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Communication in a world-class world.

They realize that communication creates a value system which, in turn, drives individual behavior day after day. Individual behavior is what creates products that work or don't work. Individual behavior answers the phone promptly or lets it ring off the hook. Individual behavior creates an image of the organization in the eyes of customers. And, it's that image that drives customer buying patterns.

A common flaw in efforts to achieve world-class status is the pursuit of change based largely on media activities and programs. The burden of communicating "the need to change" falls on the various publications and audio-visual media. Over time, those responsible for orchestrating the overall change effort realize that this media-driven approach alone has virtually little impact on organizational improvement.

The recession coupled with incredible competitive pressures are forcing organizations to ask hard questions about their communication practices. The relevant questions they're asking are:

* to what extent are our investments in communication helping us achieve a competitive advantage?

* how can we more effectively use communication to manage people's behavior in order to create a competitive edge?

The result of this healthy introspection almost always:

* drives communication initiatives away from media-related activities and toward improving the communication process;

* requires better functional integration of communication (Communication is not the sole responsibility of the communication department.); and

* requires an increase in the active involvement of line management -- from the top down.

Effectively improving the communication process means understanding what is special about world-class organizations.

What do they do better than ordinary organizations?

How do they get people turned on, excited and committed to helping satisfy customer needs better than ordinary organizations?

We believe they do better around eight very important characteristics, each of which has significant communication process implications. Understanding the direct or indirect role of communication around each characteristic and then managing communication more effectively around it will greatly improve the ability to achieve world-class status.

Here, then, are the eight characteristics:

Clear shared vision

The organization needs to guide peoples' energies in a direction that's consistent with organizational success.

Communicating a vision communicates a target, a desired state, what we want the organization to become. A vision is driven by values. Values articulate the rules of conduct -- how members of the organization should relate to one another and to other stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, shareholders and members of the community.

Values communicate to people how they should act at any given time. Employees are confronted with thousands of how-to-act options every day. Smile; don't smile. Greet the customer; ignore the customer. Eliminate a defect; ship a defective product. Answer the phone in two rings; let someone else answer it.

When the value system is compatible with organizational success, employees will select how-to-act options compatible with organizational success.

External focus

An organization can choose to direct energy inward or outward by the way it communicates.

Inwardly focused energy very efficiently creates bureaucracy and unproductive political pettiness.

Externally focused energy can very efficiently create an entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of purpose and competitive advantage.

World-class organizations focus communication outward, squarely on the customer. All internal activities and processes are created and sustained to add value to the customer. Decisions are geared to meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Likewise, continuous improvements efforts are directed at meeting or exceeding customer expectations.

In an inwardly focused organization, the boss is the boss. In an outwardly focused organization, the customer is the boss.

When people inside an organization know the customer is the boss and the boss is not the boss, they know they don't need to look over their shoulder and wonder whether the boss-boss would approve of their actions, so long as the customer approves.


In world-class organizations, leaders at all levels play two roles.

First, they're custodians of the values. They're responsible for using all the resources at their disposal to communicate a value system that makes the enterprise succeed.

They "walk the talk." They do what they want their people to do.

Second, they're responsible for providing resources that help their people succeed. They make sure the organization makes it easy to serve customers.

This role is very different from the command and control management style. Command and control managers seek compliance. They tell people what to do. They manipulate people. They try to fool them.

Leaders seek commitment. Through effectively managed communication, they link organizational values to the values of their people. They know commitment is a gift people give the organization. It gives the organization its edge over the other guy.


World-class organizations seek competitive advantage in many ways.

They know they need people who create superior economic value--people who positively influence customer satisfaction. If they don't, the competitor who does do this will have a distinct advantage.

They understand where value is added in each process or production step and they understand how individual and team skills can increase the value of the product or service to the customer.

They develop powerful approaches to recruit, assess, develop, and advance people with the right mix of skills and the values necessary to create competitive advantage.

The whole process of achieving high levels of competence puts heavy pressure on the ability to move information around the organization.


World-class organizations know that hierarchy, cumbersome policies, elaborate approval processes and rigid reporting relationships represent organizational garbage that communicates that speed, customer responsiveness and value are not important.

World-class organizations are adaptable. Adaptability facilitates speed. Speed enables new products to be born and brought to market faster. Speed meets customer needs faster. Those who can deliver products and services to customers when or before customers want them have a distinct advantage.

Winners will have speed on their side.

Winners will need to move the right information instantaneously.

Measurement that matters

World-class organizations measure the right things. Appropriate measurement offers two distinct advantages.

It communicates what's important. And, it creates a demand for resources for continuous improvement.

"What counts is what you count," a client told us. And, it's true. The old Hawthorne Effect still has its way around most organizations.

What gets attention gets done. If you measure defects, defects get attention. If you measure service, service gets attention.

So, if what is measured is what gets done, it's important to measure those things that offer high leverage -- on behalf of the customer.

In a high performing organization, employees use measurement information to communicate to leaders their need for resources to improve quality, service or costs. In these organizations employees are at work usind data-driven continuous-improvement processes. Data reveals where resources need to be applied, where systems need to be repaired. Employees share their data with leaders so their leaders can get the resources their people need to improve the organization.

Systems alignment

An organization's internal systems, its infrastructure, can facilitate or impede becoming a world-class organization. It communicates how serious the organization is about becoming world-class.

For instance, there are many organizations that use formal media to communicate that customer-focused performance is critical to their success but still communicate through their reward systems that position in the hierarchy, number of people who report to them or how long an individual has been showing up for work (length of service) is important. None of these necessarily relates to performance.

Many organizations communicate through their formal media that quality is important, buy they don't train people how to perform their jobs properly.

This "say"/"do" incongruity distracts and confuses people.

When the systems are aligned with the vision, they facilitate achieving the vision because they help make the communication consistent.

Involvement ...

... the heart and soul -- the sine qua non -- of world-class organizations. They take involvement to its limits. In these organizations involvement doesn't mean token participation, "letting" employees decide on one option already approved by management, or some other patronizing nod to "employees are our most valuable resource."

Involvement is total. People run the business. People are valued for their contribution regardless of rank, level, job grade or some other artificial factor. People are trusted and respected.

People feel like owners not only in their part of the business, but also in the entire enterprise.

And when they're owners, they're committed.

Then the magic happens!


The magic of managing communication to world-class status is much more complex than the old days where communication was largely a functional, media-directed effort.

Planning and implementing communication in a rapidly changing organization requires understanding that:

* The role of managed communication is to influence employee behavior and that the behavior needs to be directed outward at the customers.

* The "do" communicates as powerfully, if not more so, that the "say." The "do" and "say" need to be managed equally.

* Communication planning and implementation should involve the entire organization. It should be a cross-functional effort involving line management.

* The communication function's new role is to facilitate communication planning and implementation by the entire organization.

* Communication should focus on eight characteristics of world-class organizations.

Jim Shaffer is vice president and principal, Towers Perrin, Rosslyn, Va.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Section 3: Communication in Transition - From Art to Science
Author:Shaffer, Jim
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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