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British companies meet the challenge of change.

British Companies meet the challenge of change


British companies are striving to build team spirit through more effective internal communication.

And the work force? There are indications, we're told, that employees want to "belong" to a successful enterprise in which there are common ties.

So what's new? Business communicators in the UK have heard it all before -- for 30 years or more. And yet ... most would agree there is encouraging evidence of change; there are clear signs that corporate communication is increasingly regarded as an integral part of business life.

Companies are at last paying more than lip service to the need for meaningful employee communication programmes.

Business communicators, while au fait with the vital part they must play in organisational change, may not have fully grasped the subtleties with which companies are tackling the process. We must continue to remind ourselves of the tangible benefits of increased productivity and quality improvements achieved through developing human resources as an integral part of the management of change.

Rewriting the Guidelines

Research commissioned by the UK National Economic Development Office indicates that "new values" associated with organisational and cultural change may require a complete overhaul of management practices, policies and procedures. NEDO identified eight key steps in bringing about change:

* "Creating a vision" whereby employees are regarded as an asset, communication is open, two-way and candid, and management undertakes an enabling as distinct from a controlling role.

* Communicating the change programme to employees.

* Considering the need to develop team working.

* Assessing competencies and training needs.

* Analysing impediments to change; these may include inappropriate reward systems, unsafe work, poor working conditions, boring and repetitive jobs, lack of opportunities for personal development and lack of feedback on performance and achievements.

* Evaluating employee attitudes through consultation and/or surveys.

* Exploiting "discretionary" effort.

* Moving away from confrontational industrial relations.

Case studies showed that all elements of a programme of change must be carefully planned and integrated. It is important to make people aware of change programmes at the earliest possible moment -- a number of the companies surveyed believed their programmes would have been more effective if employee involvement had occurred earlier. Change should be fully explained and individual employee contributions related to overall objectives.

Conditions have to be created in which people will "voluntarily" become involved. This requires open and honest communication -- the lifeblood of change.

Communication (R)Evolution

One chief executive is on record as saying we are on the threshold of an internal communication revolution. (Or did he mean evolution?) Assuming he's right, what factors are influencing this (r)evolution? The same CEO pointed to Europe's fast-approaching Single Market and the need for more positive communication to help improve common understanding within a population of some 320 million people. But there's more to it.

Chris Bleach, deputy managing director of Ringley Communications, a Reigate-based employee benefit consultancy, observes that more and more organisations are at last beginning to appreciate that people are their most important asset, their most valuable resource. "In today's business climate, the competitive edge is increasingly dependent on the contribution made by employees at all levels ... their talents and skills, their commitment and motivation." Bleach reasons that commitment and motivation are directly linked to job satisfaction, which in turn is linked to the individual's understanding of what is required and what criteria will be used to judge success. "People need feedback on their efforts. They need to be shown how well, or how badly, they are doing, what targets have been set, whether those targets are being achieved and what needs to be done to improve performance."

Corporate culture (the way we do things), quality circles and organisational development have long been the buzzwords. Initially, the change programmes they described may have been dismissed as passing fads, unproven Japanese and American imports. Now, however, there is widespread recognition of the need to improve company performance, increase the level of employee commitment, and step up productivity. Many companies are operating successful programmes of change with clearly defined objectives.

Methods to Match the Objective

But what of the tools and techniques of organisational change? Research carried out by Andrzej Huczynski, senior lecturer at Glasgow University, indicates that managers tend to use only a small number of the currently fashionable "change tools." He stresses that management needs to become familiar with the whole range of techniques, then select those most appropriate to the organisation's needs. Each enterprise has its own culture, history, beliefs and management style. Some innovations are acceptable, others are not.

Huczynski suggests that change techniques can be grouped under five main headings:

Technical. Flexible manufacturing systems, office automation, group technology and the "factory of the future" concept.

Structure. Changing job definitions, work content and role relationships ... what people do and how they do it. Autonomous work groups have a role to play, often through quality circles.

Personal mechanisms. Approach to work scheduling, reward or compensation systems and wage structures with profit-sharing elements.

Leadership. Focusing on improving management style. Without proper training at all levels, no cultural or organisational development programme will succeed.

People. Encouraging individuals and multi-discipline teams to work more effectively. Training apart, people programmes should match the change objective or the problem to be solved.

It Starts in the Boardroom

Planned programmes of organisational development are enabling corporations to adapt to changing markets or changes in their scale of operations; to accomplish objectives in terms of output, quality or profitability; and to adapt to implementation of new technology, systems or methods.

The management of such change is complex. The chief executive must demonstrate his or her personal commitment, then ensure that goals are fully understood by properly qualified individuals and groups to whom responsibility has been assigned. That done, top management must define strategy; specify the methods, technology and resources by which that strategy is to be achieved; prepare plans and programmes; and create and manage an organisation through which those plans and programmes will be implemented. It cannot be over-stressed: All organisational development programmes centre on the role of leadership, on the use of teams as the agents of change, and on learning and feedback.

Too many companies have failed to get the ground rules in place. But here are some "Best of British" examples:

Untapped Power of the Work Force

Through ICI Paints' "Focus on the Customer" programme, employees were encouraged to improve the overall quality of operations throughout the business ... to be better at meeting customers' needs. The broad objectives:

"To bring about a service-oriented culture to ensure that employees understand, and subscribe to, the concept of the `internal customer'; and to recognise that the quality of service which reaches the customer begins with the quality of service that people inside the company give each other."

Research showed that ICI employees genuinely wanted to contribute problem-solving ideas and have a say in how the business operates. This untapped power of the work force has been successfully channelled, supported by a vigorous communication programme. Now the company claims that greater awareness of interdependence of departments in the quality chain is overcoming barriers.

Flying the Flag

Sir Colin Marshall, chief executive of British Airways, said the goal of his corporation was "to be the best and most successful airline in the world." He established a dictum that struck at the very heart of the company's philosophy. His goal provided a clear purpose that was immediately relevant to everyone in the company.

How was the objective to be achieved? The key lay in the ability of British Airways to create a clear, competitive advantage. As such, the airline recognised the need to adopt a more innovative, creative, customer-oriented approach.

Extensive market research identified gaps between employees' perception of their role within the company and customer expectations of airline service. As a result, a corporate training programme was developed under the theme of "Putting the customer first--If we don't someone else will." This service improvement strategy was to become part of the culture of the airline.

Staff identified opportunities and needs: "I own the problem" was quickly identified as a key message. A sense of teamwork was developed and managers were encouraged to establish a more visible and open style.

Communication programmes increased awareness of the contribution made by individual departments in the pursuit of the company's goal. Through a "Day in the Life of ... " programme, individuals were introduced to the operational procedures of departments with which they might not normally come into contact.

Quality of service has become a way of life. Enthuses Sir Colin:

"The strong commitment of all our staff to the `Customer First' programme is ensuring that British Airways remains the best and most successful airline in the world."

Quality, the Watchword

For a global example, I return to my former employer, H.J. Heinz Co., whose TQM (Total Quality Management) programme is breaking new ground. The goal is continuous improvement, achieved by harnessing the talents and energies of all Heinz people to deliver, and exceed, customer requirements. It is a method of team working that transcends divisional boundaries, which is improving business performance and increasing job satisfaction.

Reviewing the programme, Philip Crosby of Philip Crosby Associates wrote: "Heinz has been taking effective action to make certain that quality management will always be an integral part of its policy, even though quality has long been a hallmark of the company.

"Today, quality is seen as conformance to requirements. This means that we define precisely what we are going to give the customer, then we all work together to make it come out exactly so, the first time.

"The quality performance standard of industry has always been `acceptable quality levels.' This standard is based on the assumption that it would cost too much to do things right all the time. The `defect-free' standard that Heinz is now using is much less expensive and highly productive. After all, it's always cheaper to do things only once.

"Quality is the foundation of an organization. It is the platform holding everything else. Heinz understands this and is working hard at creating a new culture through Total Quality Management. The objective is continually to improve customer satisfaction and eventually reduce its price of non-conformance to zero."

As Heinz chairman Tony O'Reilly puts it: "If we are going to make this company grow, we have to do it by doing better what we do best. Henry J. Heinz, our founder, had a marvellous phrase that I think exactly describes TQM: `Doing common things uncommonly well.' One hundred and twenty years later, I couldn't put it better."

So how do we stand in terms of getting the message across? Chris Bleach again: "Changes in culture and management style, new patterns of working, new quality standards, the effect of new technology ... such changes need to be effectively and sympathetically communicated if they are to achieve the increased efficiency desired."

As I see it, business communicators have, by and large, identified the key issues affecting their organisations. They have defined the thrust of their communication programmes. Their strategic plans are in place.

But are they prepared for the challenge of managing continuous change? Time will tell.

John Aspery, ABC, an IABC Fellow, recently established his own public relations consultancy, John Aspery Associates, at 68 Hammersmith Road, London W14, UK.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
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Author:Aspery, John
Publication:Communication World
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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