How Video Helped Change a Corporate Culture

Article excerpt

During the past decade, companies in many industries -- telecommunications, utilities, transportation and banking -- have experienced the pain of deregulation.

One U.S. company that has been actively facing the challenges of deregulation is Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G), New Jersey's largest electric and natural gas utility. The company faces competition from aggressive, independent power producers who entered the business because of attractive government tax incentives and new regulations imposed by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Deregulation also encouraged PSE&G's industrial customers to install their own generating capacity, further threatening PSE&G's core business.

To meet the competition, the company had to change the way it does business.

In 1989, the communication department of the Electric Business Unit (EBU), PSE&G's largest division, set out to develop a comprehensive, long-term communication strategy. The essence of the strategy integrates video with discussion groups to explain the corporate change process to all employees. The EBU, an organization of some 7,600 employees, is in the business of generating, transmitting and distributing electric power.

Having developed ambitious communication plans in the past, we wanted to establish continuity in the EBU's communication with our work force. Our hands-on experience taught us what leading communication gurus had theorized: To achieve organizational objectives, key messages must be credible, consistent and continuous.

Selling the strategy to upper management

We realized the need to secure unqualified support from top management. Their support not only included the production and effective distribution of the video programs, but also the integration of these videos in the overall change process within the organization. Employees had to perceive the videos as credible status reports on changes as they evolved throughout the company, not just manufactured news substituting for real change.

Fortunately, we received a major commitment from Larry Codey, former senior vice president of the EBU, and now the president of PSE&G. He believed that for change to take place throughout the organization, employees had to know the reasons for the change. They also had to understand how they would play a role in the change process by doing their jobs differently.

He also believed it was important for management to understand this, too. Its commitment was critical to explain the business issues and answer questions about the threats and opportunities in this new business environment. Without management's commitment, we would be wasting time and money.

Videos designed to convey business strategy

The second objective was to ensure that the video programming would not be considered a "one-shot deal" -- a tactic divorced from the long-term plan. The positioning of video would be critical to the program's success, since the knowledge of long-term objectives would affect the way subsequent video programs were designed.

Knowing there would be a series of programs distributed on a measured basis, we tried to sharpen each program to improve the focus and effectiveness of the overall program.

The dual strategy of integration and continuity was initially presented to EBU's top management in a way that reflects the realities of corporate change itself. The EBU's communication department secured management commitment as part of an evolving learning process that continues to this day. The ideas of continuity and integration were emphasized as sound business principles, and were shaped by many of the executives involved in the presentation.

During the extensive pre-production period for the first video, we asked for management input on the most effective means to communicate business issues. Detailed creative treatments were circulated for comment and criticisms. …