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The legend of Lester.

The interview began simply enough, with introductions.

"I'm Neville Luttholtz, producer of WorldCom," he said. "And you must be Les Potter Ill? Thanks for taking time to talk with us."

"My pleasure. CosmicNews Network has an excellent reputation. How can I help you?" Potter replied.

'Your organization is often referred to as the best of 21st century organizations. Your employees are happy and productive, your shareholders enjoy excellent returns and you are a leader in your industry. Many cite your communication ability as the driving force of this success. We want to explore that for our audience. We want to see what others can learn from your success. Will you tell us your story?"

"I'd love to. The best place to start is to go back in time. Actually, let's go back to my grandfather's time, the late 20th century," Potter said. "Events of that time period started the evolution of this and other organizations into what we are today. And communication led the way."

"You mean revolution?" Luttholtz asked.

"No, evolution. No shots were fired. With organizations, change takes time, trial and error and, as we've learned, a transformation of consciousness. More on that later," Potter said. "My grandfather Lester was what was called then an organizational communicator, actually the historical precedent for my position of Director, Unitive Communication. He worked in organizational communication from 1973 to about 2017. He was active in what was then the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), now Global Organizational Communicators (GOC). I'm a member and also a member of GOC's strategic interest group, Unitive Network of Inner Transformation Experts (UNITE). Grandfather even served as chairman of the group. That's his photograph there on the cover of that magazine."

"That's so primitive. They actually killed trees to send out simplistic propaganda in print back then! No wonder the rain forests were endangered," Luttholtz said.

"It was primitive by today's standards, but we evolved. And it's inspiring to think of the deserts we've reclaimed through agritechnology. I took my sabbatical in the Great Sahara Forest last year. In communication, our processes have evolved just like our technology," Potter answered. "But grandfather was very progressive back then. And IABC realized the strategic importance of communication to organizations even then. But organizations did not always value communication. That's why there was so much of that simplistic propaganda you refer to."

The Great Recession remembered

Potter continued, "In the early 1990s, there was a great recession, really a white collar depression. Many communicators lost their jobs even at a time when their organizations needed their skills the most."

"So very primitive!" Luttholtz said. "Organizations just wantonly - what's that vulgar reference - laid people off?"

"Neville, you're only 21 years old remember your history," Potter said. "The organizations of grandad's time let people go at the slightest quarterly downturn. It was in part that short-term, quatter-to-quarter performance mindset that speeded up the evolution. Organizations just weren't focused on what grandfather would have called the holistic' view of the organization. Too much emphasis on Yang values only, writer Fritjof Capra said of the times. Short-term gain reigned supreme. Employees were thought to be, shocking as it seems now, expendable."

"That's awful. How could organizations of the day be successful? Didn't they know that productivity and balanced, harmonious employees are two sides of the same monetary unit? How did we break out of that primitive mind set?" Luttholtz asked.

It took time. And, as I said, communicators led the way. They led because they are blessed with the ability to think creatively. But first they had to transform themselves. Back then, communicators were consumed with trying to gain more power in their organizations, to make management listen to them. What they were really saying was: I can help. Communication is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. I have the means to help solve the organization's problems. I have the means to create an efficient, productive, harmonious, balanced organization that does good for the world and makes a profit in the doing. I have the means to achieve measurable results that benefit all stakeholders. "

"Why didn't management listen?"

"Ego. And hubris, perhaps. But fundamentally managers of that era were products of their own training and experience and it frequently did not include organizational communication. In fact, grandad became a consultant to organizations and later taught organizational communication in business schools to help future business leaders learn the strategic value of communication in organizations."

"Tell me more about the evolution," Luttholtz said.

"It was what we recognize now as a paradigm shift, a change in the pattern, example or model of the times. It was a turnultuous period, a time of great technological and geopolitical upheaval. Old orders were thrown out. You must have studied communism? Countries changed boundaries and names with great fluidity. Map makers of the time were constantly behind. What we take so very much for granted now - a unified planet-wide economy

was just beginning to take shape. They had to learn how to think more broadly than the local community, province or country. They began to realize in the 1990s how inextricably linked we all are on this planet.

"The new paradigm, as Capra put it, stressed the essential interrelatedness and interdependence of all phenomena - physical, biological, psychological, social and cultural. Institutions simply had to change in response, especially organizations."

Communicators to the rescue

"How did communicators lead the way?" Luttholtz asked.

"They didn't, at first. Every group in power in organizations of the day thought it knew best. Finance said: It's all a numbers gain . Let's maximize sharcholder value and boost short-term gain. Engineering said: Let's make the products more complicated and more expensive. Marketing said: Let's sell what we can that makes the most money the quickest, never mind what the customer wants. Administration said: These are the rules - you have to fill out these forms even if it does take time away from your customers.

"It's interesting to note that during this time the advertising industry almost thed. The lifestyle myths and hyperbole that characterized ads of the era almost did the industry in by the late '90s. With the paradigm shift, peoples' consciousness expanded and the ad industry belatedly caught on. People just evolved out of the mentality that says; Buy this nd be younger, slimmer, richer, more powerful, sexier. We grew spiritually, and the old advertising methodology just didn't work."

"Back to the role of communicators," Luttholtz prodded.

"Oh, sorry. I am rambling like grandad used to! Communicators were preoccupied with trying to keep their jobs through the mid-'90s. Then, the world economy stablized. Gradually, with the paradigm shift, people began to realize that organizations were, as Karl Albrecht taught, systems, with four subsystems - the strategic, providing vision, values and plans for operation; the administrative, maintaining the flow of information about policies, procedures, etc.; the social, keeping up with the citizenship of the organization, its diverse work force, norms of behavior and values; and the technical, acting as the primary productive axis of the organization.

"As the decades passed, communicators began to use the body of knowledge called organization development that Albrecht and others taught. They also incorporated what was called human resources management. More and more, it became apparent that OD, HR and communication each had a partial answer to the task of employing people productively and to the highest good of all concerned with the organization.

"Aligning with the paradigm shift, communicators ceased to be technicians only and began to weave themselves into the fabric of the organization. Communicators emerged as a value-added part of the organization's systems by developing their already formidable creative problem-solving abilities. They became strategists. By going back to school, symbolically and literally, they got the additional skills needed to bring about this evolution.

"Communication, OD and HR are processes that work in and with the systems of organizations. just as they began to promote the concept of employee wellness - the desired opposite state of illness in an individual, they came to the realization that communication helps promote the general wellness of an organization. Communication is a process by which an organization heals what's wrong with it. This healing also unifies the organization's subparts and systems, hence the name Unitive Communication, as compared to, say, product marketing communication.

Communication is more than a skill learned

"Healing is scientific and requires technical training for expertise. Communication also has its scientific side that requires technical training. But healing has a spiritual side as well. In our time, the 2 1 st century, we've long since recognized the spiritual truths, mainly the interconnectedness of all life. You cannot ignore spirituality, even in organizations. Communism tried and failed. So did a lot of dead organizations.

"In grandad's day, people began to realize that they were part of a collective consciousness and that we are one with all there is. This transformation to a higher consciousness is how we ultimately overcame the racial and ethnic problems that used to plague the planet. Communicators meshed the scientific and the spiritual into a process that greatly improves the organization's ability to accomplish its mission and heal its wounds, its illnesses. We are gatekeepers to the wellness of an organization. We've become organization healers in the sense that communication has the power to facilitate positive, healthy change. That's why organizations of the 2 1 st century, especially this one, are so balanced, harmonious and successful."

"Organizations have come a long way," Luttholtz said. "And I've got a long way to go to file this story. May I use your conference room to edit this? After editing, I'll broadcast the story to all global affiliates with my portable terminal. You can watch it in your personal transport going home tonight. Hey, thanks for your time. It's too bad your grandfather doesn't know how far you've come.

"Oh, he knows, all right. He knows." Lester Potter, ABC, chairman of IABC and consultant, TPF&C, Rosslyn, Va., returned from the future and shared his vision with us.


"As I reflect on recent discussions with CEOs on the role of public relations, I have a nagging feeling that what they want is pretty close to what I outlined two decades ago.

"But there are some differences." The first is that today's CEO has a greater appreciation-and, yes, a greater understanding--of the public relations function.

One reason is that there's a new term in his vocabulary--'corporate governance.' He recognizes that he must be responsive to those who have dedicated themselves to the oversight of how public corporations are managed, how well they serve their owners, how well they serve the public.

"A second difference is the growing pervasiveness of government in corporate affairs. Here at home, the intrusion of the 50 states into all manner of corporate activity has had quantum escalation. In matters ranging from the environment to taxation to product safety standards, companies are finding themselves bedeviled by state legislation and regulation. CEOs look to public relations to ameliorate some of their problems with the states. This, of course, is in addition to the growing intrusion of the federal government in business affairs.

"Abroad-and most Lager companies are well represented overseas nowadays-the legislative and regulatory environments in which business does business are not at all dissimilar to the U.S. As the European Community moves toward becoming the reality that was promised some years ago, business oversight is intensifying.

"A third difference is the increased scrutiny business gets from the media. The investigative reporter now focuses on business as much as on government or other aspects of society. And a phenomenon I cannot fully explain: CEOs (and others as well) take what's printed in the newspapers a lot more seriously than they did 20 years ago. In the good old days, they were apt to shrug off the adverse article, no more nowadays. I don't have to tell you how your boss reacts to an unflattering news story.

"A fourth difference is that CEOs, in my experience, want their public relations investments to be relevant-to move the corporate ball forward. They want their companies to be well thought of -but they won't buy image building simply because it's better to be well thought of and liked than not. They are seeking some payout at the end of the exercise. They want a return on their investment.

"And they want public relations involved in the basic decision-making process. They want knowledge-based programs and plans that address real life problems. And to the extent they can get it, they want results that are measurable.

"A fifth difference--and I would say it is not only the one of the most recent vintage, but also the one that is of greatest significance-is that some CEOs are beginning to look on public relations as a line function as much as a staff function. What, for example, is a customer satisfaction program, if not public relations? Or, as another example, a quality control program aimed at motivating employees to produce higher quality products?

"In other words, public relations does not stop with such secondary audiences as the media or investment analysts or legislators and regulators. What, indeed, is more important than gaining and retaining the goodwill of primary audiences like customers and employees by having those directly in contact with those audiences employ sound public relations practices? Put another way, public relations has a necessary role in sales; it has a necessary role in employee relations. And not only a role as communicator of strategies and messages fashioned by others."

Excerpted from speech at San Francisco Academy course sponsored by Bank of America for senior communication practitioners. Burson is a member of CW's editorial advisory board.)
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.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Section 2: Dealing with Today; Looking Back from the Future; business communication's future
Author:Potter, Lester R.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:Merging turf: why communication and business consulting are converging.
Next Article:Defuse diffusion.

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