Management communication is meaningful only if it translates into effective action producing better results. Such action or behavior, on the other hand, is influenced by corporate culture. Thus, to communicate change, management needs to institute processes or management styles that will redefine corporate culture accordingly. These are the assertions of management consultant Robert Heller in his article, Business Communication: Corporate Culture and Communicating in Management at ThinkingManagers.com.
Heller defines corporate culture as a company’s “distinctive nature, a set of traditions, often dating back deep into its past.” Once such traditions have become inefficient and obsolete, he warns that they can only be broken through “sharp discontinuity.”
To learn how to effect change and what changes to make, Heller recommends looking to other companies for lessons in best practices. He cites GE’s practice of exchanging management ideas with other companies that have surpassed its productivity, adopting and adapting the best ideas for its own use.
Once the target changes have been identified, though, someone “has to determine and communicate that ‘we’re going to change’ — and show it by instituting new processes.” Heller decries that often, “communicators write and talk too much about changing the ‘culture’, and do too little to turn worthy thoughts into valuable deeds.”
Management coaching is much like sports, he says, in that “in trying to improve performance, both words and action are required.” Words are meaningless concepts unless “translated into, and proved by, behavior.” The best processes aim to communicate ideas “not by exhortation but by example.”
Heller takes the case of a company trying to create a corporate culture in which management operates by communicating and accepting practical suggestions from everyone in the organization. To attain this objective, the company should have implemented the consultant’s suggestion that senior management ensure their Monday mornings free from meetings and have their doors open to communicate with employees. When the company concerned did not do so, it lost the opportunity to institute a process that would have concretized the necessary behavioral changes it wanted to achieve. Such delays are dangerous, according to the author, since they raise the risks of the change process being overtaken by events.
On a more positive note, Heller cites a company which involved all its employees in a total quality exercise to determine necessary job cuts, ensuring that “only dispensable posts went; that all necessary strengths were left intact; and that everybody agreed with the decisions and their implementation.” That, he said, was a process involving “heavy two-way communication” which helped “create, nourish and sustain a creative culture of change.”
Good communication, according to Heller, focuses less on the medium and more on “how people are aligned with the collective purposes.” This goes back to ensuring clear and concrete targets for change.
The management process he espouses no longer requires the traditional hierarchical pyramid structure, the author says. “In the flatter, horizontal, fluid organisation, excellent communications are still needed for command and control, but they don’t take the form of ‘order-and-obey’ instructions. Rather, people with clear responsibility are expected in turn to give clear responsibility to others. The process of communication becomes a continuous loop, in which feedback leads to action which leads to feedback which leads to action, and so on. Without that process, change can’t be achieved.”
Heller reports that in 10 years GE expects to alter its hierarchical structure into “a horizontally organized grouping” and to “employ participative, successful people to whom change is a natural order, in which the role of managers is to facilitate and communicate rather than command and control.”
This article highlights the role of effective communication in all levels of corporate management. In effect, it says that management is communication, while pushing the boundaries of communication beyond words into action. It’s not just what you say; it’s what you say and do.