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How conversation radically transforms organizations


Dijana Vetturelli @ TEDx Zagreb Foto by: Mislav Mesek



Do you believe in resistance to change and that there is a magic communication strategy that will help you make the change initiatives sustainable? Think again, or read our newest blog presenting the key messages of Dijana Vetturelli's TEDx talk.



According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, we share approximately 15,000 words each day. An ordinary self-help book has between thirty thousand and fifty thousand words, which means that with the shared words we could write a book every third day of our lives, and that would be quite a remarkable accomplishment! We could share our ideas, our values, our discoveries and our observations, and everybody who reads the book would possess the same comprehension of the world as we do, and would view the world the same way we do. We could even provoke change.


However, sadly, this is just a dream, but not the part about writing the book, because with a bit of dedication and practice, it could become reality. Yet, the part about obtaining the same comprehension and sparking change is an illusion, because each and every word and phrase in the book has a completely different meaning for both the reader and the writer. The reader lives in a completely different universe, and in a different context.


You may be wondering what this has to do with the corporate world. Whenever I've been in a boardroom with seven, nine, or eleven board members who are looking to make a transformation or be more agile, I always ask three questions: why do they need a change, why now, and what do they understand by the term agility? Usually, I get seven, nine or eleven different answers, So how can we expect hundreds or thousands of employees to have the same understanding if those in the boardroom don't?


Conversation might sound simple, yet it is an arduous task. With the help of the discoveries of three scientists, let's explore:


1. why do we need conversation today more than ever before

2. where does the conversation in the organization take place and

3. who should be invited to the discussion, aka who are the change makers



Why do we need conversation to conduct organizational change


Dr. Gerhard Wohland, a German physicist, has conducted research on high-performing companies in the last three decades. He noticed that there are two types of issues that come up in any organization. The first kind of problems can be tackled with knowledge. For instance, if you need to go to the Colosseum in Rome, you need a map and someone who can interpret it. Similarly, if a car is taken apart, you require somebody knowledgeable to put the pieces back together and get the same result.


The second kind of problems has to do with imagination and ideas. The unexpected events in the market come from the inventive concepts of your direct and indirect competition, prompting your organization to become more progressive. You can't figure out a solution to this with just information and knowledge, and if you try to solve it with standardization and instructions, your employees will only become discouraged. Therefore, these situations can be resolved using a project-oriented approach, not processes, and you need principle based guidelines rather than regulations for such issues.



Let's take the pandemic two years ago as an example. Most firms put together crisis teams that had varied members with different specializations since they were attempting to come up with a response to that particular situation. However, if they had used the same answer three weeks later it wouldn't have had the same outcome. This is the primary thing you must be aware of; it has to do with grasping the differences, as this is related to time. If you take a look back at 100 or 120 years ago when industrialization took place, and the markets were slow, most of the problems faced by companies could be solved by expertise. But the 70s and 80s saw the onset of globalization and in the 90s the internet arrived, leaving firms to grapple with unforeseen issues.


The market has been throwing us some curveballs, and now we've got even more issues to contend with. To tackle these challenges, conversation is more important than ever - it's time to get talking!



Where does the conversation has to take place


Mary Parker Follett, a scientist born towards the end of the 19th century who passed away in 1933, focused her studies on economics, law, and government, as well as being deeply intrigued by group and social dynamics. After watching people work in factories, she made a remarkable observation: everyone is part of three distinct types of leadership. Nonetheless, this doesn't refer to leadership styles, but rather to the process that occurs in a company, involving all employees, all the time, with every individual being a part of all three structures.


The three leaderships are: the Leadership of position, the Leadership of personality, and Leadership of function.


The kind of leadership we usually see in an organization is the leadership of position. Generally, communication follows a waterfall approach. But, it's important to remember the difference between communication and conversation.


The second type of leadership is personality-based leadership. This is the informal kind of communication, like the informal chats people have at the water cooler or while they're having lunch. Everyone takes part in this.


The third one, leadership of function, has an unfortunate name, since it's not about functions or job descriptions. It's really about the roles that people take on in the process of creating value. It's about an employee using their skills at the moment.


According to the observations of Mary Parker Follet, most of the communication and attention is directed towards the initial two kinds of leaderships, but if we desire to be successful especially in the modern era, we ought to place a greater emphasis on the third type.



Change makers


The third story and findings come from Kurt Lewine, a social psychologist, known as one of the pioneers of organizational development and human resources. During World War II, he was asked by the US government to conduct a study focused on recognizing the urgent needs of people and delivering custom solutions for politicians to use to lower poverty. For example, the people were asked to limit their meat intake to provide support for the war. The main question of the study was how to persuade individuals to switch their dietary and cooking habits. The innards of beef, like kidneys, liver, and belly, were categorized as inferior goods and were usually thrown away after the meal. The Research Council attempted to convince housewives to make use of the intestines too.


With the assistance of the Red Cross, Lewin and his associates gathered 120 female volunteers for the research. The women were then separated into smaller groups of thirteen to seventeen people. Several of the groups (labeled 'first group') heard lectures given by a nutritionist on different recipes, while the other groups (labeled 'second group') were permitted to converse freely and exchange their thoughts and worries about how they could make the most of leftover cooked meat.


The results revealed that the participants who were allowed to communicate and share their ideas and worries modified their dietary and cooking practices (over 30%) to a greater extent than the first group (3%).


The major explanation for why the housewives in the nutritionists' cluster failed to alter their dietary habits was that they were not permitted to express their own stories and worries; instead, they were only given instructions on what dishes to prepare; the peer function of the group was reduced, as it was unable to exert any pressure to bring about a change. On the other hand, in the second group, the pressure to change came from their peers: the housewives discussed ideas among themselves and combined their powers to support the transformation process. This led the researchers to suggest that group decision is a beneficial for social change. This leads to a significant insight that social change requires change agents: people with a strong faith in their ideas of change and who can back up the change. In the first group the change agent was the nutricionist, in the second all participant.


So, before conducting your next change initiative take into the consideration all three findings, and start change with your next conversation. qo




For the whole talk click at TEDx talk.





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