Henning-Showkeir & Associates
change the conversation - change the culture

The conversations workshop is about initiating and engaging powerful conversations that result in positive change within organizations. It is based on the premise that conversations more than any other single factor create and sustain the culture in which we live. In the end if you don't change the conversations you will change nothing. Conversations are powerful tools available to everyone. They can invite cynicism and helplessness or they can encourage enthusiasm and optimism.

What follows is the relevant business argument that supports what is presented in the workshop and a brief description of the pragmatic tools that convert this theory into powerful and productive action.

Hard truths face organizations everyday. Primary among them is the absolute necessity of achieving positive results. Whether results are market share, return on investment, cycle time or some other measure, the demand for results is unequivocal. Every organization must create more value than it consumes. This is not a blinding insight. We all know it. The urgent question is always, "How?" In search of answers to that question we rack our brains, go to meetings, hire consultants, attend workshops, create management schools and redesign work.

We know some things about How. Three factors consistently impact the capacity of an organization to achieve results: 1) the dexterity to give original and unique responses to customers; 2) the capacity to create new knowledge and apply it successfully to products, services and processes; and 3) the competence to create a workplace where each person chooses accountability for making the entire enterprise successful. To create new knowledge, to grant each customer the exception they want and to encourage everyone to choose accountability for the whole requires each person make the business their own. This means throwing themselves into work with hands, head and heart. Such a "leap of faith" does not occur because it is demanded. It is a personal choice. Organizations either encourage or discourage this choice by the way they engage members in conversations and work.

These strengths cannot take root and flourish within a management strategy committed to control, consistency and compliance as the "primary" way to run things. The heavy hand of demand simply will not create an organization marked by resourcefulness, inventiveness or imagination. Conversations that direct, mandate, caretake and prescribe discourage people from choosing personal accountability. A few deciding for the many while holding people accountable, mandating programs, doing performance reviews and crafting corporate visions � all come up short. They fail to invite people to offer the passion, artistry and dexterity necessary to succeed.

If we want to give birth to a workplace marked by imagination, inventiveness and accountability in serving customers we must, at the very least, do three things. First, we must engage people in radically different ways; second, forsake our utilitarian thinking about managing in favor of inviting engagement as the means of creating change; and finally, let loose the reins of power committing to a broader and deeper distribution of business literacy, choice and accountability throughout the workplace.

To move in this direction requires that we change our conversations. Changing the conversations is the single most powerful tool we have to take concrete action.


We believe there are three areas on which to concentrate when encouraging the transformation of ordinary conversations into powerful tools of change. The first is to make explicit commitments supporting conversations that encourage everyone to take accountability for the whole and bring heart, hands and mind to work. To make the value of these commitments explicit is to embed them in the policies, practices and pronouncements of the organization. This workshop identifies various methods for doing this. The commitments that make a difference advocate:

  • embracing accountability for the whole

  • choosing engagement over manipulation

  • affirming others as free and accountable

  • willingness to put relationships at risk

  • choosing consent and commitment over compliance

  • using language for disclosure rather than effect

  • choosing contribution over cynicism

  • willingness to grieve

Next there are specific skills. Practicing these skills in varied situations is the central focus of the workshop. Although this is not an all-inclusive list it does identify some of the skills that are utilized to create powerful conversations.

  • telling the truth

  • extending goodwill

  • managing resistance

  • disclosing

  • framing choices

  • taking the other side

  • naming the difficult issues

  • acknowledging doubt, concern and failure

  • naming your own contribution to a problem

  • making promises

Finally this workshop describes difficult situations all of us confront in the workplace. These present opportunities for powerful conversations. Specific scripts are suggested for each situation for the purpose of practicing. We recognize that life does not go in a straight line but we believe it is useful to have a model for learning the application of new skills. The opportunities featured include:

  • proposing change

  • facing a difficult issue

  • dealing with individual performance

  • creating new beginnings

  • initiating endings

  • introducing a mandate

  • seeking an exception

  • discussing fit

The conversations workshop is based on the premise that powerful conversations, which promote substantive and sustainable organizational change are a synthesis of commitment, skill and opportunity.

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joel henning
kevin herring
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