Behavioral and strategic bootcamp.
We're very good at focusing on new messages, technologies and communication approaches. It's time to fundamentally change who we are, what we do and how we do it.
Congrats! During the past decade, you've survived being downsized, re-engineered, flavored-of-the-month (over a bazillion times) and charged with reinventing how your organization communicates. Survival probably includes feeling sliced, diced, drawn and quartered. And - of course - you also feel highly valued. Senior management has eagerly provided you a seat at the strategic table. With intense clarity, they see the relationship between how the company communicates, its financial success and your role in that success.
"Yes" on the sliced-and-diced stuff, but "no" on the seat-at-the-table stuff? Time for Behavioral and Strategic Bootcamp. The rules, technologies and skills required have changed so radically that without this kind of re-tooling, we're talking dinosaur meat. Extinct before the next millennium. Or worse, being exiled to the Land of the Unimportant.
In this article, we'll tour the campuses and review the syllabi for two different re-skilling regimens. Behavioral Bootcamp covers the new skills and frameworks required to affect front-line manager and employee behaviors. This is the new price of admission if you want to be involved in organizational communication. Then there's Strategic Bootcamp. Want to have an effect on how your organization drives change and designs work?
Corporate communicators have been drilled and skilled on the tools and techniques of one-to-many communication. Our Behavioral Bootcamp tour begins with a cold shower - this approach has virtually no impact on the behaviors of people going through change.
TJ and Sandar Larkin, in their book "Communicating Change," focused on a common-sense reality: Behavioral impact comes from one-on-one, face-to-face encounters with immediate supervisors - not communicators or senior management. And according to Jensen Group surveys of over 500 communicators, only 9 percent of corporate communication products deliver the content those supervisors are seeking.(1)
After that unnerving shower, we're off to purchase our texts at the campus bookstore. Notice anything peculiar? Not a single communicator among the authors. Instead, our reading list includes:
* Kurt Lewin, one of the founders of the organizational development (OD) field
* Chris Argyris, who was contributing to the theories of "learning organizations" long before those buzzwords were born
* B.F. Skinner, the guy with the rats
* Abraham Maslow, the guy with the hierarchy of needs
* Piaget & Bruner, founders of cognitive behavioral theory (how communication runs through the brain and is translated into behaviors)
* Gagne & Mager, fathers of modern training theories and techniques.
Authors like these prepare us for the five behavioral-based syllabi that follow.
BEHAVIORAL MODULE 101
No One Needs Communication...
...as corporate communicators define it. Human communication is one of the most magical, critical and complex components of working together. Yet, to change behavior, no one needs themes, consistency of messages, aligned communication, layered campaigns or most anything else we deliver. The communication process, as employees define it, is merely a proxy for how they make decisions.
Therefore, unless it...
* Defines the boundaries and requirements of their individual and specific decisions
* Supplies the specific information and tailored exchanges designed to bring them to the point of a personal decision
* Leaves no doubt about the rewards and consequences of making a decision...most of the communication we supply is superfluous noise.
This module is graded pass or fail as its emphasis is to shatter paradigms and force communicators to see through a new lens.
First Behavioral Hurdle: There is an 80+ percent attrition rate from Behavioral Bootcamp during this class. Most communicators find its point of view too radically different from their own.
BEHAVIORAL MODULE 201
Talk Has Timezones
Understanding what's behind corporate restructuring helps us know how to add value to communication. Our original organizational structures were built on time-based behaviors. The top of the pyramid focused on work three-to-five years out, while the bottom of the pyramid was to focus on day-to-day tasks.
To get that work done, the organizational pyramid was actually a communication timezone translator. CEOs talking in three-to-five-year speak, communicated with SVPs who translated into one-year speak. Mid-managers translated into three-to-six-month speak. And so on, down to hourly speak for the front-line worker.
When all the "fat" was cut from the pyramid during the '80s and '90s, not only was work redistributed, but everyone also lost their translation services. The bridges between three-to-five-year speak and hourly speak were broken. Communication timezones have been out of whack ever since. This has greatly contributed to employees' inability to connect to the big picture. What's needed is someone to translate three-to-five-year speak into yearly, quarterly, monthly and daily behavioral communication.
Second Behavioral Hurdle: Our leaders are looking for someone to add value to the organization by providing this translation service. We have the tools and distribution channels. Can we develop and master the required skills?
BEHAVIORAL MODULE 301
The Maze Is the Message
Any communicator or senior manager who believes he or she is in control of the messages driving behaviors...is wrong.
After B.F. Skinner established the principles of operant conditioning, he tested the effect of distractions on the new behaviors of his rats. Noises and other stimuli were produced outside of the maze with little to no effect. The subjects wouldn't be distracted from their rewards. The maze sent all their behavioral messages.
For employees, their maze is the organizational structure - the performance management system, organizational structure, technology structure, human resource initiatives, training, compensation - everything that delivers rewards or removes painful consequences.
The largest communication vehicle affecting employee behaviors is the maze. Yet all our communication plans are built assuming that communicators provide the main communication vehicles and that messages can somehow be controlled through these vehicles.
Third Behavioral Hurdle: If we wish to add value for both our leadership and our work force, we need to help senior management understand the mixed messages that their mazes are sending. Misalignment of messages sent by the organization's structure has a much greater effect on behaviors than the non-aligned communication sent by its people.
BEHAVIORAL MODULE 401
Key Messages Have No Effect on Behaviors
In this course, we define Key Messages as:
* Any information that does not require action
* Any communication for which there is no discernible consequence if the recipient ignores it. Ninety-one percent of all communicators' products fall into this category.(2) (That's only a 9 percent behavioral effectiveness ranking.)
* The delivery of any information in any form or format, designed to drive specific action(s), that clearly defines measures, consequences, tools and rewards.
Fourth Behavioral Hurdle: Blaspheme! This module demands we not only build the communication pipelines, but also help determine what goes through them. Do we have the confident, gutsy self-image to help our leaders and managers develop content? To help them see that a particular communication does not include a behavioral consequence, measure, tool or reward?
BEHAVIORAL MODULE 501
There Are Only Five Questions
More than 200,000 survey and focus group participants studied by The Jensen Group helped differentiate Behavioral Communication from Key Messages by its content - regardless of how that content was packaged or delivered:(3)
Those same 200,000 individuals that helped define Behavioral Communication also supplied a tool to build it. Everyone CEO to temporary clerical support seeks the answers to just five questions to help them decide to change their behaviors:
* Why are we changing and how is it relevant and important to me?
* What do you want me to do differently than I'm doing today?
* How will I be measured and what are the consequences?
* What tools and support do I get to make this change?
* WIIFM? And...What's in it for all of us?
Front-line supervisors are searching for someone to help them find the answers to these five questions when they go face-to-face with line employees. When there are gaps in a planned communication (e.g., "We have no answer for what tools and support will be supplied"), they are seeking someone to work with senior management to develop the answers.
Fifth Behavioral Hurdle: Front-line supervisors and senior managers are seeking help in developing and delivering the answers to these five questions. Communicators have many of the necessary skills and tools. So do HR practitioners. Who will be the first to jump into this critical role?
Behavioral Bootcamp Final Exam
What's Your Behavioral Value-Add?
Your final exam will be a role-play with one of several CEOs invited to campus. He or she will present a business strategy, projected corporate performance and the changes expected of employees to deliver that performance. Your final is to present a one-year communication plan that will drive and facilitate the necessary changes in behavior.
Again, a visit to the campus bookstore provides the first clue that Strategic Bootcamp will ask us to change our views. Strategic communicators like Roger D'Aprix, J. David Pincus and dozens of corporate practitioners are respectfully covered. But our reading list also includes:
* Alvin Toffler, whose "Powershift" and "The Third Wave" cover how "any serious restructure of business...must directly attack the organization of knowledge"
* Richard Saul Wurman ("Information Anxiety") and Denis Wood ("The Power of Maps") who cover the strategies behind information architectures
* Margaret Wheatley, whose "Leadership and the New Science" broke new ground in how companies can be managed. Her introduction of chaos theory shows how order and predictability come from how we share information, not artificial controls like who reports to whom.
* Paul Churchland, a neurophilosopher whose "The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul" covers how humans communicate and think, and the development of neural nets that may someday replicate human intelligence
* Various Ph.D.s at Microsoft, Sun, Xerox PARC, Apple and others who are figuring out how information-sharing affects behavior.
In short, Strategic Bootcamp is about how to use information and knowledge to achieve strategic results. Getting people to understand a company's big picture is the smallest piece of this pie.
STRATEGIC MODULE 101
The Only Theme Is the Definition of Success
Senior managers and communicators love packaging change into themes. It employs communicators and absolves leaders from truly defining success for our work force. Beyond the financial goals, how many of our employees know:
* 31/12/97 measure for successful employee satisfaction?
* 31/12/97 measure for successful customer satisfaction?
* 31/12/97 measure for successful innovation/new product launches?
* 31/12/97 measure for successfully driving changed behaviors throughout the organization?...etc.
The definition of success is the only "theme" that is backed by accountabilities, rewards and consequences. Packaging anything else with a logo, tagline or buzzword only makes communicators co-conspirators in flavor-of-the-month-itis.
First Strategic Hurdle: Blaspheme II! This module demands that, instead of waiting for senior managers to develop incomplete measures of success, we facilitate the authoring of the full list. Do we have the confident, gutsy self-image to finagle our way into the strategic planning process, modeling the skills of building a strategy, instead of trying to educate our leaders that whenever they have a strategy, communicating it is important?
STRATEGIC MODULE 201
The Change Understanding Business
This is the easiest module in both bootcamps because it's what we already do - helping everyone in the organization understand the big picture.
There are three reasons for delivering this course:
* It sets the context for two other change businesses involved in strategic communication (see modules 301, 401)
* Since most leaders view the Change Understanding business from a "cut the costs" perspective, it sets the context for moving to a new role (module 501) which is not as cost-conscious.
* Everyone deserves an "easy A" course once in a while! Second Strategic Hurdle: While it's an easy A, we'll still be asked to think differently about the tools and techniques we use to deliver the big picture. Root Learning and Maxis Software are two of the many companies developing maps and simulation programs that help make new connections for employees.
STRATEGIC MODULE 301
The Change Commitment Business
Communicators erroneously believe that if we're helping the employees understand the changes, surely we must also be generating their buy-in. An entire business of creating strategic dialogues exists, and communicators are not the drivers of the business. Offsite meetings and specific dialogues where buy-in is created are designed by change management firms such as Delta, Gemini, Mercer and McKinsey. Senior managers are willing to pay big bucks for these services because:
* These firms are often the co-authors of the business strategies we're driving through our organizations.
* They have the behavioral science backgrounds that communicators are missing.
In addition to one-time offsites, firms such as GE have developed an entire "work-out" process that is continually supported by a unique corporate university structure.
Third Strategic Hurdle: Many of us have been asked to help with the deliverables for these dialogues - the packaging of the binders, workbooks, videos and training materials. But is this work helping us into a seat at the strategic table, or is it just keeping us in the vehicles business? While we can't expect to overthrow Delta's (et al.) hold on the commitment business, is there another change business that's waiting for us? (See module 401.)
STRATEGIC MODULE 401
Change Navigation Business
Change Navigation is defined as:
* Giving employees the ability to navigate through change for themselves, resulting in new decisions about how they work.
In the 1997 Study of Complexity's Impact on Corporate Success, co-sponsors Northern Illinois University and The Jensen Group found that it's a myth that complexity comes from "out there."(4) We create it by delivering change in such a way that no one but senior managers can navigate through it. Examples of change navigation tools might be:
* A monthly scoreboard for all employees that would report financial results as well as process and productivity measures, progress on initiatives, customer and employee satisfaction measures
* "Hot links" between initiatives so that employees could figure out (for themselves) how the company's strategy relates to market forces, which relates to TQM, which relates to re-engineering, which relates to training, which relates to...etc.
* Organizing intranets/knowledge databases according to the business plan as well as general knowledge categories
The Complexity Study included hundreds of companies. Results clearly show that almost no companies are meeting employees' change navigation needs.
Fourth Strategic Hurdle: Currently, the Change Navigation Business is waiting for someone to come forward. We have a terrific opportunity to develop a new future for ourselves through change navigation tools. Will we wait until technologists or others lay claim to this business?
STRATEGIC MODULE 501
Our Future: Knowledge Managers
How much time do we have left as communicators when every individual in the organization has (or soon will have) the capability to communicate to anyone, anywhere, any time? The only strategic, value-add choice left to us is to move from
* Managing messages and delivery vehicles...to Knowledge Manager:
* Organizing information so that others can easily communicate it, believe it, act upon it - but assumes no control over how it is communicated or used.
Fifth Strategic Hurdle: We've been helping our leaders communicate lots of change during the past decade. Are we willing to view our roles completely differently? To begin the real work of fundamentally changing who we are, what we do and how we do it?
Strategic Bootcamp Final Exam
What's Your Strategic Value-Add?
Your final exam consists of two visits with your own CEO. Visit one occurs as you graduate from Strategic Bootcamp. You will ask your CEO, "On a scale of one to 10, how much strategic value do I add to this organization?" One year later - a year of putting modules 101 - 501 into practice - you'll ask the same question. If the results aren't a 200 percent to 500 percent improvement, it's time for a Strategic Bootcamp refresher course.
Your Own Bootcamp
It's not important whether you agree with some, all or none of the provocative ideas framed by this article. What is important is how we as a community of communicators wrestle with the issues raised.
The issues are real.
I just returned from a meeting with the leaders of the Human Resource Planning Society. Ongoing topics were: affecting behaviors, change management, implementing strategies and communication's role in all of the above. People at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab are struggling with how to design business information so it does more than sit on the screen. People in Santa Fe, N.M., are working on how information structures can bring us up to, but not over, the edge of chaos. And corporate leaders around the world are struggling with how to run a company in the Age of Information.
What's our role in all of this? Frankly, the only way to answer that question - since change occurs one person at a time - relates to the skilling regimens we each design for ourselves. Our own personal bootcamps will determine whether we're exiled to the Land of the Unimportant or we have that seat at the strategic table.
1 Average of 11 surveys/polls during 1993-94.
2 Employee and management surveys and focus groups were conducted over an eight-year period, included 11 different industries and covered all levels of employees within their organizations.
3 Cross-tabbing the data resulted in the definitions of Key Messages and Behavioral Communication as well as the five-question model for Behavioral Communication.
4 Based upon preliminary returns of study. Final study results will be published during early 1997. For copies of the study, call The Jensen Group, (201) 539-5070.
Bill Jensen is an information architect with 20 years' experience in communication and change consulting. He's CEO of The Jensen Group, Morristown, N.J.
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|Title Annotation:||reinvention of business communication profession|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1997|
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