous matters, and produce innovative hypotheses and new ways to satisfy customers, internal and external. Yet it is conversation design – there is a disciplinary frame and substance, just as there is for graphic design. The contexts, roles and dynamics of conversations in human activity systems are able to be patterned and understood and insights reused.

3. Insight

Seeing business activities and processes, human interactions, and work itself as conversation unlocks a treasure trove of insight through mechanisms including reframing, appropriation and theory cohesion. Change Conversation’s underlying theoretical frames – the Knowledge Development Pathway® and the Requisite Conversations® framework enable a coherent theoretical and practical interaction with other theories, unlocking value, as vigorous hybrids do: interaction with network theories (eg ANT), capability instruments (eg the OACI measurement tool for the competing values framework), organisational development theories (eg Jaques, Dejours), and engagement theories, amongst others.

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