Magazine article Communication World

Making Change Work

Magazine article Communication World

Making Change Work

Article excerpt

Re-engineering lately has taken its share of abuse in the popular business press. Many organizations, after having gone through elaborate re-engineering programs and having spent countless dollars, report little return on their investments. Even two major proponents of the re-engineering movement, Mike Hammer and James Champy, have admitted that 50 to 70 percent of all re-engineering efforts will fail to achieve their desired results.

For those who have worked with organizations facing major change, the importance of communication is hardly new. More than 50 years ago, in "The Function of the Executive," former AT&T executive Chester Barnard wrote, "In any exhaustive theory of organization, communication would occupy a central place." Taking it a step further, Barnard is said to have advocated that the executive's first function is to communicate. Given the amount of time, effort and resources spent on re-engineering efforts, it would be counter-productive for those in charge to abdicate this important strategic imperative.

Still excuses abound: "They won't understand."

"We don't have enough budget to worry about communication."

"People might be threatened if we tell them too much too soon."

Others in charge offer a different kind of rationale: "We sent a memo. We sent a video. We gave them T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. What else do we need to do?"

While such rationalizations may appear to some to be valid reasons for not developing a comprehensive communication strategy as part of a re-engineering effort, experience suggests that without direct, frequent and face-to-face communication with all affected stakeholders, individuals will develop their own perceptions - often misperceptions - of the effort.

For communication to effectively benefit a re-engineering effort, four critical issues must be shared among key stakeholders within the organization:

* Communicating the process for change

* Communicating the need for change

* Communicating the business case for change

* Communicating the plan for change.

Communicating the process for change

The startup of a re-engineering effort is often a particularly confusing time for an organization. Individuals often central to the day-to-day operations are pulled off their normal job responsibilities and asked to focus their attention on a new project. It is very common for employees to question the effort, asking:

"What is re-engineering?"

"How is re-engineering different from other efforts going on within the organization?"

"How is this going to affect me and my job?"

Further, the presence of outside facilitators and consultants often heightens organizational anxiety.

During the startup phase, the project sponsor, the project leader and other senior managers should be visible, vocal and up-front. Specifically, they should communicate the purpose of the re-engineering effort, the areas to be examined during the effort, the members of the re-engineering team, and the expected time frame of the project. Employees should be provided the opportunity to ask questions about the process and offered a variety of methods to give feedback to the re-engineering team and senior management.

At the early stages of the project, senior managers may not have all the answers. Therefore, they need to be candid about the fact that although the future is not clearly defined, employees will be continually informed throughout the progress of the effort.

To kick off its re-engineering effort, one organization we worked with prepared a series of written communications, followed shortly there-after by a "re-engineering road show" that visited each of the company's manufacturing sites. Each session, which lasted for approximately two hours, was run by a member of the steering committee, the leader of the re-engineering effort, and several members of the re-engineering team. …

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