Discourse-Centered Organizational Change

Towards a Discourse-Centered Understanding of Organizational Change“, by David Grant of the University of Sydney, and Robert J. Marshak of American University, Washington D.C., was recently published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science OnlineFirst. David Grant has provided a personal background on the article:

Who is the target audience for this article?

 We wrote the paper with several audiences in mind: researchers interested in organizational discourse in general, and especially those who are pursuing lines of inquiry or practice that consider discourse and language as central to the conceptions and processes of change in organizations.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

Separately and together we have investigated and written about discursive phenomena (narratives, stories, accounts, metaphors, etc.) in organizational settings for many years. Recently, we have sought to focus more specifically on discourse and change. We had noticed an upswing in practitioner interest in interventions in organizations based around “changing the conversation”, but felt that this had taken place with insufficient theory or research to guide thinking and action.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Probably the most important surprise was the extent of the literature and findings that were related to the broad topic of discourse and change. We started the project with the assumption that there was considerable value in trying to pull the range of ideas about the topic together into a single framework, but the range of studies and ideas from multiple perspectives was perhaps more than we had originally anticipated. And, more is being published everyday!

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Our ambition is that the paper will encourage more research about discourse and change in general, and especially more research that provides a more integrated consideration of the multiple perspectives involved in discourse and change. We also see this paper as an important vehicle by which to inform the world of practice (change agents, consultants, etc.) about the discursive effects and possible approaches to organizational change.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

As previously suggested, this is a continuation and perhaps somewhat of a culmination of our individual and collective work on organizational discourse and discursive aspects of organizational change over the past 16 years or so.

How did your paper change during the review process?

The broad outline and intent stayed the same, but true to our topic considerable efforts were made regarding how best to contextualize, frame, and describe the phenomena we were writing about. The end result, we hope, is a clearer argument and presentation for both those new to the literature and those more deeply involved.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

Perhaps, if one of us had moved closer to the other. Working between Sydney, Australia and Washington, DC was not really difficult with the internet, but there were certainly some times when being able to sit face-to-face over a beer would have been helpful. Two times especially come to mind: when the first reviews came back and when we got our final acceptance letter!

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