Beedie Professor Gervase Bushe offers new perspective on organizational change

Jul 30, 2015
Gervase Bushe

Beedie School of Business Professor Gervase Bushe.

A new book co-edited by Beedie School of Business Professor Gervase Bushe explains the underlying practices that make it possible for leaders to effectively change their organizations – even when faced with issues so complex that no one really knows what the right answers are.

The book, “Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change,” was published by Berrett-Koehler in April 2015. Bushe and his co-author Robert Marshak, a professor at American University, Washington D.C., have an ambitious goal for the book: to become the required textbook in every organizational development program in the world.

Dialogic OD is regarded as the next step in the evolution of organizational change theory. Rather than thinking of organizations as organisms that adapt to their environments, Dialogic OD regards organizations as conversations where individual, group, and organizational actions result from the day-to-day stories, and conversations through which people make meaning about their experiences.

The Dialogic OD practitioner has three skill sets: facilitating new kinds of conversations; designing events where new thinking and ideas can emerge; and architecting change processes that will tackle complex, wicked problems.

“In preparing this book, we wrote up an ideal table of contents for a book on the theory and practice of Dialogic OD, and then reached out to the best people we knew of to write the first draft of those chapters,” says Bushe. “Because we wanted it to be a coherent text, we told them that we would aggressively edit their chapters and make the final call on what went in each of them.”

“21 highly experienced and knowledgeable dialogic scholar-practitioners from across four continents agreed to our conditions, and each contributed a chapter on an aspect of either theory or practice they excel in. A remarkable resource of insight, methods, and wisdom emerged, all focused on a similar paradigm of practice.”

The book builds on Bushe’s 2009 study on Dialogic OD, “Revisioning organization development: Diagnostic and dialogic premises and patterns of practice.” The paper, which was co-authored by Marshak, was published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, and was the winner of the 2009 Douglas McGregor Memorial Award. It has since become the 15th most cited article in the journal’s 51-year history.

Through their research on the subject, Bushe and Marshak have been building a comprehensive theory that explains why some 40 different change methods – that have been used by companies as diverse as Walmart, Apple, British Airways, and Royal Dutch Shell – either work or don’t work.

“Over the past 20 years, organizational change practice has moved substantially away from what is in the textbooks, but if you apply these new practices in a ‘paint by numbers’ sort of way, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t,” says Bushe.

“We think we have identified the key ingredients that make the difference. It requires, more than anything else, a way of thinking – which we call a ‘Dialogic Mind Set’ – to distinguish it from the prevailing ‘Diagnostic Mind Set’ to organizational change. But it is not simply about having ‘good dialogues’; it’s about understanding how complex adaptive systems change and how socially reality is constructed and altered.

Bushe will later this summer chair the first ever International Conference on Dialogic OD, to be held in Vancouver on August 6. The conference, of which the Beedie School of Business is a sponsor, will see the authors of the individual chapters of the book gather to engage in a dynamic interactive discussion surrounding Dialogic OD practice. Limited to 125 attendees, the conference is already sold out.

Visit for more information on the book.

Tags: , , , ,