SUMMARY | Let’s Talk: Creating Energy for Action through Strategic Conversations
This is a summary of the following research article: Di Virgilio, Marie E., Ludema, James D. (March 2009). Let’s Talk: Creating Energy for Action through Strategic Conversations. Journal of Change Management, Vol. 9 (No. 1), 67-85.
The full text whitepaper can be purchased here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14697010902727211
In this paper, we offer a model of how leaders and managers can generate energy for action by engaging in the right kinds of conversations. We develop the model by linking social constructionist thought with theory from the field of positive psychology. We propose that effective leaders generate energy for action by engaging people in conversations that provide them (and themselves) with a sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Energy is expressed in the form of support, time, money and resources, which contribute to the success of the work. Continuous attention to conversations that invite the co-creation of desired futures creates upward spirals of energy and increases the probability of successful change over time. These ideas are illustrated with a case study of a successful IT change initiative in a Fortune 100 insurance company and conclude by discussing implications for research and practice.
* I highly encourage you to read this research paper in full as it provides important context for these key points. I also only summarized the points that I personally found interesting so that they can be referenced in future articles on this blog. Please note that some of these key points represent the work of referenced authors.
- By taking, planning, proposing, and acting, people build networks of conversation that are embodied in their systems, structures, strategies, processes, procedures, and cultures and, thereby become background conversations that define their day to day reality. Similarly, they adopt and enact narrative and meta-narrative patterns that are then passed on to them by their predecessors, and by the broader culture in which they are immersed. These story lines delimit what is right, real, and possible, and thereby define the range of options available for action. [p. 67]
- Engaging in the right kinds of behaviors allows organizational members to co-create new possibilities that increase their sense of autonomy, competence and belonging, which in turn elicits positive emotions such as interest, joy, hope and pride. Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention, cognition and action and build physical, intellectual, and social resources, which lead to increased energy for action. [p. 68]
- Human social order is produced through interpersonal negotiations and implicit understandings that are built up via shared history and shared experience. [p. 69]
People use seven types of speech acts to create social reality by expressing their thoughts about a person, place, thing, role, commitment, or set of values: [p. 70]
- Assertive: Propositional content is transferred. For example, we will grow 25% this year.
- Informative: Gives propositional content and change the reality of the people that are being addressed. For example, an executive telling her direct reports that we will grow by 25% this year.
- Expressive: Adds or subtracts value from something or someone. For example, recognition of success or failure.
- Declaratives: Used to alter identities. For example, giving someone a new title or role.
- Directives: Gives orders, instructions, commands or makes requests of another person. For example, an executive telling her direct reports to achieve 25% growth without compromising the company’s ethical standards.
- Accreditives: Gives consent, permission, or authorization to another person. For example, the executive gives her reports permission to add headcount to achieve the 25% growth goal.
- Commissives: Gives a guarantee. For example, the executive promises a bonus for those that achieve the 25% growth goal.
- If we understand organizations as networks of conversations built through an ongoing dialog that is brought into reality by the means of reoccurring pattering and structural coupling, it is an invitation to see organizational life as a form of narration within ongoing relationships. [p. 71 (paraphrased)]
Narratives typically consist of four phases: [pp. 71-72]
- Manipulation Phase: often begins with a directive-commissive pair of speech acts to create a sense of unbalance that must be resolved, sand therefore motivates someone to act. For example, when a growth goal is set by an executive and it is understand the direct reports will need to deliver that goal.
- Competence Phase: Described what is needed to be ready to carry out the tasks to restore the imbalance from #1.
- Performance Phase: The phase in which the subject obtains (or fails to obtain) the desired object.
- Sanction Phase: Accomplished through expressisves, such as thanks, acknowledgement, disapproval, punishment, etc. Restores the imbalance created in #1.
A real life case study is presented to provide examples of real world application:
- Manipulation Phase: A successful business case use in the study covered the following key points when making the case for change: existing policy, background information, presented the business opportunity in financial terms, posed critical questions for consideration, made recommendations, and estimated benefits.
- Competence Phase:
- Create and communicate about the project vision – An executive communicate in a meeting about the project. A prep sheet was created which contained the meeting purpose, agenda items, audience description, key messages and concerns. [p.75]
- This meeting provided the benefit of bringing all of the people who needed to make the work successful together in one room.
- It allowed an executive to discuss the importance of the work and ask everyone to support it.
- Control the timing and flow of information – it is important that key people understand and support the change before others hear about it. [p. 75]
- Demonstrate success – Find ways to keep the organization informed about progress. [p.76]
- Find new and novel ways to talk about the work – Demonstrate a new perspective through new data, visualizations, etc. [p.76]
- Influence through others
- Performance Phase: the project team was clear about the support, time, money and resources they needed to achieve the desired results. [p. 77]
- Sanction Phase: Team members were rewarded with a bonus and public recognition. [p. 77]
- Without narrative structure to sequence actions and texts …conversations by themselves have little meaning. [p. 77]
- Allowing people to help you co-create these narratives allow organization members to increase their sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which in turn elicits positive emotions such as interest, joy, hope, and pride. Positive emotions enhance thought-action repertoires by broadening the scope of attention, cognition and action, and building physical, intellectual and social resources, which lead to increased energy for action. In other words, persuasive narratives create energy for action by boosting positive emotions and increasing the organization’s overall intelligence, creativity, resilience and cooperative capacity. [pp. 77-78]
Energy in conversation is defined as: [p. 78]
- A person’s energy level, which they automatically interpret as a reflection of how desirable a situation is.
- A person’s interpretation of their conversational partner’s energy based on the partners expressive gestures.
- A feeling of being eager to act and capable of acting, which affects how much effort a person will invest in the conversation and into subsequent, related activities.
Collective energy depends on: [p. 80]
- How autonomous and capable the members perceive the collective to be.
- How much they feel that they belong.
- How sincere they perceive other members to be in advancing collective goals.
- As people join in creating narratives in which they can “see” and anticipate their basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness being met, positive emotions are activated such as interest, joy, hope and pride in one’s association with others, the work, and the organization. [p. 80]
Questions left unanswered by research: How and why changes in pattern of conversation lead the changes in pattern of enacting. What are the dynamics at play? What are the psychological and relational processes that allow new narratives to elicit new pattern of coordination, collaboration and action? [p. 68]