ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

April 1999

Articles

A Sunny Forecast
Grassroots Teams Help Sun Micorsystems Raise Customer Satisfaction

Coming Full Circle
Measuring and Improving Organizational Effectiveness

Oil Change
Externalization, Change Management Key to Realignment

Project Management:
Just Do It!

A Step by Step Overview ofa 1950's Organizational Tool Experiencing a 1990's Rebirth



Columns

Hope Is Where You Find It
by Peter Block

Sorry We're Closed: Diary of a Shutdown


Features

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Sites Unseen
Reader's Favorite Websites

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Pageturners
Book Review

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Calendar of Events

 

Coming Full Circle
Measuring and Improving Organizational Effectiveness

It was a consultant’s worst nightmare. Steve Perlman, president and partner at Performance Innovators Consulting Group in Valencia, Calif., was leading a team improvement workshop for a group of managers. “One manager said ‘I followed your process, and it doesn’t work.’” Yikes. Perlman spoke further with this manager, trying to come up with an answer. “We were stumped,” he recalls.
He and his partner kept talking about this break-down in a restaurant over dinner. “I was looking at a photograph, which was titled ‘Moon Over Miami.’ My partner and I were talking about why the process had failed this person, and she started talking about communications problems. The way the light was fixated on the photo of the moon, it looked like the moon had various cracks. She said, ‘Maybe his message wasn’t clear in the beginning, like a crack at the top, near what I’d call 12 o’clock.’
“The next thing she said, ‘Well, maybe he didn’t allow enough proactive feedback.’ There was another light shining, and it looked like 3 o’clock. As we talked more, I began to see a relationship between this photo and what I saw as communications hot spots and ways to improve them.
“On a napkin I drew a communications model. The next day we asked him (the participant in the workshop) if he perhaps thought it was a communications issue. We went through the process, and he acknowledged that he did not have some of these things. That actually started our new process,” says Perlman. He still has the napkin, and preaches the lesson it contains.

Simple, Old-Fashioned Communication
The way Perlman and his partner addressed this situation actually reflects the Organizational Communications Model they created. Its central concept is inviting and promotes providing feedback as soon as concerns are raised, then circling back until they are resolved. The model is illustrated by a simple circle with several arrows.
“There are five communications points around the circumference,” says Perlman. These points represent moments in the flow of organizational communications, from the issuance of a message by an operating unit (12 o’clock), through feedback (3 o’clock), response to that feedback (6 o’clock), delivery on a promise (9 o’clock) and feedback on that response (10 o’clock).
“The whole idea,” Perlman explains, “is for communication to be quick, concise, candid and open. In spite of all the advances we have made in technology and communications, we simply have not kept pace from a performance standpoint in learning how to communicate more effectively in the workplace. There’s nothing really fancy about this model, except that if it’s adhered to, it will produce some very impressive performance improvements.”

The Black Hole of Communication
“I’ve developed a number of performance enhancement tools,” he says, “including this communications model. I don’t think I’ve invented anything new. I’m simply taking a lot of things we know work, but the most important thing is to get results.”
His Organizational Communications Model works well because it can be quickly understood. “We were interested in why things don’t succeed. To our amazement, we found that over 85 percent of problems were communication problems.”
Perlman has identified eight “hot spots” where communications often break down: The worst example, which he calls the “Black Hole Syndrome,” is when there is no response to feedback. “This hot spot demoralizes people more than anything,” he says.
Perlman’s model is appealing because it’s quantifiable, too. “When I tell people this can be measured, they say, ‘How can you measure something so nebulous?’” He explains, “If you send a message to 100 people, and 20 people respond, you have a 20 percent participation rate. People never think in those terms, but when you graphically show it, they say, ‘Ah!’ Then I ask, ‘How would you like to increase participation from 20 to 40 percent in the next 30 days?’ That starts them thinking in a different way.”

Working Around the Clock
Perlman demonstrates how his model might work: Let’s say a manager wants to involve her unit in establishing performance goals for next year. She emails 50 employees and asks for ideas about unit and team goals, and asks for a response within five working days.
“Speed is very, very important in this model,” Perlman points out, “because communication often breaks down due to the lack of urgency.”
By 3 o’clock on Perlman’s model (the end of the five-day period), the manager has received an array of ideas to meet goals. She gets back in touch with the team (Perlman identifies this as 6 o’clock), sharing some of the ideas offered, expressing appreciation for feedback and describing three ideas that will be pursued.
The goals are implemented (9 o’clock on the model) and employees are also asked to provide necessary feedback if they aren’t working (that’s the 10 o’clock point), so there’s an opportunity to adjust. If everything is working well, she can restart the process, beginning the cycle again, building on the positive experience.

Airing Your Dirty Laundry
Perlman is disturbed by how often poor communication derails what teams need to accomplish. He offers a vivid analogy: “If every unresolved message could be a piece of dirty laundry, and they could string their dirty laundry throughout their department, it would be amazing how much dirty laundry they would have. This model gets rid of the dirty laundry, just like with a washing machine. It’s cycled through, and if the issue is not totally resolved, you cycle it again.” There’s a positive result from this, too. “Over time,” Perlman explains, “we can create enough trust in each other so that these messages can be facilitated more quickly in a better-quality manner.”
And that’s a great result from traveling in a circle.


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