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The maxi-communication audit - a precision instrument for change.

Once a tool confined primarily to measuring formal media effectiveness -- often with predictable results -- today's state-of-the-art communication audit is a sophisticated precision instrument generating volumes of data that can guide an organization through the intricacies of organizational change.

Today's audit is a hybrid, blending the best of the old methodology with elements of the traditional opinion survey and the contemporary culture study. Comparing the communication audit of five years ago to the state-of-the-art is

similar to comparing the first calculator with today's laptop computer.

This blending and enhancing process has given life to the maxi-communication audit. Pressure to create the maxi-audit has come from enlightened corporate leaders seeking a diagnostic instrument to help them achieve competitive advantage. They realized that achieving competitive advantage meant managing behavior -- and, therefore, communication -- better than their competition. They wanted precision because often their own rewards were tied to their progress.

What today's maxi-audit can tell you

The maxi can reveal how well communication is managed, how values are being shaped, why some people are doing things needed for organizational success and why some aren't.

It can tell you where there's congruity between what you say and what you do -- where you're walking the talk and where you aren't.

It can shine a light on the systems infrastructure and let you know which systems may be out of sync with the strategic direction.

It can vividly describe your current culture and tell you how far you are from your desired culture.

It can signal where and why costs may be getting out of line.

It can help spot where your quality or service initiatives are going awry.

And, coupled with customer satisfaction data, it can clarify why customers' perceptions of you are what they are.

The maxis are different

The maxis are different from old communication audits in two pronounced ways.

They're more strategically driven and they're more focused on the communication process in its broadest sense.

Designing the maxi-audit begins with a serious discussion around organizational strategy and critical success factors -- what is required to achieve competitive advantage in a target marketplace. Considerable time can be spent identifying the condition that's required for the organization to succeed. A clearly articulated, desired condition drives the maxi-audit's design because the maxi's role will be to carefully identify the extent to which the desired condition represents the actual condition within the organization and what gaps need to be eliminated to achieve the desired condition.

While earlier communication audits were designed primarily to measure formal media effectiveness, and the effectiveness of the communication function, the maxi-audit assesses the communication process in its entirety. It evaluates all the ways that messages are formally and informally sent. These messages, when decoded, are used by people to guide individual behavior when they encounter any of the hundreds of how-to-act options they meet every day. Smile; don't smile. Answer the phone in two rings; let it ring off the hook. And so on.

The maxis are telling us something

Maxi-audits have been churning out data through the current round of major organizational change. The data are starting to tell us a lot about the successes and frustrations organizations are having as they navigate through the change process. The data also are revealing some interesting implications for communication practitioners around the globe.

Formal communication media

By and large, printed and electronic media continue to score well in that they are generally perceived as meeting employee information needs. In most organizations, they're successful when they're used to establish a framework or context for change, explain how the changes will be made and celebrate successful efforts to help foster the change process. That's the good news.

The bad news is that their change messages often are perceived as getting too far ahead of the organization's ability to change. This is contributing to credibility problems for some of the media that have been audited. In more than one organization we've heard that employees have quit reading the employee publications because "that stuff bears no similarity to the way things are in my department." What employees are telling us is that while formal media (and leadership) are talking about the need for change, "my manager is doing the same old stuff he's always done."

Formal media continue to become more focused on relevant business issues. They're more substantive and less glossy; many are moving to desktop publishing to reduce costs and increase cycle time.

Almost gone are the days of news about birthdays, babies and bowling scores.

Leadership -- at all levels

The good news from the maxi-audits is that more leaders are talking about the need to change, the need for improved quality and service. But the bad news from the maxis is that there's often an incongruity in what leaders say and what they do.

Maxi results tell us there are seven ways that leaders most often undermine their "say" with their "do."

* They use their time in a way that's inconsistent with their stated priorities. For instance, an insurance company president said that employees were important to improving organizational performance but spent less than five percent of his daily calendar on employee issues, instead investing huge chunks of time golfing with customers.

* They appoint to positions people who do not embody the values they're saying they're trying to instill in the organization. In a utility, a chief executive often speaks about the need to change and take risks, yet his first appointment after assuming the presidency was a 30-year veteran known for his uncanny ability not to rock the boat.

* They use reward and recognition inconsistently with their stated goals, or they fail to use rewards and recognition to reinforce the goals. More than one organization's maxi-audit has revealed a leadership team that says quality is important yet still bases rewards largely on quantity-oriented measures.

* They fall back on styles and decision-making systems that are inconsistent with stated values. One manufacturing chief operating officer in Canada autocratically announced to his plant that from this day forth "you will empower your people."

* They ask the wrong questions. One branch manager of a professional service organization told his people quality and innovation were important but routinely started meetings by asking everyone around the table to report on production numbers. Not rejects. Not customer satisfaction scores. Not scrap. Quantity!

* They maintain old systems that impede the organization's ability to improve. An organization's infrastructure (recruiting, training, communication, reward, measurement, purchasing, finance, distribution, etc.) can facilitate or impede the change process. Yet many organizational leaders seeking improvements maintain the old systems. This communicates that the "old way" not the "new way" is preferred. This mixed communication confuses people and diffuses productive energy. One of the most recurring examples is training. People receive "new way" training but go back into an environment that rewards "old way" behavior. We call this car-wash training. Our maxi-audits tell us there are a lot of car washes in today's organizations

* They lose focus. Long-term organizational change requires unrelenting pursuit of a clear, shared vision. Unrelenting means forever. Unfortunately, our maxi-audits are telling us that today's leaders seem to have a difficult time focusing beyond the next 30 days. Their inability to maintain focus is translated by employees into "fad management," and "program du jour."


This is related to the leadership's inability to focus over the long term, but it's also a different issue.

Organizations are proliferating messages that are confusing people. Confused people don't do the right things efficiently regardless of whether it's a symphony, a sports team, a civic organization or a billion-dollar manufacturing business. In a well-intentioned attempt to install a quick fix extolled by the most recent business book on the market, organizations are creating visions, core values, missions, guiding principles, beliefs, goals, objectives and strategic intent. Then they are attempting to communicate these multiple and often disconnected messages into the work force. In one financial services organization, we counted 33 different "important" messages that had been sent into the organization within a six-month period. People initially were confused. Then, according to our maxi-audit, they simply turned off. "Maybe when they get their act together, we'll turn back on," one employee told us. "But, until then, we'll just let them play their silly word games."

The most prevalent program that's proliferating in the business world is the "quality program." Known by lots of names and initials, quality programs are failing miserably in organizations, if improved customer satisfaction is the measurement of success or failure. Again looking for a quick fix, organizations are "putting in" quality programs that more often than not are merely training programs masquerading as serious quality initiatives. One utility employee participating in a maxi-audit said, "I'll be glad when we finish this TQM (total quality management) stuff, so we can get back to worrying about the customer."

Communication and Change

The communication and change processes are often disconnected, the maxi-audit tells us. Often the efforts are managed from two different functions in the organization, which sends confusing messages. The efforts need to be integrated to work.

Implications for communication practitioners

From the maxi-audits has emerged a new role for people who understand -- and can manage -- communication that's designed to influence behavior.

The new role offers different responsibilities and creates new relationships. It may well define the communication professional of the year 2000.

The maxi-audits tell us organizations are desperately seeking people who can:

* Help the leadership team agree on a clear, over-arching vision. Help them understand the implications of that vision -- behavioral and operational. Help them reconcile differences that may exist in the team. Facilitate the process that moves the vision from words to action, planning and implementation. Help them establish a clear, focused message. Provide resources to the team to help them implement the message -- both the "say" and the "do."

* Provide people with information they need to achieve the sought-after vision. For instance, share customer satisfaction data broadly so people can work together to improve customer satisfaction. (We audited one organization that refused to share customer data with its people. The company said the data might leak to competitors. Well intentioned but naive. One: Their competitors -- and their customers -- already know how good or bad they are. Two: What could the competitors do with the data once they had it? Three: By withholding the data, the company was communicating that it didn't trust its people. Four: The organization can't improve customer satisfaction if the people closest to the customer don't have the information they need to fix the problems.)

* Facilitate the barrier-removal process. Help leadership eliminate barriers to achieving competitive advantage -- the friction that exists in any organizational infrastructure. It's this friction that confuses people and diffuses valuable energy. This hard-core, barrier-removal process is at the heart of GE's Workout Program. A number of communication practitioners today are leading similar workout efforts in their organizations.

* Use measurement to communicate what's important, (What gets measured gets done) as well as to signal to the leadership the resources that are needed to improve the organization. At Perdue Farms, the poultry company, conference room walls are adorned with quality, service and reliability data not, as Perdue associates refer to it as, "birds-per-man-hour" data.

* Counsel various functional areas that may be inadvertently sending mixed messages. If the leadership is saying one thing and the reward system is saying another, someone needs to speak out and correct this communication incongruity.

* Teach leaders about their new role as value shapers, resource providers and obstacle removers and how to avoid undermining their messages. Organizational leaders don't get up in the morning itching to confuse people. They need a mirror held up to them so they can see themselves as they really are. Someone needs to be custodian of the mirror.

* Use the formal media to establish context, to explain "how" and to recognize and celebrate successes.

The communication audit has undergone a major evolution -- some say revolution. It's now a dynamic, precision instrument that can help lead a massive organizational change effort. It can be used to fine-tune a world-class organization. And, it's opening the door to major opportunities to those in the communication profession who are up to assuming those responsibilities.

Jim Shaffer is a vice president and principal of Towers Perrin, Rosslyn, Va., a management consulting firm. He is co-leader of the firm's Quality Center for Excellence.


For many companies, human resources has been emerging as the new home of internal communication. Behind this shift in responsibility is management's need for help with the strategic alignment of the work force to the new realities of a competitive environment.

And while management has begun to embrace greater employee involvement and empowerment, the long-standing contract of "loyalty for job security" between employer and employee has been dissolved.

Today organizations are making a number of strategic human resources changes, including:

* Reducing personnel and benefit costs,

* Restructuring and downsizing,

* Putting more compensation at risk,

* Linking rewards more closely to performance,

* Providing increased training and employee assistance, and

* Attracting star players.

What are some of the key messages?

* "This is our mission . . . and here's how you fit in"

* "What you do here is important."

* "Let me tell you how you're doing."

* "Let me help you do your job better."

* "We'll help you with your personal problems."

* "Here's how our unit did this quarter."

* "We made a mistake, but here's what we're going to do to fix it."

* "What are your ideas?"

Excerpted from "Strategic Alignment and Communication," by Frank Corrado, Communications for Management, Int'l., Chicago, Ill.
COPYRIGHT 1993 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:using maxi-communication audits for organizational change
Author:Shaffer, Jim
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Careerism for communicators.
Next Article:Face-to-face communication comes face-to-face.

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