Cliff Oswick Discusses Discourse-Oriented Modes of Organizational Change and Transformation

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    Auto-Scroll: ONOFF 
    • 00:05

      [Discourse-Oriented Modes of Organizational Changeand Transformation]

    • 00:13

      CLIFF OSWICK: My name's Cliff Oswick.I'm a deputy dean at Cass Business School, professorof organization theory.My research interests are very mucharound organizational change, organizational development,and particularly from a discursive perspective,looking at the kind of ways in which wetalk change [INAUDIBLE], the way change is socially constructed,

    • 00:34

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and the kind of softer parts of change.[What are discourse-oriented modes of organizational changeand transformation?How would you explain it to anyone who has not encounteredit before?]I think there are discourse-orientated modelsof change that can be thought of in terms of epochs.And they differentiate from previous waysof thinking about change.Let me kind of elaborate on that.

    • 00:55

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: Traditionally, change involved a process that was very fixed.So it involved a problem, solutionthat was episodic, beginning, middle, and end.And it used to focus on things particularlyaround organizational structure and some of the harderparts, job design, how you redesigned a particular jobactivity to improve the level of satisfaction of employees

    • 01:17

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and so on, and spread that throughout the organization.I think that that's gradually shifted from what was sometimesreferred to as diagnostic forms of change, problem, solution,to what I'd call dialogic forms of change, where you don'tstart from the position of an absolute problemand you don't start from the position of absolute solutions.It's emergent.And the nature of emergence is through conversations, dialog,

    • 01:41

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and interaction, particularly good at thingslike cultural change, change in values,and these kind of focuses on collectively solving problems.So there's a range of techniques associated with that, thingslike-- you've got World Cafe, appreciative inquiry,those are very much discursive.Get people in the room, collectively work on problems,

    • 02:04

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and provide solutions in real-time and going forwards,rather than a discrete punctuated process of change.[How do discourse-oriented modes of organizational changeand transformation sit with or conflict with existing changemanagement theory?]Dialogic approaches to change, discursive approaches to changeare not-- haven't, if you like, replaced

    • 02:25

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: diagnostic, harder forms of change.They're complementary.They co-exist.They're concurrent rather than consecutive.So there's no reason why you don'thave to go for situations that arevery much about structural change, business processre-engineering, et cetera, et cetera.That's absolutely fine under circumstanceswhere there's a very clear problemand there's a reasonably bounded solution.

    • 02:47

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: For other instances, the problem is very loosely defined.The problem is finite.The problem is-- and then part of the problemis then how you act upon that in a way that'sgenerative and creative.So there isn't an easy solution.We don't know the problem.So we have to deal with it.There's a process of emergence.And that's why I think discursive change ismost powerful when it operates in that kind of way

    • 03:09

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and creates-- a great thing is to thinkof it in a wisdom of crowds type argument,internal crowdsourcing.You're getting lots of people working on a problemcollectively, which is likely to lead to better qualitysolutions than one person imposes a solution situation.[Can you provide a good example of discourse-oriented modesof organizational change and transformation?]

    • 03:32

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: I think there are good examples of discursive approachesto change, approaches where you includea number of stakeholders and collectively arrivein an alternative repertoire of solutions and waysto move forward.A good example, I think, in a professional service firm,in a law firm, recently, the law firmwasn't doing as well as hoped with the pressures

    • 03:53

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: on the legal profession in terms of fees.And there was a question of how they then saved money.Now, the traditional approach would have been problem,we need to save 12% of our costs, redundancies,downsizing, right-sizing, undergoinga negative recruitment campaign.Whatever you want to call it, it would be losing staff.

    • 04:16

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: But instead of jumping to the problem beingone of reducing staff, what the partners didin that law firm was say, well, how can we think creativelyabout how we might reduce our costs by 10%, 12%,I actually think it was.And through a process of involvinga range of stakeholders, the partners,and there were many partners in the law firm,

    • 04:37

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: decided they would take a pay cutrather than get rid of what's often more junior and supportstaff.So it was this decision reached through a collective processof dialogue to look at alternatives.So the problem is reframed not as onethat we need to lose staff.It's reframed as how can we save money.And then that led to a series of generative alternatives

    • 04:59

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: that resulted in one that had all sorts of benefits.Not only did it save the requisite amount of money,but actually there was a tremendous buzzin the organization, that a series of partnerstook a pay cut in order to support their colleagues.So it really did reinforce and strengthen the culture.It's an example of something that Idon't think would have arisen justfrom a board meeting deciding the way to cut resources.

    • 05:23

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: So the processes of dialog led to a very kindof high quality, innovative solution to a real problem.[How can leaders manage the discourse and bringtheir followers on board as they attempt to implement changestrategies?]I think leaders in organization have a very key and criticalrole in processes of what I would call

    • 05:45

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: discursive, emergent forms of change,I think in ones we may not expect.I think the idea of-- people often think that, you know,you talk about discourse that we needthese strong, charismatic leaders thatare going to show people the way, vision, direction,persuasive skills, kind of strong orators.And actually, all you do is impose a view in that sense.

    • 06:06

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: I think the real action, the real interesting formsof discursive forms of change arethose where leaders are facilitatorsrather than directors.So what they do is they create the conditions whereconversations can occur and generative solutionscan be produced.So that involves actually in some instances standing back.It involves what I've referred to in some things

    • 06:26

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: I've written as active non-leadership.It's deliberately not intervening and creatingconditions where people self-organize.And those that commit it relish the opportunity to do that.I've talked about the terms employee activism,and that we should create situationswhere people can collectively mobilize about thingsthey care.Very different to things like trade union action, which

    • 06:48

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: is a kind of distributive thing, we want more money;no, you can't have it; yes, we will, and so on,and you kind of strike a deal.This is a situation where it's very much generative ratherthan distributive.It's about creating conditions where there's mutual gain.And I'm thinking here, there's a number of instances,things like sustainability, diversity, innovationare things where there's a mutual stake for employers,

    • 07:11

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: managers, middle managers.Everyone in the organization standsto benefit from those kinds of areas of change.So in that regard, it is very much about not leading as muchas creating the conditions for peopleto self-lead and instigate processes of change.I call it-- I refer it to as change by employees,

    • 07:33

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: rather than change for employees.So instead of this strong vision of your leadership,you have a situation where you create conditionswhere people self-organize.There's evidence that works really well.I mean, I'd go so far as to say that I actually think 10,15 years from now organizations will more closely resemblesocial movements in their structuresthan they will do traditional organizations.

    • 07:54

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: In particular I mean by that that we'llsee less hierarchical systems and more networkedforms of organizing.And network forms of organizing mean peopledon't have responsibility because of their position.They have responsibility because of their knowledge,that they have a focal point, a node in the network.They're seen as an influencer and someone who coordinatesand organizes rather than someonewho has formal responsibility.

    • 08:16

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: I think there are various examples wherewe're starting to see the future unfold in the present in termsof discursive, employee-instigated formsof change.I'll give you a couple of examples.The example that people often talk about is Valve.Valve is a game developer, and it has--they talk about it as flatland.

    • 08:37

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: It has no hierarchy.More importantly, there are no job descriptions.No one has a formal role.All the desks are on rollers.People move their desks around and theywork where they feel they can make a contribution.Pay is determined collectively.So you determine the pay of people that you know.You can't really comment on people you don't know.But you collectively decide.

    • 08:57

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: And people say, well, that's a game developer.It's innovative.It's the wacky, arty end.And that wouldn't work in other industries.Well, but that doesn't seem to be the case.We start to see the future develop and unfold in frontof us now in other sectors.Zappos, shoe distributor, online shoe companyare developed like a [INAUDIBLE],

    • 09:17

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: which is you have a cluster of jobs at a similar level.You could be working on reception one dayand you could be working in a warehouse the nextand working in another role the third day.And it's really about working in a range of occupations.You don't have a formal job description.You have a group of responsibilities.And so those are kind of examples of less hierarchy,

    • 09:38

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: more kind of spontaneous, self-organized formsof activity, and which rely far more on networks than theydo formal structures.I think as well there's an extent to which the boundariesof organizations even are startingto become very blurred, where the organizationbegins and ends.Another example which I think is really kind of quiteinteresting, where it's not a top-down approach

    • 09:59

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: but a bottom-up approach is Agora Drinks.And Agora Drinks produce a range of soft drinks.And they outsource, they crowdsourceall of their decisions.So instead of having a board decidewhat our new products are going to be, what supply chainsyou're going to use, what's our profit margin going to be,what are we going to do with profits,all those things are outsourced.

    • 10:20

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: Anyone can go online-- if you Google Agora Drinks,you plug in, fill out the website.You have to put in some details about yourself,but the details you put in about yourselfare to make sure you don't vote 50 times for something.So it's just-- they don't ask for your credit carddetails and that kind.They just ask you to make sure you're a real personand you have one vote.And then they invite people to suggest

    • 10:41

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: what new flavors of drinks they might have, dandelionand licorice, for example.And then that gets crowdsourced back to the community.And the community will vote on the basisof the suggestions made.So in that regard-- and that applies to supplychains, profits, et cetera.So all the critical decisions in the organization

    • 11:04

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: are taken outside the organization.And they're working on the wisdom of crowds argument,that they get best quality solutions,that effectively the market is providing the information,the consumers are providing the information on drinks,and you end up with a better-- and theyseem to be working very successfully with that model.So that's an extreme example.But I think these extreme examples, Valve, Agora Drinks,

    • 11:26

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: that's not to say that every organization willlook like that in the future.But increasingly, organizations willhave the characteristics of social movements,collective forms of organizing, self-organizing,and less top-down type approaches to both changeand everyday organizing.[What would you identify as the limitations of or challengesto discourse-oriented modes of organizational change

    • 11:48

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and transformation?]I think there are a number of limitations and constraintson these new emerging forms of organizing and emerging formsof organizational change, these kindof discursive, dialogic, inclusive forms of change.I think one of the problems is-- and I sort ofhinted at this earlier-- it doesn't

    • 12:09

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: apply to all organizations.I couldn't see, for example, the army, the police service,the civil service as a totally flat structure.There are reasons why some organizations haveto have fairly strong rules and regulations,because levels of high autonomy in the police forcewouldn't be a good thing.You need a degree of kind of constraint.

    • 12:30

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: So there are some organizations that clearly are notgoing to become kind of flat, non-hierarchical, spontaneous,networked organizations.And that's for good reason.But I think the proportion that willis far greater than what we might expectover the next 10, 15 years.I think one other thing to say about limitations

    • 12:51

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: is that examples I used of where you involveemployees were things like sustainability, innovation,diversity.These are things where there's mutual gainand everyone can buy into them.You won't find many employees that say,I'm not in favor of diversity, I thinksustainability is overrated, I'd rather justconsume as many resources as I can in the next 10 years.

    • 13:11

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: So people at least buy into those rhetoricallyif not in total commitment.But I think there are other traditionswhere people actually often don't want to be involved.Let me give you an example.I work at Cass Business School.As deputy dean I've got a number of subordinatesand it's a big chunk of academics.If some mystery benefactor gives us half a million pounds

    • 13:31

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and says, spend it on something thatmakes a social contribution in termsof academic endeavor, that to me's a perfect exampleof something where I can internally crowdsource that.What should we do with the money?And we may end up with a better solutionif I involve a range of stakeholders,rather than me making the decision, so activenon-leadership, if you like.

    • 13:52

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: So in that instance, it works very welland we're now at the high quality solution.If we imagine a scenario where the vicechancellor of our institution says to me, Cliff,the institution's not doing as well across the board.It's not doing as well in recruitment as we hoped.There's a shortfall in the finances this year.We need you to save about half a million pounds in the business

    • 14:14

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: school.Then that's not a decision that's easily outsourcedor internally crowdsourced.If I say to a number of academics,where should we make cuts, then that's a decisionthey don't want to be actively involved in.They might want to be involved, funny enough, off the record.They might want to come and say to me, not my area,because we're really busy, but you can save it

    • 14:35

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: in this area or that area.But they don't want to take ownership of that problem.They want to give you informal advice.So it's an example of where some things lend themselvesto a kind of more inclusive and dialogic form of changeand some things don't.So it has to be issue-dependent.

    • 14:55

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: There are certain industrial sector constraints.But on the whole, society's moving morein the direction of a different form of expectationsand organizations are having to perform in different ways.[What would you identify as the drivers of discourse-orientedmodes of organizational change and transformation?]

    • 15:16

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: I think there are a number of driversof new forms of organizational changeand new forms of organizing.And I think there are very obvious ones, thingslike consumer tastes are changing, high levelsof competition.But I think the things that shouldn't be underestimated,the environment's been described as turbulent for the last 50,60 years, some would say longer than that.

    • 15:39

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: But I think that there's a differencebetween turbulent competitive environmentsand what I would call turbulent competitive networkedenvironments.Now social media, the technology hasintervened in a way that's made significant differencesto organizing.

    • 15:59

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: Before you couldn't make decisions in real-time.You couldn't involve everyone in a decision.If information was leaked, it wouldtake a while for information to get out through the grapevine.Now with Twitter and various other forms of-- everyone'sgot a mobile phone, information is passed very quickly.What we see as flash-mobbed in society,

    • 16:19

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: I reckon we could probably see in the next few yearsinternal flash mobs.People self-organize.So if you try to maintain hierarchy rather than embracenetworks and the drivers of social networks,then you swim against the tide of change.Organizations can't any longer operate as pure hierarchiesand top-down, because the bottom won't

    • 16:40

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: allow you to work top-down.They are engaged and they affect outcomes.Hopefully you can channel that energy into positive outcomes.If you don't and you maintain hierarchy,you run the risk of negative forms of interventionby employees if you don't involve them.So I think that's-- so technology is a massive driver.I think the other thing that shouldn't be underestimated

    • 17:02

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: is the generational shift.I'm a baby boomer.And I kind of respect authority.I tried to develop a career.I understand I don't have a massive amount of agencyover things.And that's my position.I understand that.

    • 17:22

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: Millennials and even more so Generation Zhave very different sets of attitudes.They don't respect authority.They don't consider careers in the way that we used to.They are kind of digital natives, so they're connected.And they have expectations.And they actually do think they can change the world,not in the kind of naive way that most teenagers do,

    • 17:44

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and I might have done as a teenager,but they know that they have a say and a stake.So there are examples of that socially which I thinkare going to start to apply to organizations.Rage Against the Machine pushed Joe McElderry off number one.That started with a couple somewhere,I think it was a bedroom in Essex,just decided they didn't want to have Simon Cowell's group, one

    • 18:04

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: of his starlets at number one.So they said to 12 people, you know,we ought to do something about this.And that led to Rage Against the Machine "Killing in the Nameof" being number one.That's millions of people.Now if we imagine that people canmobilize in those kinds of ways, then peoplefeel they have agency.So the younger generation think they can change things.

    • 18:25

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: And actually, they can, because they're socially connectedand they can mobilize in ways that we previously couldn't.[What is the importance of culture in change management?]Generational shifts effect kind of modesof organizing because younger generations feelthey have agency.And also, their respect for authority-- at school

    • 18:46

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: they engage in dialog.In real terms they don't want to be led.They want to be engaged.And I think there's a subtle difference.So command and control styles of leadership,heroic styles of leadership aren't going to play very well.And we have to accept that as a baby boomer-- I'm 51,

    • 19:06

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: we're gradually being replaced by Millennials.So this is a gradual, slow, inevitable process of change.So we either embrace it now and accept that's happeningand work with it or we're trying to resistant itto a point we can't any longer.[What advice would you give to students and researcherson the research methods you have used to study changemanagement?]

    • 19:28

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: In terms of research methods for exploringevolving forms of organizational changeand evolving forms of organizing,I think there are a number of kind of guiding principles.I think large-scale, large-sample survey-typemethods don't lend themselves to capturing the subtleties

    • 19:49

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and nuances of shifts, especiallywith discursive material.So if you want to see how things unfoldin real-time conversations, then youtend to have to be there, or at leastrecording or capturing that.So it has to be more micro in orientation,more ethno-methodological, more ethnographic,action research, getting in there

    • 20:10

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and working with organizations to explore how this stuff isunfolding and developing.I think that's true of most discursive methods,but particularly pertinent to kind of studyingthe process of change.So you can't do large-scale, secondary data type analyses.I think you have to be in the room,because these processes occur in the room.

    • 20:30

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: That's what it's about research methods.I think there's also an interesting point about whatour role is as academics.Recently at an EGOS conference, one of the keynote speakers,Jerry Davis, talked about the way in which organizationtheorists tend to retrospectivelystudy phenomena.So they look at what's happened and criticize it

    • 20:52

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and talk about how it didn't work.And he referred to that as when wedo that, the institutional theories about studying thingsthat have already happened.I think we have a role to play that ismore proactive than reactive and more projective and moreconstructive.We need to help to facilitate the processesof democratization, the process of inclusion,

    • 21:13

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: the processes that are inevitable but cancause us problems if we don't acceptthe inevitability of them.So we have a role to play in helpingmanagers, senior managers in particularbut also middle managers, to come to terms with the changingworld and to think in behavioral terms how we accommodate that.And I'm thinking here of things like how you encourageand promote forms of self-organization,

    • 21:34

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: how you encourage and promote conversations thatare constructive, right down to thingslike if we think about things like internal crowdsourcingas a mechanism, I like the idea of thingslike action learning, people learning in groups.You could create self-organized forms of action learningor spontaneous action learning.So you create the conditions.And it's like most things, I don'tthink you can actually manage people into groups

    • 21:56

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: and manage them to be creative, constructive, committed,and engaged.You can just create the conducive conditionsand when it happens.It's a bit like gardening, really.You can't make a plant grow.You can just create the conditions where it grows.So I think in that sense, we have a roleto play in helping managers.The final thing I'd say in relation to that is wehave to help managers to cope with the shiftingnature of their roles, because actually as managers we quite

    • 22:19

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: like the power and the status.And what I've been talking about actuallyinvolves having less power and less formal status, lesshierarchy, less control of things.So we have to let go, and psychologicallythat's uncomfortable.So we have a role to play in helping managersto cope and adapt to what doesn't feel naturally very

    • 22:39

      CLIFF OSWICK [continued]: easy to do.

Cliff Oswick Discusses Discourse-Oriented Modes of Organizational Change and Transformation

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Professor Cliff Oswick analyzes the societal and corporate culture changes that occur within businesses as a new generation arrives to replace an old regime. His focus is primarily on the situation faced by senior management of the "baby boomer" generation as the "millenials" come of age.

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Cliff Oswick Discusses Discourse-Oriented Modes of Organizational Change and Transformation

Professor Cliff Oswick analyzes the societal and corporate culture changes that occur within businesses as a new generation arrives to replace an old regime. His focus is primarily on the situation faced by senior management of the "baby boomer" generation as the "millenials" come of age.

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