Sunday 16 October 2016

Isn't change really about good conversations?

I recently read an insightful article about Bogaletch Gebre, a scientist and activist who has positively changed millions of lives in Ethiopia. 

For 17 years, she has helped to nearly eliminate harmful traditional practices solely through facilitating community conversations. "When you listen to them, they listen to you...and individual change becomes community change," says Ms. Gebre. Her approach has been so successful that the United Nations has adopted it to control the spread of HIV.

Corporate change is also enabled through conversation. Dialogue is the catalyst of change management, whether people are discussing what a change means to them or leaders are assessing an initiative's progress: change happens through people interacting. Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, describes the outcomes of these exchanges as people changing their states through the influence of others. This is how most people decide to take on new way of doing their work.

Many changes falter when people don't have the right conversations. Siloed thinking, limited information sharing and rework are signs that the right people have not been engaged to gain alignment, support and collaboration. This results in delays, higher costs and frustration.

If change is created through conversation, how do you ensure the right conversations are being held?  Here are some guidelines to help you do so: 

  • Include time for two-way communication at every forum, from the launch to the post assessment
  • Increase the amount of time allotted for dialogue – people learn more through conversation than listening to a presentation – 50/50 is a good target
  • Invite people at all levels to participate in implementing a change – these activities promote interaction, sharing of perspectives and collaboration
  • Mandate that every team discusses what a change means for them and what they need to do to make it successful – these are the most important conversations to prepare people for change
  • Review process changes with cross-functional teams that manage them
  • Share assumptions behind plans and decisions with those who will be implementing them – they may be wrong 
  • Ask leaders to validate that their teams are ready to take on a change by holding conversations with them

There is a lot we can learn about change beyond the corporate world. As Les Robinson observed, "Every great environmental campaign, revolution or social change started with a conversation. Out of that conversation these people decided to work together, with a hopeful attitude, on things they care passionately about." 

The power of good conversation as an enabler of change is clear. Change management is about ensuring the right ones happen with the right people at the right time. Doing so with a hopeful attitude is even better.