The Communicator as Gardener: Effective Strategic Counsel Means Nurturing Corporate Culture

Article excerpt

When Alexander the Great conquered Sidon after a long Persian occupation, there were no survivors of the reigning dynasty from whom to name a new king. Alexander often let locals rule, as long as they were loyal to him. He gave the assignment of finding and installing a new king to his best friend and commander, Hephaestion. Hephaestion went "underground,' poking around Sidon incognito with an interpreter, looking for a person worthy to be the new king. He was unsuccessful, and Alexander grew impatient. One day, Hephaestion came upon an incredibly beautiful and well-kept garden. His interpreter explained that when the Persian uprising began, rebels tried to torch the garden, but the gardener stood in the doorway facing death rather than let the garden be destroyed. His name was Abdalonymus, and on Hephaestion's recommendation, Alexander made the gardener king. He was reported to be the best king in living memory.

Communication professionals can find a worthy role model in Abdalonymus. And organizational management can learn much from Alexander's decision to make the gardener king. When managing correctly, communicators are the gardeners of organizations. They nurture the life force of the organization--its strategic communication. They prune the weeds of inaccuracy, reticence, rumor and half-truth. Communicators cultivate this life force with accurate, timely and relevant strategic information. They then propagate the truth found in honest and proven business practices, so the bounty of success can be harvested.

Like plants well watered, organizations run better when the work force is well informed. Organizations reap success with knowledgeable employees who are engaged, committed and productive. Communicators are vital to employee cultivation.

A longtime editor and columnist for Fortune magazine, Geoffrey Colvin, wrote in the 16 Sept. 2002 issue: "The terrible damage to investors and employees at Enron, Tyco and Global Crossing has shown that the markets don't need winks and nods, they need comprehensive information, which is exactly what they are not getting from those companies."

BALANCING THE ELEMENTS

To communicate effectively to employees and other audiences, corporate communicators must align outgoing information with internal business issues and work-a-day realities. They must dig beneath surface communication skills and tactics. They must learn more about organizational dynamics and behavior, about corporate climate and culture, about management and leadership, about building (or rebuilding) trust, and then they must unify it all with strategic communication management. Successful gardeners do not just plant the seeds and hope for the best. They use all available tools. So must the communicator, and the breadth of knowledge required goes beyond communication theory and practice.

A survey conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting in 1997 found that half of the employees polled believed the reasons for important changes in their organizations were not explained to them. According to the report, employees have numerous unanswered questions:

* Why must the organization make these changes?

* What market forces dictate this response?

* What might the consequences be if we don't take any action?

* What new behaviors will be required of me and why?

* Will I get help in retraining myself in any required new skills?

From this survey, communication professionals can learn a lot about what is required for relevant strategic communication. These responses show that employees want information about organizational climate and culture, about why management makes certain decisions and why leaders behave the way they do.

CLARIFYING ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE

Organizational culture is the values, beliefs and norms as expressed in actual practices and behaviors of the organization's members. Culture drives organizational success and embodies what the organization values. …