Five minutes with…David Grant

Professor David Grant is the Griffith Business School’s Pro Vice Chancellor, holding executive leadership, management and strategic planning responsibilities for the entire Group. Somewhere amongst this he also (longs to) find time to research into the impact of leadership development and change practices on work and organisation. Somewhat unusually, David looks at these issues drawing on discourse theory and analysis. We stole away five minutes of David’s research time(!) to learn a little more…

In what area/s does your research interests lie?

I have an interest in organisational discourse – how language and other symbolic media influence our understanding of, and the practice of, leadership and change at the organisation-wide, group and individual levels.

Are there emerging or ongoing trends in your fields of research?

When organisational discourse was being established as a field [of research] we spent a lot of time on developing the theory around it. In recent years though, there has been a maturing of the field such that there’s been a move away from this theoretical focus on discourse towards its practical application.

It’s now seen as something that can be used to understand and inform decisions and to influence or change practice across a whole range of critically important topics; things like digital disruption and technological change, business sustainability, responses to climate change, and leadership practice and development. These are all issues that matter to me as a researcher.

Has there been major developments or key findings that have directed the trajectory of your research?

Sharing a mutual interest in language and how it’s used in and around organisations with a colleague in the UK, I fell into organisational discourse research so to speak. Discourse at the time was in vogue and associated with post-modernism and critical analysis. ([Please note], I’m not a post-modernist but some of my best friends are!). I found that the study of discourse was a way – not the way – to understand what goes on in, and around, organisations.

I also liked the fact that discourse can be used as a vehicle…a tool if you like…, that can…inform change processes and leadership practice in organisations: you can use discourse analytic techniques to analyse and diagnose an issue or problem and then come up with a discursive intervention that hopefully works for the better.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on making the time to do research! [Seriously though], I am working on a new project concerning what are called ‘calculative devices’ as a form of discourse. This is about figures as discourse. Numbers can be a discourse in themselves; [take company] mergers and acquisitions for example, which is something I’ve been looking at. Numbers are used to influence, to legitimise and give credibility to an argument for or against a merger and acquisition. In short, they act as important signifiers. How they are positioned and used by key actors can significantly affect the outcome of very significant decisions that affect organisations and the people that work for them.

Finally, are there challenges in your field/s in trying to bridge the gap between research, practice and policy?

[Essentially], discourse is practice! If we think of discourse as what we say and how we act and behave, then better understanding it can help inform practice. If people are made aware of discourse’s properties they can reflect on theirs’ and others’ use of it so as to improve leadership, make better decisions, and be more self-aware and socially responsible.