Waiting for the communication revolution

Over the last few decades communication channels have multiplied and in some organisations, communications have improved, but for the vast majority, workplace communication is still a major impediment to both organisational effectiveness and individual well-being. What are the solutions? How will the breakthroughs come?Communication Revolution

The foundations have been laid. The Internet has been with us for almost 25 years. Edward Freeman articulated stakeholder theory back in 1984. The publication of In Search of Excellence in 1982 focused people on the significance of culture. We have come a long way in the architecture of communication, but how are these developments manifest in organizations? Have they fundamentally changed our communication for the better, or is the residue of our old hierarchies still blocking significant progress?

This is the theme of our 2013 Conference in Wellington on 2, 3 December – Waiting for the Communication Revolution.

How do we evaluate the quality of organizational communication given these innovations? Here is an attempt to identify what good communication looks like in a 21st  Century organization. This organization will be characterized by:

  1. clear purpose and values
  2. a focus on value creation for stakeholders
  3. its people building warm relationships with those they frequently work and engage with
  4. diversity is encouraged, diverse voices are heard
  5. communication is transparent
  6. technology and intent encourages sharing of information and knowledge
  7. there is a orientation to learning
  8. social media is a organisational asset.

What do you think of this list? What’s missing? What organisations do you know that manifest these qualities?

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Employee Retention Now a Big Issue: Why the Tide has Turned

Josh Bersin has produced an excellent article in Linkedin about employee retention and engagement. This image from the article combines the potential value add as employees get inducted and trained. Notice the how the discretionary effort from high engagement creates higher value.

For complex jobs that you are familiar with, what is the time period before the employee moves into value add?

cost to value employee

Read Josh’s full article here.

 

Great companies embrace social media

While many are wary of employees spending too much time on social media, some great businesses are showing us how social media can enhance business. This video features Erin Lieberman-Moran from the Great Place to Work Institute.

Note that Erin recognises a high level of trust as the enabler for businesses to use social media effectively.

Social media and crisis communication

Ethical Corporation’s July 2012 report researches how companies respond to consumers and activists in a crisis. While the full report, with a price tag of £695 targets corporate customers, the Ethical Corporation provides some great information along with this excellent infographic.

Social media crisis Infographic

A policeman’s lot is more engaged – national | Stuff.co.nz

A policeman’s lot is more engaged – national | Stuff.co.nz.

Improvements in staff engagement in the Police can partially be attributed to technology innovations. The New Zealand Police have introduced technology that enables police to report incidents remotely. That information is then processed by administrative staff enabling the police to focus on their front-line work.

This is an example of how job design can improve engagement. Based on Hackman and Oldham’s job enrichment model we can ask questions such as:

  • How can we create more skill variety?
  • How strongly do our people identify with their work?
  • What makes work meaningful for our most engaged?
  • Do our people have the autonomy they need to do a good job?
  • Do they get appropriate feedback about their performance?

Job enrichment model (Hackman & Oldham

Narcissism: The Difference Between High Achievers and Leaders – Justin Menkes – Harvard Business Review

This HBR post from Justin Menkes is another contribution to the ever-growing body of evidence that effective leaders are good people that care for others. As Justin Menkes states:

Only an individual who feels genuinely invigorated by the growth, development, and success of others can become an effective leader of an enterprise.

When reading this article you will find a strong correlation between effective leadership and engagement.

Narcissism: The Difference Between High Achievers and Leaders – Justin Menkes – Harvard Business Review.

Change and engagement, part one

The way we are changing is changing. The predominant approach to change has been to mandate it. An elite, at the top of the organisation, perceive a need for change and direct others to implement it. They will anticipate some resistance and have some strategies ready to overcome it. Often this change will involve some type of restructuring.

There is mounting evidence that this type of change doesn’t work very well and may actually deplete rather than add value. For some organisations, the frequency of this type of change results in a series of self-inflicted, debilitating injuries.

A recent Bain & Company study of 57 major reorganizations found that fewer than one third produced any meaningful improvement in performance. Some actually destroyed value.

Mandated change, bold strokes and long marches

Twenty years ago, in her book The Challenge of Organizational Change, Rosabeth Moss Kanter and her co-authors identified two types of change, bold strokes and long marches. Bold strokes are big strategic moves, such as buying another company, generating a large capital investment, or developing a new product. Bold strokes are usually mandated by the actions of “one or a few people”.

(Tom Peters’ take on mergers)

Long marches are more operational initiatives such as merging departments, transforming quality or customer relationships. According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “they require the support of many people and cannot be mandated in practice”

Of course we will continue to need a degree of mandated change, and other stakeholders such as government will mandate external change. We just need to hope that the skill and ability to design and manage change will improve.

Too frequent use of restructuring will come to be seen as the  corporate equivalent of the old medical practice of blood-letting and a sure symptom of dysfunction.

According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, long march change will have more dependable long term results and is more likely to change culture and habits. She then elaborates on the enduring foundation of sustainable organisational change – decision making.

Every large and complex organisation has many thousands of people who have each day the opportunity, or are literally required, to take action on something. We think of these as “choice points.” For an organisation to succeed in any long-run sense, these millions of choices must be more or less appropriate and constructive day in and day out. But this is an immensely difficult problem, because it requires the ultimate in decentralisation – literally to the individual level – along with centralisation in the sense that those individual choices must be coordinated and coherent.[1]

This same theme is echoed two decades later by Marcia Blenko in the Harvard Business Review:

In reality, a company’s structure results in better performance only if it improves the organisation’s ability to make and execute decisions better and faster than its competitors.[2]

Her she is elaborating on the centrality of decision effectiveness in sustaining effective change.

The engagement connection

Marcia Blenko’s establishes a link between decision effectiveness and employee engagement. Rosabeth Moss Kanter emphasised the importance of “choice points” throughout the organisation. And while the focus is on big business, even small businesses manifest thousands of choice points if we consider all employees and stakeholders.

Embedding a stakeholder ethos (including employee engagement) throughout the organisation will build resilience and adaptive capacity. Over time, it is more likely that those highly engaged staff will be making decisions and choices aligned with the best interests of the company. And over time there will be less need for mandated change.


[1] Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Barry Stein and Tod Jick. The Challenge of Organizational Change: How Companies Experience It and Leaders Guide It. New York: Free Press, 1992, page 492, 495

[2] The Decision-Driven Organisation, by Marcia Blenko, Michael Mankins and Paul Rogers In Harvard Business Review June 2010, page 57