I probably can’t remember a time when I have been in a briefing about a merger, or an organisational change initiative, or a business improvement project where there wasn’t pressure to ensure “we get some quick wins”.

But what about small wins – the steady application of a small advantage (http://www.cfar.com/Documents/Smal_win.pdf).

This is the territory of Change Conversation, and it is fascinating to see the example CFAR use. It reads like a case study in conversation design. It starts with understanding the current contexts in which people talk in ways that are unhelpful for the enterprise. In the case in the CFAR paper, it is an age old “bunker mentality” divide between two divisions. Then the manager designs a new conversation!

“…the manager would ask the following: “If I want to ‘beat’ the bunker mentality what small advantage can I consistently apply?” This question in turn may lead her to consider the currently utilized forums where managers from different divisions already meet to discuss issues or make decisions. She would then ask, “What small but consistent change can I make to these meetings so the likelihood that they will succeed will increase?” To answer this question she would then formulate her theory of the case. For example, she might say, “People are reluctant to join in on the discussion because they believe that anyone who is seen defending the status quo will be thought of as uncooperative.” With this hypothesis in mind she could then introduce the following practice: When the meeting begins all participants should talk about:
1) how they think the organization benefits from the current decision making process and could be hurt by a change, and

2) how the organization would benefit from a change and is hurt by the current process.

This balanced opening discussion would help meeting participants to be more forthright about how they really feel about change.”

I am constantly struck at how many published papers directly address organisational issues in terms of changing conversations, but completely fail to go on to recognise what they have just been doing. Ah, the power of mental models to keep us away from new options. In this case the authors language their success in terms of “helping people to make small changes to a key constraint on change”. That’s a true window, but it misses the power of what they just described.

Change the Conversation!

David Jones

Changing the ways people talk to get work done.

New work? New conversation! Change Conversation.