The Communicator's Role in Leading Corporate Culture Change

By Gonring, Matthew P. | Communication World, February 1992 | Go to article overview

The Communicator's Role in Leading Corporate Culture Change


Gonring, Matthew P., Communication World


More and more, companies are turning to participative management as the means to becoming more competitive. The motivation is that increased employee involvement in the company will simultaneously increase commitment and productivity. Witness the growing popularity of ESOPs, employee stock ownership plans, as a corresponding trend.

Yet, a hierarchical, top down, cnetralized organization must go through a profound culture change to achieve the benefits true participative management can offer. Such change is frequently frightening and confusing to a work force comfortable with routine methods and procedures. The very commitment and productivity this change is intended to achieve can suffer disastrously.

Communication professionals must decide whether they will be victims of change, or change mangers.

To be managers of change, communicators must become experts on participative management and commit to taking a leading role. Too often, communication professionals assume that others should lead, and they should follow exclusively as fcilitators. Not this time. Not only are communication jobs potentially at stake, as well as the value of the professional, but also communicators must play a central role in managing this culture change, or it may not work at all.

Participative cultures create

excellence

The IABC Research Foundation's landmark study, "Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management," points out that excellent organizations are characterized by, among other things, participatve cultures and high job satisfaction among employees.

This characterization is taken from the current literature on management and organizational development. It is a value judgment. But is is also empirically true. Another study, by The Wyatt Company, has found that companies with a high level of participative management report improved quality, increased productivity, and a higher level of employee commitment to making the company succeed.

The "excellence" study suggests why this is the case. According to the research, all of the thousands of values and characteristics of organizations group into two basic corporate cultures: authoritarian and participative. All companies have characteristics of both cultures, but one is more likely to be dominant.

The study describes the authoritarian culture as restrictive. Innovation is stifled, departments operate separately, with no shared goals. Employees fear supervisors. Decision-making in the organization is centralized. The participative culture, on the other hand, is characterized by teamwork, shared power and decision-making, and is guided by common goals. The organization as a whole is open to ideas from outside.

So clearly, changing from an authoritarian culture to a participative one is no easy task. It requires a complete shift in the way the entire organization functions, and how everyone in the work force understands their jobs and their relationships with each other.

As in-house experts on participative management, communicators can define and help lead the development of answers to the following strategic questions relating to corporate culture change:

* What does participative management mean at this company, and what is top management's commitment to it?

* How will we get employees involved in making participative management work?

* How will we address the concerns of middle management, those most likely to feel threatened by participative management?

* What barriers will we face with this culture shift, and how will we overcome them?

* How will we communicate that this change will be slow, and how can we continue to promote it?

Based on my experience in working through such a corporate culture change at USG Corporation, I offer the following recommendations on defining your role in managing the communication function. …

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