February 2024 Event Review: Leading generative change: challenges for leaders and consultants

What a treat it was to spend the morning with internationally renowned OD thought leader and award-winning author Gervase Bushe, at our February event, the first for our 25th anniversary year! And on a topic so relevant to our work: change.

Gervase started by explaining how his experiences with Appreciative Enquiry had not always been successful; why was it that sometimes this approach produced transformational change and other times it didn’t? His analysis of appreciative inquiry projects found that only 35% were transformational. Further research showed that only 33% of diagnostic-driven change projects succeeded.

Gervase started to look at Generative change. Exploring what makes a difference, Gervase shared a number of insights. These included:

• Transformation outcomes are more likely when people have a problem they want to solve. Generative change, however, looks at problem-solving not by looking to the past, but by looking to the future to generate new ideas to improve it.
• Generative change strategies engage stakeholders in acting on self-generating solutions or innovations and are experimental in nature – learn as you go. High-engagement change strategies engage stakeholders in proposing solutions or innovations to senior
management to implement and may be limited within the expected boundaries.
• A clear and shared purpose and a “generative image” are characteristic of successful transformations.
• Dialogic OD is not about method but rather a mindset that enables generativity and transformation.

There was a good discussion together about what characterises people who use a dialogic approach. Letting go of control, believing that people doing the work need to come up with the solutions, and not waiting for people at the top to tell them what to do, were key factors.

Leaders with this mindset support generative change by:

• enabling people to access resources needed to self-initiate action, and
• amplifying the groups’ progress and achievements.

Gervase explained that articulating a Purpose (and a generative image) rather than a Vison is more useful in generative change. A shared purpose creates the ground for experiments and self-action that is more likely to support the common good. A vision describes a future end state – something that will occur in the future, and this may be too tight or limiting for people who may see other ways or have different ideas but no opportunity to progress them.

Gervase provided some case studies illustrating successful generative change. For example, the material supply division of a construction company was able to reduce its order fulfillment from 3 days to 1 in six weeks. Management was willing to try a generative change approach and supported the project teams. Their generative image was “Stress-free customer service”.

A bank in Singapore was providing unsatisfactory service. They managed to turn this around using a generative approach and guided by their generative image of “Make banking joyful”.

Gervase shared other rich examples, and words of wisdom from his practice and deep experience. We discussed that not all organisations and their cultures are suited to or willing to try a generative change approach.

It was terrific to have Gervase guide us through this stimulating conversation and share with us his insights into generative change.

~ Yope Veganas