Superior communication management should help improve organizational performance.
Its job is to focus people on what’s required to win and build an environment that gives them the information needed to improve performance. It should do its job as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Three factors have reinvented the way we must manage communication: technology, increased global competition and the emerging partnership between an organization and its members.
Technology has replaced layers of management that frequently blocked communication back in the days when the communication process was thought to be a hierarchic, cascading, up and down process.
Technology now allows anyone with E-mail to move information throughout the organization, posing questions or suggesting new product ideas to any individual, regardless of their location or status.
Increased competition has forced us to look for ways to do everything exponentially better, faster and at less cost. It’s caused us to challenge all the rules, processes, policies, programs and structures.
Self-direction, virtual offices, spiderweb organizational structures and telecommuting has forced many organizations to adopt more efficient and effective ways of moving information among people who need that it.
A new partnership has evolved from recognition that assets such as capital, raw materials and technology are inert until people do something with them.
Those firms that can get the right people doing the right things at the right time with precious finite assets will be tomorrow’s winners.
Communication in its broadest form is a critical enabler that can engage people and unlock the discretionary effort that’s needed to win. Organizations that understand these factors and manage communications well have adopted or are adopting the following two best practices.
- Using a concept commonly called open book leadership, they’re creating businesses of business people where everyone thinks and acts like a business owner. In these organizations, often considered the model of communication management, everyone knows how the enterprise makes money and how to track business performance.
Everyone knows that a large part of the job is to move the numbers in the right direction. The income statement, cash flow statement and balance sheet are the primary communication media.Everyone works to manage these three statements prospectively.
For instance, if a variance in material usage is projected on next month’s income statement, employees who can influence material usage work to avoid the variance. This effort may involve front-line employees; it may involve others.
Focusing communication primarily on frontline people at the exclusion of others could too often circumvent people who have valuable contributions to improving the organization’s financial health.
- They’re seeking faster, more focused ways to get relevant information into the hands of those who can most influence business performance. These businesses understand that some organization capabilities or processes drive the business more than others. In a world of finite resources, it’s often strategically efficient to focus on these needed-to-win capabilities or success drivers.
For instance, if an electric power company were deficient in a needed-to-win capability such as creating strategic partnerships, it should direct its attention at eliminating this deficiency.
This may or may not involve front-line employees but would address a major competitive issue.
If a retail store were deficient in a core driver such as increasing in-store traffic, it would want to focus on these activities that would increase in-store traffic.
This might include merchandising, advertising, perceived product quality, atmosphere, retail skills, leadership skills and a host of other activities that could increase in-store traffic. This probably would involve frontline people, but not to the exclusion of others.
Essentially, best practice companies focus communication management where it has maximum strategic impact.
This requires involving people who bring a mix of competencies from various places within the organization. In these organizations, ‘frontline’ isn’t part of the lexicon. ‘Frontline’ is a hierarchic remnant.
In the new model, everyone is critical to the value chain. Everyone is part of the business. Everyone is engaged in a partnership.
This emerging model represents a fundamental shift in the way we think about our organizations and how we share information. Part of this shift renders the historical frontline employee/ supervisor discussion obsolete.
In this new model, the way we move information should be situational. Sure, face-to-face may be ideal. It can capture the essence of human interaction better than E-mail, fax, courier services, video or teleconference.
But, try telling someone at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, California that she should communicate cash flow reports face-to-face to someone in the Asia-Pacific office and she’d be justified in giving us a quick lesson in business economics and the need for speed in today’s competitive environment.
Lionize face-to-face as an ideal, but be prepared to seek better ways to move information among telecommuters who have child care obligations.
Face-to-face may have significant advantages, but perhaps not at the expense of dragging a world-wide sales force to London for a monthly sales meeting.
Organizations are changing dramatically. Work gets done differently. Structures are fluid. Businesses will continue to metamorphose as customers’ needs and members’ needs change.
Communication practitioners should be hard at work looking for new ways to help adapt to a new business environment.
They should be looking for better ways to engage everyone in achieving increasingly higher levels of performance through improving information sharing.
Doing this effectively will require a mindset change and a fresh view of the needs of the emerging organization.
It will mean letting go of the past when it doesn’t serve today’s business needs – however painful letting go might be.