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Coming Full Circle
Measuring and Improving Organizational
Externalization, Change Management Key
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Organizational Tool Experiencing a 1990's
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by Peter Block
Sorry We're Closed: Diary of a
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Views for a Change
The Quality Tool I Never Use
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Views For A
You ask for help in envisioning a new
communications system with many self-starting and
maintaining characteristics. The best that I can do is to
offer a number of suggestions about the context and
inputs you can provide as leaders and then some ideas for
your employees to consider as they design and implement
Jim Harrington's Response
First, I say to you as a leader and to your other company
leaders—put clear, decisive, timely and important
information into this system and the people in your
organization will grow a communications infrastructure
that will match the degree of your investment and the
quality of your input.
If workers come to believe that they can trust and learn
from the information that flows from the top, they will
create and enhance the communications system needed to
spread the word. On the other hand, if what you pour in
is more partial, opaque, hard-to-understand,
not-particularly-responsive and/or not reliable from
their point of view, then the system will never evolve to
a really useful level of effectiveness and
Second, I think it is crucial for leaders to offer
employees key conceptual maps about how you are
envisioning this communication system, plus how you are
managing and dealing with change. For example, begin by
drawing rough maps that depict the flow of clear messages
from management and feedback from workers. Include
dynamic circles and spirals that show the self-generating
involvement of all participants. Share your vision in
this pictorial way and then let them modify and re-draw
their own lines and flows of communication.
In particular, it is crucial for your employees to know
and understand their role and leadership’s role as
the kinds of changes you mention are initiated. In this
arena, I find the ideas of Daryl Conner and his
“Sponsor-Agent-Target” model for managing
change very powerful in clarifying the roles, processes
and boundaries for ensuring the kind of changes you
describe. In particular, implementing Conner’s
guidelines leads to the kind of responsibility and
whole-system-monitoring you indicated that you want.
Leaders can do their part to make these change processes
work by consistently soliciting input from employees as
they contemplate making shifts and by listening and
responding to worker feedback when they roll out new
Once the employees can count on the quality of the
information coming from the top and clear guidelines
about what they should do as changes unfold, then they
can turn to building the communications system you
I believe that leaders can best help with the launch of
this communication system by:
- Bringing all 100 of the workers together in a meeting
where you provide your vision, sponsorship and
information about any resources and parameters for this
- Communicate your expectations so that everyone in the
workplace must become literate and facile in this
system—and commit to tracking and responding to
questions and issues that are raised back to you.
- Provide enough facilitation for the employees to choose
their own natural, grassroots leaders and working
- Allow them time and space to begin to design such a
system using “future search” methods to
gather input and establish criteria for the system.
n Have one or more leaders stay close enough to their
deliberations to be able to offer appropriate information
about boundaries and issues of integration with other
systems as they need it.
I want to say to the employees as they design and
construct their multi-dimensional system:
- Rely on peoples’ natural curiosity to know
“what is really going on.”
- Make this a communications system that helps people
learn what they need to know when they need to know
- Use all of the modes available to you from in-person
meetings to voicemail to email to other shared software
- Develop multiple channels and options for information
to flow from large-scale bulletin boards to targeted
email distribution lists to overtly confidential subgroup
exchanges, when and as needed.
- Take into account that people have a very wide variety
of styles of seeking and absorbing information.
- Consider creating a physical space (a room or a corner
at each of your sites) where information can be pooled,
displayed and digested by individuals and small groups on
their own schedule.
- Balance the practical needs for quick, situational
communication by electronic means with the human needs
for face-to-face exchanges to deal with real working
relationships and the most important topics.
- Provide everyone in the workplace with the means to
call quick “huddles” of key players around a
given project or issue (for example, designate a certain
hour of the day or time of the week when everyone will be
available to make “huddles” happen).
- Establish mutual expectations about frequency of
check-ins on the system, the obligation to respond
(perhaps at least by signaling that messages have been
read) and any guidelines about inclusion, confidentiality
and problem solving that make sense for your
- In the beginning, choose a
roughly every 8-10 participants in the communications
network. Charge this person with serving as a local focal
point for refining the emerging system and sitting on a
broader employee coordinating/steering team as well.
Eventually, have this role rotate among each of the
employees in each pod.
- Use this employee coordinating/steering team to guide
the early development and on-going improvement and
maintenance of the system over time.
I believe that a system built on these premises
—with a commitment by everyone to put in the real,
important and reliable information that everyone needs to
do their job—has the best chance of meeting the
needs of all involved.