Communicating in the 1990s - Are We Ready? the Simple Answer Is No - We Are Not

By Sharon, Paul | Communication World, May-June 1990 | Go to article overview

Communicating in the 1990s - Are We Ready? the Simple Answer Is No - We Are Not


Sharon, Paul, Communication World


What I see is a fundamental shift in the way North America conducts business in the coming decade. Because whether we work for a large corporation, a small company, a government office, not-for-profit organization or an agency-we will all be affected by what I see as a massive restructuring.

Or as consultant Donald Thain describes the current business environment in Canada-"We're in a war without bullets."

Some of you will say "That doesn't affect me: I just write the newsletter; I work for a successful, stable company that won't be affected by what's going on in Europe or Asia; I work for the government and I know that the bureaucracy isn't about to change."

I believe that view is wrong. I believe that there is not one of us who will not be affected by the political, social and financial upheaval that is just now gathering momentum.

During my year as IABC chairman, I had the opportunity and the privilege to listen to communicators and business leaders in many companies and in many countries. And I've changed some of the views I previously held.

We all know that the '80s were a decade of change-one that shook complacent America-and I include Canada-and changed the face of business. We learned new words: golden parachute, poison pill, green-mail, white knight.

We used euphemisms for wrenching change: downsizing, rationalization, synergy.

And we hunkered down-particularly in the early part of the decade-in order that we could survive until things got back to "normal."

Now, we're beginning to realize that there is no more "normal."

The changes will be the greatest in the manufacturing and industrial sectors as we move into what is popularly called the "post-industrial" age. But all business will be affected.

That's not to say that companies will necessarily suffer. Many will achieve successes that can hardly be envisioned today. But only after gut-wrenching soul searching and fundamental rethinking about what-and who-the company is.

What's causing these changes?

First, of course, are the massive changes caused by global competition. That global competition has also resulted in a rise in trading blocs such as the European Community, which will create the world's largest market when it is formally established in 1992-little more than two years away.

Peter Drucker underscored the importance of this trend when he said that in his view the world will consist of two kinds of CEOS: those who think globally, and those who are unemployed.

I would add that the word "communicators" could be substituted for CEOs" and the statement would be equally correct.

But thinking globally is not simply grappling with unfamiliar currencies and markets. Our work force demographics are changing dramatically, bringing new cultures and values to the organizations we work for-sometimes necessitating wholesale changes in traditional systems and practices within these organizations.

I'm not just talking about immigration-although in a country like Canada that will have a remarkable effect on the way we do things. I'm also talking about changes in workers' values-changes that will significantly affect our work place systems and structures-from communication systems, to compensation practices, to worker scheduling and supervision.

Helping organizations come to grips with these changes, helping develop new systems to deal successfully with them, is an area where qualified communication professionals can really make a difference.

As I traveled around the world on behalf of IABC last year, I increasingly heard this area mentioned as one of the most important new areas that communicators are identifying as priority issues.

But the global marketplace and the changing work force are not the only issues we're grappling with.

Tom Peters, in an article titled "A Reality Check for 1990," outlines what he calls 18 emerging realities for business. …

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