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THE POWER OF

CONVERSATIONS
AT WORK

by
Joel Henning, Principal
Henning-Showkeir & Associates
A PECULIAR E-MAIL that the comments were too odd It didn’t work. When we rolled
to clearly understand. The strange out our grand plans we were met
This peculiar e-mail was sent to
e-mail was soon forgotten and with indifference, objections,
the Senior Management Team of
dismissed as irrelevant. ridicule and hostility. We were
the GoodJeans Company on the
None of us imagined that the dumbfounded and angry.
4th of July in 1996. The author
was never identified. At the time, success of our work
the Team was working its way would hinge on We believed that change is only an issue
through an grasping what was of rearranging things while making
unexpected, written to us.
The author was
people feel good about it.
significant and
prolonged teaching; we were
business not listening. Time, frustration This article is about what this
turndown. and failure would change that. e-mail and experience taught us.
They were Lost in an instrumental The learning transformed our
doing what mindset; ignoring the reality understanding of how change
management of personal freedom; seeking occurs and what is fundamental
teams do packaging techniques to get to proposing and sustaining it.
in these “buy in” from the masses; we We learned to recognize and
circumstances - forged ahead. We believed appreciate the power of the
cutting expenses, reducing head- that change is only an issue of ordinary person to change the
count, rearranging structures, rearranging things while making world. It taught us the importance
reengineering processes and people feel good about it. of individual freedom in grasping
searching for techniques to how things work. Finally, it made
manage all the various Th e GoodJeans Company clear to us the impact of words
constituencies impacted To: and conversations in creating the
The Senior Management Te
by the changes they would am reality we call life and culture.
propose. I was consulting Fro m: Me
Date:
LEARNING SOME
to the organization as they July 4th, 1996 HARD LESSONS
worked their way through Subject: Some Thoughts
this downsizing process. on Change Our fumbling and bumbling led
Before you ever see me, be us to three conclusions:
fore you conceive of
Their preliminary findings ways to understand me, be
fore you ever name
had been released the me anything, I find myself 1. We had lost or denied the
in the world with
week before in a series choices to make and a future
to create. Before
first person perspective -- I, me,
of meetings with I am a name or number, an we, and us -- in thinking about
employee, a part
employees. The news of the pro cess or system or a manage people, organizations and change.
I am anything you may say r-- before
was bad. The meetings about me, I am in We wanted employees to “buy
had not gone well. the world deciding what to in”, “sign up”, “enroll” or “get on
make of my life.
I decide what to make of yo
u and your plans for board”! These phrases represented
The e-mail provoked me. I decide what meaning
you will have in my the limit of our interest in them
considerable curiosity life. I will decide for myself
the future I pursue
from Team members. and your place in it. These and concealed our unstated wish
things are not in your that they simply comply with
Comments like, “Huh?” hands. You cannot demand
my commitment,
and “What’s this about?” passion or determine my de what we were designing for their
stiny. I choose or
were typical. Almost reject these things for my ow lives. We believed we could bring
n reasons.
everyone concluded about change by securing “strong

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 11


sponsorship” while “rolling out Organizational change viewed Embedded in an instrumental
programs” and “getting individuals from the first person perspective perspective, we ignored the will,
to sign up”. is the gain or loss of opportunity intelligence and intentions of the
We deluded ourselves. It is or security. It is cause for people for whom we were design-
not that simple! disappointment or a chance ing a world. We were foolish.
for personal advancement.
We learned the hard way that 2. We didn’t know how to talk
It can either strengthen cynicism
people hold success or failure in about change from the first
or evoke commitment to service
their hands no matter how slick person perspective. We were
and contribution.
our theories and plans. superb at creating words
If they want change to and language to talk about
fail all they have to do organizations and change
is say, “No!” -- be it from the third person
with a fist or a smile, perspective. We failed to
with a loud voice or do the same for the first
silent resistance. person perspective. We
We learned we could understood the language
not create sustainable of design and understood
change by adopting a little about the language
utilitarian viewpoint of personal engagement.
and demanding The way we talked and
compliance with a thought – used words
smiling face. and concepts – created
We adopted a very limited view a reality in which there was no
People decide for themselves the
of change. Organizational change room for the person at work.
meaning of change. They resist or
looks very different from the third
welcome it based on the meaning 3. Sustainable change would
person perspective than the first
they confer on it. In the end orga- require us to give up programmatic
person perspective. From the third
nizational change only succeeds if intervention and engage the will,
person perspective – he, she, it,
the individuals impacted choose freedom and intelligence of the
and they – we saw roles, costs,
for its success. If they bring the people with whom we worked.
tasks, systems, structures andoutlook of a cynic, bystander or It required us to seek and invite
processes. From this perspective
victim, change will falter and suc- commitment, forsaking the heavy
cumb. How can success be built hand of demand.
How can success be built on a on a foundation of hopelessness, If we wanted to create sustainable
foundation of hopelessness, detachment and helplessness?
change -- change based on each
detachment and helplessness? If change is seen as the chance person choosing accountability for
to gain advantage over others it making things work -- we needed
grand plans are created to is put in jeopardy. The welfare of to change the way we engaged
reengineer the organization in the whole is lost in a sea of indi- people. We would have to
hopes of improved performance. vidual ambition. To dismiss, change our conversations with
The view is instrumental -- people ignore or ridicule the outlook them. The challenge was to
serve as the means, or as an agent, and power of the individual is speak with the voice of the artist
for implementing someone else’s foolhardy and ill advised. Success and poet, inviting intimacy and
plan for the future. and failure are in their hands. involvement. Forsaking our

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 22


preoccupation with control, go to meetings, hire consultants whole requires each person to
consistency and predictability, and create management schools. make the business their own.
we would have to embrace and This means throwing themselves
There are three factors that
enter an unpredictable world into work with hands, head and
consistently appear to forcefully
where freedom is sacred. heart. Such “leaps of faith” do not
impact the capacity
occur because they are demanded.
of an organization
If we wanted to create sustainable They only occur as a personal
to succeed in
change -- change based on each person achieving results. act of choice.
choosing accountability for making The first is the These strengths can not take root
things work -- we needed to change the ability of the and flourish within a management
organization to strategy committed to control,
way we engaged people. consistently give consistency and compliance as
original and unique the “primary” way to run things.
MAKING BUSINESS SENSE responses to its customers. The heavy hand of demand simply
This is about work and The second is the capacity of will not create an organization
organizational change. As the the organization to create new marked by resourcefulness,
reader you deserve a credible knowledge and apply it
and relevant business argument successfully to products and The heavy hand of demand simply
to support what is proposed here. processes. The last factor is will not create an organization
You also deserve pragmatic tools the ability of the organiza-
tion to create a workplace marked by resourcefulness,
that convert theory to powerful
and productive action. where each person chooses inventiveness or imagination.
accountability for making
Hard truths face organizations the entire enterprise successful. inventiveness or imagination.
every day. Primary among them Consolidating power and issuing
is the absolute necessity of To create new knowledge, to grant
orders falters. A few deciding for
achieving positive results. each customer the exception they
the many, while holding people
Whether results are accountable, mandating
market share, return programs, doing
on investment, cycle performance reviews
time or some other and crafting corporate
measure, the demand visions – comes up
for results is unequiv- short in creating
ocal. Every organiza- the passion, artistry
tion must create and dexterity to
more value than it succeed.
consumes however
that is measured. If we want to give birth
This is not an to a workplace that
epiphanal insight. supports and sustains
We all know it. such a choice we must
The urgent question do at least three things.
is always, “How?” First, we must engage
In search of answers to that want and to encourage everyone people in radically different ways.
question we rack our brains, to choose accountability for the Secondly, we must forsake our

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 33


utilitarian implementation – conventional talking we do with and in life. It is about our
thinking about implementation each other. It is in our conversa- individual freedom, choice and
in favor of inviting engagement tions that we create and disclose what we think is possible for
as the means of creating change. to those around us the future we others and ourselves.
Finally, we must deliberately are pursuing. Through our con-
Worth, ordinary conversations
let loose the reins of power – versations we invite, demand or
and the first person perspective
committing to a broad and manipulate others to join us in
are not the issues I talked about
deep distribution of business creating a future. In our conversa-
in my consulting work. I ignored
literacy, choice and accountabilitytions we define who we are and
them or thought of them as
throughout the workplace. what we choose to become as
irrelevant to the work in which
individuals and together.
I was engaged. Large system
The Conversations referred to Conversations create,
change strategies, organizational
disclose, invite and sustain
happen in bars, boardrooms, the culture in which we live!
designs, empowerment and
cafeterias, offices, training restructuring processes are the
The Conversations referred to subject matter about which I
classes and on factory floors. happen in bars, boardrooms, talked. The instrumental mindset
cafeterias, offices, training was never far from my thinking
This article is primarily about classes and on factory floors. and lips. Nonetheless these
changing how we think about They occur in formal deliberation “peculiar themes” persist in
and engage one another at work. about weighty matters and as pursuing me and seem evermore
It offers a framework and skills “small talk” in casual settings. pertinent to the business of
that are an alternative to the The participants are you and I, change. It was this strange e-mail
utilitarian view of people, along with customers, vendors, that triggered a fundamental
change and work in which we managers, workers and others transformation of how I
are so well trained. who come to work. understand change.
I will use unfamiliar words and My fondest hope is that you the
concepts when talking about reader will affirm and validate
these issues. Words like stance, the relevance of this thinking in
disappointment, worth and your own experience. It is also my
self-indulgence are a few wish that it makes business sense
examples. Traditional language and provides new and powerful
is too limiting. If we want to possibilities for understanding and
change how we think and what action in your own circumstances.
we do, it is likely we will have
to change how we talk. ENGAGING CHANGE
AT THE STREET LEVEL:
THE POINT AND PURPOSE THE FIRST PERSON VIEW
This article is about change, more I know that whole system models
specifically about awakening to are a necessary part of looking at
the importance of the first person large and complicated organiza-
perspective in creating a future tional change. A third person
and sustaining change. Finally it is about choices -- about perspective is useful. We could not
It is also about the power of what each of us chooses to believe function in a complex community
conversations -- the common and is real and worth pursuing in work without the language, concepts

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 44


and models that let us look at an instrumental view of people participate in creating and
the whole. They are powerful is almost irresistible if the only sustaining a future of someone
and necessary. They help us way we see and talk about people else’s choosing is the goal -- this is
see things clearly. is from the Top. what “signing up and getting on
Lost in this thinking, our conver- board” means. The key question is,
However, when we take these
sations about personal freedom, “How do I make this happen?”
abstractions and symbols to be
concrete reality they can distort
and obscure. Words, concepts
and models are ways we talk
about life. They are not life!
Talking about life is not the
same as living life. Life is not
lived in an abstract, detached
and disembodied place. It is
lived on the Street. This is where
life is created and lived -- with
all its uncertainties, messiness
and contradictions.
What is the first person
perspective? How does it differ
from a third person perspective?
The Street view is an alternative
to third person views of work,
organizations and change -- the worth and meaning become Words and conversations are
view from the Top. Viewed from foolish and irrelevant. used as techniques to shape and
the Top the individual person is move others toward ends of my
When you or I are seen only from choosing. Selling, promising,
reduced to a footnote or deleted the Top -- when the reality of the
altogether. You and I become bartering and threatening are
Street is denied -- strange and all examples of instrumental
distorted plans take shape. conversations.
Selling, promising, bartering and
threatening are all examples of ENGAGING OTHERS The ends and means of the
IN THE STREET instrumental viewpoint are
instrumental conversations.
What then does it mean alignment and compliance.
to choose engagement over an Contact with others only has
an object -- he, she, it or they -- instrumental view of people meaning in light of my agenda
manager, blue collar worker, and change? It means, above all, and goal. I pay attention to those
executive, employee, professional a radical redefinition of how we people important to the outcomes
or union member. The third understand people, language I strive for and ignore those I
person perspective can do away and our own purposes. see as irrelevant to what I value.
with you and I altogether. We are From this point of view engaging
no longer you or I, or even he or From an instrumental point of view people only has value if it
she. We are an insignificant part people are the means or agents of contributes to the ends I pursue.
of a process or system that needs achieving an outcome someone In this context conversations are
fixing. The temptation to embrace else designs. Getting others to not an invitation for engagement.

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 55


This is why in so many instances disclose heart, mind and soul Viewed in the short term,
the promise of employee participa- and pursue mutual commitment there is no question that strategies
tion is a fraud -- participation is to a future of our joint creation. of engagement frequently seem to
used as a technique to achieve Conversations are the event where fail and that instrumental strate-
alignment and compliance. we confront as a group or gies often seem to work. The
organization questions of larger question is, “Can strategies
Can any worthwhile work be meaning, choice, accountability of change and transformation
done if freedom and meaning are and where we seek to build
community based on choice.
based upon seduction, manipula-
tion and fear create anything of
denied or seen as irrelevant? Through the eyes of engage- sustainable worth?” Or put
ment freedom is not the another way, “Can any worthwhile
To choose engagement over utility enemy threatening a world built work be done if freedom and
in relationships creates a very on the pillars of control and consis- meaning are denied or seen as
different picture of reality. The tency. Rather, the exercise of irrelevant?”
other is not an “it” to be shaped freedom is the only road to create HOW? GETTING PRACTICAL
and manipulated. The other is a sustainable future for which we
free, makes choices, seeks his or all choose to be accountable. Inevitably the How question is
her own future, pursues meaning posed:
It is true that the world of engage-
and is always about creating a ment is messy, unpredictable, •“If I want to pursue engagement
world of their own choosing. frequently conflicted and as the means to create and
It is recognized that sustain relationships,
the other was not organizations and
born and does not change, how do
exist to fit in a world I do it?”
of my choosing - •“How do I avoid
anymore than I see making conversations
myself as existing to a means of manipula-
fit in a world of their tion and make them
choosing. They are instead events that
just as capable of involve others in
seeing me instru- deciding how to
mentally as I am use their freedom?”
of seeing them in
that way. The key •“How would I justify
question is not, pursuing my work
“How do I get my in this way to the
way?” The key powers that be?
question is, “How What are the business
unceasingly frustrating. At times reasons for it?”
do we each employ our freedom the apparent quiet, serenity and
to work together and create a organization of utilitarian •“What do I do if others will
worthwhile future?” thinking becomes very attractive; not go along?”
Words and conversations are not unfortunately, for the most part, And so on and so on. What
techniques to manipulate others it is an illusion. The noise of follows is a preliminary effort at
to achieve my ends. Rather they are freedom has gone underground. developing answers for these
the way we invite one other to questions. The effort is neither

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 66


comprehensive nor complete; • Live with doubt and ambiguity When disappointing experiences
it is a beginning. about outcomes. are transformed into a conclusion
• Understanding Stance • Confront issues of stance in that life is disappointing, experi-
yourself and with others. ence has solidified into a stance.
• The Core Skills of Engagement
• The Most Difficult Conversations UNDERSTANDING When disappointing experiences are
STANCE
• Words and Worth at Work transformed into a conclusion that
The power of our conver- life is disappointing, experience has
CHANGES OF THE HEART sations is in conveying to
The pursuit of engagement in con- others what we think is –
solidified into a stance.
versations is not just a technique. and what we believe will
It is also the intention to: be. When we speak we disclose I then expect events and life to
• Recognize and publicly acknowl- our version of life and solicit be disappointing. Occasional
edge others as whole human others to join us in seeing it that moments of joy, celebration or
beings fully capable of exercising way. We use conversation to do intimacy are seen as the
their freedom, defining meaning this. It is powerful stuff! The stance exceptions to the rule.
and choosing for accountability. we carry colors what we pay atten- I project into the future life as I
tion to within an event and expect it to be. I prepare myself
The power of our conversations is in what we expect from it. for a future I have created through
conveying to others what we think Stances are usually projection. In a very real way
formed from experience. the cause of my current behavior
“is” – and what we believe will be.
For instance, over becomes the future I expect.
• Build community and purpose time each one of us Once formed, stances are powerful.
based on commitment and experiences disappointments. Our stances determine how we see
consent over compliance
and demand. The Future of Staff Groups Daring to Distribute Power and Capacity
$29.95
• Resist caretaking, prescrip- STAFF GROUPS––those within organizations that perform internal functions such
tion, over-promising and as human resources, finance, legal, quality, information systems, and others––live with
threat as the means to the constant threat that, as overhead-identified costs, theirs are sure to be the first
positions eliminated in any kind of crunch. Joel Henning offers a new and vital vision
managing relationships. for developing staff groups in organizations––one that focuses on personal
• Abandon barter as the accountability for their survival and contribution to the organization.
primary means to create The Future of Staff Groups takes the unusual tack of recognizing staff groups as
and sustain relationships. the overlooked power brokers in corporations. Building capacities, and delivering
them to colleagues in line groups dramatically improves the ability of the entire
• Choose telling the truth, organization to serve the marketplace. For this positive potential to be realized,
confessing doubts, Henning explains how and why the staff groups themselves first need to shed their
extending forgiveness and own traditional tasks of aligning, watching, mandating, and caretaking. Henning
seeking reconciliation over confronts the past, faces current bottom-line demands, and describes roles for
retribution as the means the future that can effectively reposition staff groups within their organizations.
To order this book or request information
The Future of Staff Groups is a relevant reference for anyone who sells professional
for creating and sustaining expertise and cares about the impact they make. about The Consulting Skills workshops:
relationships. Call Henning-Showkeir & Associates at
The Author
(908) 232-9994
• Persist in the face of Joel P. Henning is a principal in the consulting firm Henning-Showkeir & Associates.
Fax us at (908) 389-0211
indifference, rejection, For over 30 years, he has consulted to large and small corporations, insurance and
E-Mail us at: henning-showkeir@att.net
hostility or ridicule. banking organizations, and manufacturing companies on long-term change efforts.

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 77


the possibilities of life and I see others in the same light - The preoccupation is always with,
how we invite others to see either victims or oppressors “What’s in it for me?” Wealth,
what is possible. Stances are not living in an unjust world. privilege and status are the ends
predetermined. A stance is chosen. Life-as-Disappointment ends in I value. From this stance I lay
Stances can be changed. spiritual suicide. The cumulative claim to omniscience about how
There are three primary stances. weight of constant disappointment things are and how they should
Life-as-Disappointment; becomes unbearable despair. The be. I pursue the power to make
Life-as-Gaining Advantage; and spirit withers and dies. I lie down it so, always putting my welfare
Life-as-Creating-Worth. in the graveyard before my time. and myself at the center.
Life-as-Disappointment Life-as-Gaining Advantage The world is viewed instrumentally.
People and events only interest me
From this stance I view life as This stance is self-interest run to the degree they threaten or
fearful. I am vulnerable and amok. I choose to believe all provide the opportunities to gain
helpless; held hostage in a life people and events are intended personal advantage. The common
that is unjust and discouraging. to serve the ends I value. good is a secondary consideration.
The preoccupation is
I pursue and develop
with what I expect from CONVERSATIONS relationships
the world. I consistently A Workshop Presented by Henning - Showkeir & Associates
based on
predict that the world We believe that ordinary conversations create and sustain the culture of the
bartering and
will respond to me with organizations in which we live and work. It is in the ordinary conversations
individuals have with one another that the success or failure of change efforts the advantage
indifference, disapproval are played out and determined. Talk is not cheap. It makes all the difference.
it may
or rejection. I know The purpose of this workshop is to reawaken and make clear the power of the provide me.
that the answer to my first person perspective in engaging change. It is also to develop and practice
conversations that engage others in creating deep and sustainable change. Engagement
deepest wishes is, “No!” Change only works when people are involved individually as persons, and not
I anticipate failure in treated as “targets”. The importance of the first person perspective is the central cannot be
love, work and relation- theme of the Conversations workshop. pursued if this
This workshop teaches people how to have high impact conversations to create is the starting
ships. I try to barter sustainable change in their organizations. There are generic elements that make
with the world in good conversations powerful: place. From
faith and am betrayed. • Telling the Truth – Creating a World We Can Believe In this stance
I seek safe harbors in • Self-Disclosure – Bringing Heart, Mind and Hands to Work engagement
• Framing Choices – Seeing Alternatives to Helplessness
leaders, lovers, ideolo- • Extending Goodwill – Choosing for the Success of Others only has value
gies and withdrawal, • Naming the Difficult Issues – Saying No to Cosmetic Conversations if it is useful
• Acknowledging Doubt, Anxiety and Guilt – Choosing Authenticity
knowing all the while, • Making Promises and Offering Guarantees – Putting It On The Line in gaining
that in the end, I will There are also specific business situations that require special applications of advantage.
be disappointed. these key skills, including:
• Creating Beginnings – Getting Started on Change At the end of Life-as-
I participate in life • Raising Difficult Issues – Telling the Truth When it ís Difficult Gaining Advantage
as a bystander, cynic • Confronting Stance – Engaging the Cynic and Victim is nausea -- feasting
or victim. I boast • Seeking Exceptions – Managing the Expectations of the People in Charge
• Initiating Endings – Creating Endings that Work on and consuming
about how well I • Engaging Performance Issues – Dealing with Issues of Individual Contribution the world to the
endure and suffer In this workshop participants practice how to manage these difficult conversations point of sickness.
in a disheartening effectively. The target population is very broad. These skills are relevant and timely
for managers, supervisors, executives, consultants, core workers, teams, and Life-as-
and unfair world. project managers and members.
If you would like more information, please contact Henning-Showkeir & Associates,
Creating-Worth
Not only do I see at 908-232-9994 – fax us at 908-389-0211, e-mail: henning-showkeir@att.net.
my own Life-as- To see life as the
Disappointment; opportunity for

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 88


contributing to a common good way stance creates the world in TheNewsCompany were not
without the expectation of a which we live. Conversations happy campers.
return is Life-as-Creating-Worth. are the means by which we
I had reluctantly agreed to
The preoccupation is with what convey our stance and recruit
do team building with the
I offer others. I pursue generosity others to join us. If we describe
senior managers of The Voice.
in service of sustaining, enlarging our workplace as disappointing,
In preparation for the two-day
and increasing the possibilities unjust and insensitive it will be so.
off site event I had
of life. There is no assurance of We make it so
interviewed the
success, appreciation or recognition. by naming and
ten members of
Creating worth persists in the face characterizing
their management
of disappointment and discourage- it in this way.
team. For background
ment. This is a stance taken If we describe
information I had
without barter. It is chosen as others as helpless
also gone to the
an act of faith. to change
corporate offices of
anything - we
From this stance I work to do TheNewsCompany
contribute to
that for which I have passion. to interview the
making it so.
Knowing I am accountable, senior managers
If we constantly
I pursue the possibility of liveliness, that had oversight
depict work as
joy, giving, and compassion as the responsibilities
impersonal
intention and practice of my life. for The Voice.
drudgery where
I forsake surrender. With few exceptions
the only value is
there was general agreement
The end of this stance is to “lie personal advancement and a
about two things. One, The Voice
exhausted,” as George Bernard paycheck, we will make it so.
was in serious trouble and in a
Shaw puts it, “on the scrap heap” If we depict employees as limited
“financial free fall” with no bottom
and in constant
in sight. Two, Jack Flack, the
Stance is a central issue if we want to need of caretaking, Publisher, was managing things
freely engage each other in deciding we will make it so. badly – very badly. Executives
what futures we will create in building What follows is a from TheNewsCompany regularly
relationships and community. story that makes the collected disparaging stories from
power and relevance The Voice’s senior managers about
of stance apparent. It occurred at Jack’s incompetence. They eagerly
having chosen to be a “force of
TheNewsCompany Corporation. carried these to Jim High, the
Nature instead of a feverish selfish
CEO of TheNewsCompany. They
little clod of ailments and grievances TheNewsCompany
didn’t have to pull teeth to get the
complaining that the world will not
I was working with one of the stories; people from The Voice
devote itself to making me happy.”
large city newspapers - The Voice - were eager to contribute. By the
STANCE MAKES IT SO! - owned by TheNewsCompany time I got involved with The Voice
Corporation. Jack’s job was clearly on the line.
Stance is a central issue if we want
to freely engage each other in Like many newspapers The Voice Of course Jack knew nothing of
deciding what futures we will had fallen upon difficult times. this. He fully understood the
create in building relationships Circulation and revenue were difficult issues the newspaper
and community. Stances are down and costs were going up. and he faced with the “folks” at
chosen! In a concrete and real The corporate owners at corporate. He assumed, however,

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 99


that the people he worked with In short this is what I said, “The When Jack goes to Metroplace
at The Voice were supporting the people at corporate are unhappy, to report a plan the very next day
efforts being made to turn things very unhappy, about the perfor- people sitting at this table undercut
around. He also assumed they mance of The Voice. They see this and attack it. It becomes only
were telling him the truth. paper floundering with no credible Jack’s plan or no plan at all.”
plan to turn things around in sight.
These were the unhappy “The executives at corporate told
They see your relationships in
circumstances facing the “team” me that none of you will tell Jack
when we convened for a two-day what you really think because
team building session. I was “What makes all of this particularly of his temper, ‘There is just
not looking forward to it. upsetting to senior management at no way to talk to him! He will
TheNewsCompany is that this not listen!’ Almost everyone
During the first day the group
group has no plan.” I interviewed at corporate
talked about their relationships
told me identical ‘Jack stories’.
and the future. It was minimally
There are about six or seven
useful but did not confront or shambles. They are most disturbed
of them. They are all negative and
acknowledge the collusion about you, Jack. Your job is on the
they all were collected from people
between members of the team line. There are no more chances
sitting at this table. In short, that is
and the executives at corporate. left.” I went on to name some
where things stand. Does anyone
I had a sleepless night. of the specific business issues:
want to comment?”
The morning of the second union negotiations, loss of
day I was due to give feedback circulation, advertising strategy Jack was the first to respond,
to the group about what I had and employee morale. “You mean that for the last year
learned during my visit to I have been talking to Jim and the
Then to the most difficult
TheNewsCompany headquarters. others down there about our plans
problem, “What makes all of this
I expected what I had to say while everyone here was tearing
particularly upsetting to senior
might bring the team building them apart when they talked to
management at TheNewsCompany
to a premature end. corporate. Do any of you have
is that this group has no plan.
any idea of how foolish I feel?”
He seemed stunned. It was the
voice of someone betrayed,
abruptly realizing he had
been living in a fictional
world for the last year.
He looked around the
table and fell silent.
Denials, confessions,
justifications and accusations
followed from others for the
next fifteen minutes.
I thought it was a good
time for a break.
I went to the cafeteria to get
away and have a cigarette.
I was sitting in a booth

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 10


10
pondering what to do when Jack “You could, but my guess is it headed upstairs. I followed in a
slid into the seat across from me. would reinforce everyone’s view few minutes. The meeting started
He asked, “Do you mind talking?” that they can’t talk to you -- you with Jack saying, “We can’t contin-
know, the ‘temper thing’. I get ue like this - this intrigue is going
“No, not at all,” I responded.
that it might be satisfying, in some to kill us all along with this paper!
He looked at me. Jack is a proud ways justified, but I am pretty sure We’ve got to find a way to tell the
man, almost aristocratic. He enjoys it will not help anything -- for you truth to each other. I know my
the station and status of being the or them.” temper is a problem. I will do my
Publisher of one of America’s He pushed himself back from best to catch myself and stop it.
premier newspapers. Looking the the table and started to get up. I am asking you to help. Tell me
fool did not rest easy with him. Just before he stood he looked at when I’m doing it. You have got
This was a very difficult moment. me and said, “Or I could go back to stop excusing yourselves for not
His voice was calm and even, up there and start all over with telling the truth. We can not live
“I feel so stupid. I have no idea them -- from the beginning. with it anymore. I want to start
where to go from here.” from the beginning and forget
about the past. I hope
I sympathized, “I’m sorry all each one of you is willing
of this happened. I don’t have to start over. I realize each
any “pithy” advice. What are of you has to decide for
you thinking?” yourself. I don’t want to
He paused for what seemed rehash what happened
like five minutes, “I could call it earlier. That’s my offer.
quits and tell Jim and the group, I’d like to hear from
‘OK, I get it. I give up. I’m out each one of you.”
of here. Who needs this kind In that moment Jack
of craziness and deception?’ ” taught me about stance,
its power in conversations
I imagined myself pursuing
and its impact on business.
that course if facing the same
He could have returned
circumstances, ‘Yes, you could
from lunch seeing Life-as-
do that. I think anybody
Disappointment -- unfair,
would understand. I hope
unjust, abusive, full of
you would give yourself some
betrayal. He could have
time to think about it before
surrendered and resigned.
you make any announcements.
The data tempted and justi-
It’s hard to reverse if you
fied taking such a position.
change your mind.’
In so doing he would have
Again there was a long pause. invited everyone in the
“I could go back up there room, including me, to
and take their heads off. I have join him in that stance.
some stories about everyone of I don’t know what I’ll do,” He could have returned to the
them that the people at corporate he ended the conversation. room full of anger and retribution
could add to their horror story Without waiting for an answer escalating the fear and apprehen-
collection.” he thanked me for listening and sion already in the room. He could

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 11


11
have put the wrong done him at The subsequent resurrection the truth, as we know it, nothing
center stage, adopting a stance of and recovery of The Voice began else is possible and engagement
Life-as-Gaining Advantage. Once on that day and in that meeting. will fail. When we offer spin,
again the data tempted and justified distortion, omission or lie as a
Naming the issues, confessing
such a stance. Self-righteous anger substitute for authenticity, we create
doubts, confronting and changing
and retaliation were fitting under the worlds we can not believe in or
stance are practical activities in
circumstances. Again, in so doing sustain. Even more damaging, we
he would have affirm our belief that
invited everyone relationships cannot
in the room, bear the simple light
including me, of truth. To tell the
to see the world truth with goodwill
and these circum- is an absolute
stances from affirmation of faith
this viewpoint. in relationships.
He did neither. • Self-Disclosure
He chose starting Asking yourself or
over -- beginning others to fully engage
again. It was an work with hands,
act of faith in heart and mind is
Life-as-Creating- impossible without
conversations based on engage- offering and encouraging
Worth. The act of faith was to
ment. They contribute mightily to discussions about feelings and
choose the action that contributed
building relationships, community issues of the heart. Choosing and
to the possibility of healing and
and a worthwhile future. inviting emotional transparency
Naming the issues, confessing doubts, THE CORE SKILLS creates authentic relationships and
OF ENGAGEMENT integrates the person with work.
confronting and changing stance are
practical activities in conversations Conversations aimed • Framing Choices
based on engagement. at engaging the other Framing choices is the alternative
require both intention to prescription, caretaking and
and technique. The commitments other techniques that try to
reconciliation -- the rebuilding “get people to do something”.
listed in discussing the “Changes
of relationships and community.
of the Heart” are all issues of
There was no promise of a return.
intention. What follows are Conversations aimed at engaging
In fact, at that moment, there
skills, methods and techniques the other require both intention
was little reason to believe there
that are useful for encouraging
would be any positive response.
and creating conversations of and technique.
The greater probability was that
engagement. The list is neither
it would be met by silence, Naming the choices you see
complete nor comprehensive.
indifference or quiet ridicule. for yourself and asking others to
The point is to get practical.
He did it anyway. In so doing do the same makes issues of
he invited everyone in the room, • Telling the Truth
freedom, accountability and
including me, to see the possibility Telling the truth is the foundation meaning immediately relevant
of Life-as-Creating-Worth. of engagement. Without disclosing and compelling.

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 12


12
• Extending Goodwill vulnerability and responsibility is one of the most powerful tools
for harsh realities. Yet nothing available for using conversations
Goodwill is not a feeling. It is
speaks louder for the value and to change the culture.
an intention. To choose goodwill
power of accountability. Nothing
toward the other is to offer a THE DIFFICULT
does more to encourage the same
contribution to their success CONVERSATIONS
act in others. Expressing our own
and the success of whatever joint Not all conversations are occasions
doubts, fears and contribution
ventures you are pursuing. for significant engagement.
to problems is a skill that invites
Goodwill does not require you However there are some that are
everyone to embrace accountabili-
like or love the other. Goodwill particularly good opportunities
ty for the whole and for creating
bases relationship on commitment to involve others in powerful
a common future.
to contribute, even in the face conversations about work,
of disappointment. relationships, accountability
There are some particularly
• Taking and Supporting good opportunities to involve and the future. What follows
the Other Side are some specific opportunities
others in powerful conversations that seem to present particularly
Extending understanding to about work, relationships,
the other by publicly embracing positive openings:
their position is one of the most accountability and the future. • Proposing Change
powerful ways available to Shifting markets, increased
deepen a relationship, validate the • Making Promises and
Offering Guarantees competition, cost pressures
value of the other and move the mergers and acquisitions, the
conversation. It is the alternative to Few of us are eager to abandon or introduction of new technologies
arguing, attacking and treating the close all escape routes. Nothing in and other changes create ideal
other cosmetically with statements organizational life is quite so rare openings for conversations
like, “I understand but....” as someone who insists on offering based on engagement.
• Naming the Difficult Issues accountability and giving guaran-
tees. The skill to do this in forming • Creating New Beginnings
Unnamed and unresolved work relationships with peers, When things have gone badly,
resistance, conflict and cynicism customers and other constituencies when projects or new ventures
debilitate organizations draining have failed, when relationships
it, and individuals, of energy, are conflicted and stressed,
optimism and the belief they can when things need to be “fixed”,
deal with confrontation. Avoiding, significant opportunities for
denying and rationalizing the engagement are created.
issue rarely fixes anything. Publicly
naming these issues with goodwill • Confronting Stance
and inviting engagement is central When organizations or
to getting unstuck. individuals become lost in
• Acknowledging Doubt, helplessness, hopelessness,
Anxiety and Guilt cynicism, detachment or
exaggerated preoccupation
Confessing doubt, anxiety and with status, privilege and
fault does not come easily to any entitlement, critical moments
of us. No one welcomes anxiety, are presented to invite changes.

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 13


13
• Seeking an Exception “No!” to people and a plan that is once again the same old
Control and consistency are major ignored or denied their freedom. company it has always been.
preoccupations in most organiza- In an attempt to shake our way of A year later, some new change
tions. It causes almost everyone to thinking they wrote in an unusual program, even better than the last
seek safety, approval and permis- way - from a radical first person one, comes along and everyone
sion from people in powerful perspective. In the end it worked. gets excited about it. The organi-
positions. When an individual or The typical response of organiza- zation tries it, gives it their best
group wants to “march to the beat tions to demands for change is as shot. But six months after the
of a different drummer”, powerful familiar to most of us as the new program kicks off, things
opportunities are created are back to business as usual.
to engage and confront The typical response of organizations What went wrong? People diag-
issues of accountability.
to demands for change is as familiar nose the situation, scratch their
• Initiating Endings to most of us as the inevitability heads, puzzled about the cause
Coming to terms with of the failure. Some blame it on
of change itself. upper management, others blame
ending “things” is one of
the most onerous tasks at it on the rank and file, still others
inevitability of change itself. blame the training staff or the
work. The possibility of closing a The environment is scanned.
plant or department; the potential consultants, and of course some
Threats are uncovered. Meetings claim that the new methods
resignation or termination of an scheduled. Gurus sought.
individual; the threat of losing a were flawed.
Programs selected. Leadership
valued customer or vendor solicited. Design teams appointed. These efforts do not realize
create moments that invite Goals defined. Targets designated. their potential because we ignore
authentic engagement Timelines and budgets determined. the Street perspective. We have
• Dealing with Performance Training sessions designed. Slogans thought about the change with
invented. Coffee mugs, pens, words and phrases like sponsor-
There are few things in organiza-
plaques and posters distributed. ship, systems, alignment and
tional life that create as much
“Buy in” solicited. Mandates enrolling employees. The voice
anxiety and complaint as perfor-
issued. Compliance demanded. of the first person perspective
mance reviews. Cast as a parent–
Evaluations conducted. is not present.
child dialogue, these discussions
are rarely satisfying to anyone. The organization
Group or individual performance makes serious efforts to For the most part we do not control
discussions create powerful change. Everyone in the the changes we face in our lives,
opportunities to change the culture company is aligned and only the way we take them in
by changing the conversation. committed. The change and respond.
WORTH AND is initiated and seems to
WORDS AT WORK be working. Six months
later everything is back to what it And yet change is inevitably and
This thinking began with the was a year ago or something totally inescapably about each of us, one
“peculiar memo” from an anony- unexpected is created. The goal at a time. It is a truth easy to miss
mous employee at the GoodJeans of the transformation has failed. in a world so saturated with our
Company. They were protesting – A few posters with their change abstractions -- paradigms, strategies,
they were saying “No!” to a grand mottos are still on the walls, but models, programs and techniques.
scheme that defined everyone in everyone’s mind, the company Change incessantly and persistently
instrumentally. They were saying reminds us we are vulnerable and

© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 14


14
at risk. Change also instructs us All these things present themselves power and reality as we confer it
about impotence. For the most to you and me. It is you and I upon them, for whatever reasons
part we do not control the changes who decide if they are useful or have meaning to us. In and of
we face in our lives, only the way threatening to the future we themselves these are impotent
we take them in and respond. want to achieve. Programs, ideas, and without force. The freedom
From aging to the death of changes and theories are always to respond to these experiences is
someone dearly loved, from not a right or privilege granted.
falling from grace to falling in love, We are stuck with it. It can
changes like ocean waves keep not be abandoned, forfeited
coming at us. Too much has or seized.
been written about organizational All of this is misunderstood,
change. The inevitability of it has denied, discounted or abused
been pronounced so frequently by theories and strategies,
that it causes even the most eager which lay claim to omniscience
listener to lapse into unconscious- and omnipotence. Do not trust
ness. Markets change, products anyone who only talks in the
become obsolete, new competition third person. Abstract theories
appears, costs go up and more should be viewed with caution.
is always required. Accepting
It may be that the idea of
it is not the difficult issue.
people as free and the architects
Understanding the relevance
of their own futures spawns
of it to my life and grasping the
too much anxiety in a world
choices it creates for me -- that
where control, consistency and
is what is important. Each of
predictability are so dominant.
us will choose a stance.
When looking at the future each If work and our institutions
of us will take a stance born of matter and if we want to
coming at us. We ridicule, change and transform them in
disappointment, the pursuit of embrace, ignore or roll our eyes
advantage or creating worth. ways that build the possibilities
depending on how they mesh of life, we are well served to see
Nothing I do can replace or with the future we are committed
substitute for the starting place – clearly who we are -- individuals
to living out. We will view who find ourselves in a
finding myself in a world with
a stance and future to choose. world with a future to
Grand designs, great leaders, values and choose. Change has
No matter what I name others
or am named myself, no name, visions only have power and reality as been, is and always
notion or concept will rob or we confer it upon them,and for whatever will be personal.
relieve me of the freedom and reasons that have meaning to us. The point is to bring into
responsibility for taking a being organizations within
stance and pursuing a future. them through the prism of disap- which everyone embraces
No one changes you or me. pointment, creating worth or the accountability for the whole
Cultures, organizations, strategies, pursuit of gaining advantage -- and commits to creating worth.
techniques, programs, visions, and decide. The method is to engage each
values or leadership do not person in conversations about
transform us. We, in the end, Grand designs, great leaders, meaning, accountability, worth
change ourselves. values and visions only have and freedom.
© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates 15
15
Henning-Showkeir & Associates
Personal Engagement Strategies for Business Results
Reflections On Naming Things
We create a reality for ourselves and others when we name things. People and things become
what we call them. There are dangers in exercising our genius for using words to create truth.
Primary among them is granting our abstractions a reality of their own. We breath independent
life into these names and labels – forgetting we created them in the first place. We frequently
end up subordinating ourselves to our own creations. We project power on these creations and
allow ourselves to be defined and ruled by them. We become convinced that we are what we
are named. We believe the world and existence is what we call it. We become captives of our
own concepts. In so doing we distort reality and deceive ourselves. We lose consciousness of
the world and the person that existed before they were what we named them.

It seems we are clearer and more knowledgeable about the abstractions we have invented
than we are about ourselves.

When we do this we begin to believe that the names we have given to people, events and
activities are reality. For example, we begin to believe that somewhere there is a corporation
or organization with a heart, soul, flesh and blood that possesses will and pursues purposes.
We are convinced that visions, programs and strategies – all inventions of our words – have
the inherent power to transform people and institutions.

All of this distracts and deceives us. Seeing people as the organization – employees – or
targets of change – who are merely waiting to be transformed by leadership, programs,
or visions deludes us. When we label a person we create an identity for them and when we
exaggerate this application we start to think of the person as the label we have given them.
Absorbed in manipulating words and concepts, we focus attention where it won’t help.
We have entered the Land of Oz – the land of imagined and fictional omniscience and
omnipotence. It is the land where words and names are the only reality – where existence
that precedes anything we call it is forgotten. It is a powerful place to find oneself.
Everything changes simply by calling it what we choose.

What is real – is the flesh and blood of the other person. We find them standing in front of
us with their dreams, possibilities and history. If we want to change things it is this person
we must engage – not some abstraction we have made up.

Henning - Showkeir & Associates


7 Mohawk Trail • Westfield, NJ 07090
Phone: (908) 232-9994 • Fax: (908) 389-0211 • E-mail: henning-showkeir@att.net
© 2000 Henning - Showkeir & Associates
Joel P. Henning
Joel has been engaged in complex long-term organizational change efforts for almost 30 years.
His work spans a broad range of organizations from public schools systems facing desegregation
to large corporations reinventing their future in the face of changing
marketplaces and competition. Among his clients are Levi-Strauss,
Equitable, Met-Life, Sandia Labs, Ford, Bank of America, Stanford
University, Knight-Ridder Inc. and Chase Bank.
Early in his career Joel was involved in the desegregation and merger of
the Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky School Districts. Later Joel
worked extensively with Levi-Strauss. This work focused on the transition
issues created as the leadership of the organization underwent change
and constructing survival strategies for domestic production plants
facing stiff offshore competition.
Joel also consulted with Sandia Laboratories at the conclusion of the
Cold War helping them face an uncertain future in a profoundly altered
world. Joel worked with Sandia to implement a dramatically altered
mission in this changed world.
More recently, Joel worked with Knight Ridder Inc. in pursuing changes,
which increased the capacity of their newspapers to survive and prosper in the rapidly changing
marketplace with ever increasing and diverse competition.
Joel’s work is guided by the viewpoint that an organization’s capacity to navigate change and
succeed is determined by its willingness to develop individuals through the intentional distribution
of power – business literacy, choice, purpose and accountability.
He recently authored The Future of Staff Groups: Daring to Distribute Power and Capacity
published by Berrett-Koehler.

James D. Showkeir
Jamie has over 25 years experience in education, management and
organization development. His work is focused on developing organiza-
tions as communities of people where accountability for success is chosen
by all. Working in education, non-profit and large corporations, he treats
the organization – its people – as partners in creating powerful personal
learning and growth experiences that directly impact business results.
Jamie worked at the Buick/UAW Employee Development Center,
TRW, and Ford Motor Company in various management and
organization development positions, working extensively in
labor-management partnerships and Joint programs. He served
as President of the Autism Society of Michigan and has devoted
considerable consulting time and energy to a variety of other
non-profit organizations. Jamie was Dean of the School for Managing
and Leading Change, which provides in-depth, long-term learning experiences where distributing
power is the basis for managing, organizing and structuring successful businesses.
Jamie’s clients span a variety of commercial markets. They include: First Union, 3M, Ford, Philadelphia
Electric Co., Tucson Electric Power, The Miami Herald Publishing Co., Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.,
San Luis Obispo Herald-Tribune, Knight-Ridder Inc., Hewlett Packard, Benedictine Health System,
Cigna, Kaiser-Permanente, Trigon Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Met Life, British Airways, and The FAA.
Jamie’s work is grounded in the belief that the individual’s life-world experience is the essence of reality.
In order for organizations to change the first person experience must be engaged. This engagement
requires intentionally distributing organizational power and confronting issues of accountability and choice.
For additional copies or
further information about the
workshops and consulting of
Henning-Showkeir & Associates,
contact:

Henning-Showkeir & Associates


7 Mohawk Trail
Westfield, NJ 07090
Phone: (908) 232-9994
Fax: (908) 389-0211
E-Mail: henning-showkeir@att.net