Specify the Importance of Effective Communication
OLB 7007, Assignment 3
DuBose, Justin Z.
Dr. Jaime Klein
24 February 2019
The modern workplace is constantly evolving, increasing in diversity, and growing in the various skills required by employers to remain competitive (Al-Asfour & Lettau, 2014). These challenges are a major reason why businesses hire coaches and consultants (Wise & Hammock, 2011). While these coaches and consultants are hired for a variety of reasons, they are often hired to work with organizations and organizational leaders to develop strategy and communicate that strategy throughout the organization (Egan & Hamlin, 2014). Clampitt, DeKoch, and Cashman (2000) noted that, given the accompanying uncertainty associated with constant organizational change, strategic communication is a subject about which organizations cannot afford to ignore. Allio (2013) further noted that effective communication shapes the entire culture of an organization, and that listening and responding must be treated as essential workplace characteristics. Habermacher, Ghadiri, and Peters (2014) noted that organizational coaches and consultants play an important role in shaping the culture of an organization by aligning an effective communication strategy to meet the emotional needs of employees and, ultimately, improve performance and effectiveness.
Organizational communication, then, is clearly an essential issue for modern organizations and an area in which coaches and consultants play an important role. Researchers have noted common characteristics present within organizations executing successful communication strategies. Buono and Kerber (2010) suggested that communication during times of organizational change should be honest and transparent. This allows all voices and viewpoints to be expressed, increases organizational learning, and creates opportunities to express a shared purpose and common change language. In addition to these benefits, effective communication initiates the process of “meaning-making” for employees effected by change (Huevel et al., 2013). The process of meaning-making facilitates “integrating challenging/ambiguous events into a framework of personal meaning using value-based reflection” (Park, 2010, p. 265). Once meaning is ascribed to the changes made, this increases an individual’s willingness to adapt to change (Huevel et al., 2013). Huevel et al. (2013) concluded that the process of meaning-making also translates to successful adaptation for employees when it allows them to reflect on organizational changes and link or align their own personal values to the changes.
There is an abundance of research on the importance of communication and the roles played by organizational coaches and consultants in developing communication strategy. Still, examples abound in which modern organizations of all sizes fail to utilize effective communication in their strategies and initiatives. This paper will examine one recent real-world example from General Electric. Analysis of their communication failures will be provided followed by recommendations from current research on executing a more effective communication strategy.
Adam Lashinsky of Fortune Magazine recently detailed the decline of General Electric following their failed organizational change initiative with implementing new technology (Lashinsky, 2018). Former CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, began addressing sweeping changes to General Electric and their utilization and implementation of new technology (Lashinsky, 2018). Lashinsky (2018) noted that the change effort was a massive failure as a result of three exceptionally poor decisions: poor investments in new technology, poor allocation of capital, and, as a result, a sharp decline in organizational culture. Ultimately, for Immelt, the failed organizational change initiative resulted in his abrupt resignation from his role as CEO of General Electric. What steps could have been taken by the organizational leadership of General Electric to better communicate with their stakeholders regarding these changes? What lessons can we learn from this failure?
Vamsi Chimitiganti, writing for ITProPortal, a technology commentary and analysis organization, noted that the primary failure of General Electric was not related to technology, but to organizational communication (Chemitiganti, 2018). Chimitiganti (2018) noted that General Electric communication to stakeholders was poor every step of the way: poor communication of the rollout plan, poor communication to technology developers, and poor communication to employees impacted by the new technology. While the technological advancements leaders were seeking to initiate failed, the true failure on the part of those leaders was communication with stakeholders.
Chimitiganti (2018) noted that General Electric’s communication of their rollout plan failed to communicate in quantifiable terms what the company was seeking to accomplish and how. Their communication during this phase failed to address how the new technology would reduce costs and generate revenue as well as failing to address how this would affect their existing business model and structure (Chimitiganti, 2018). Their communication with technology developers was equally ineffective. Chimitiganti (2018) noted that General Electric’s communication with developers failed to include listening to or soliciting their input regarding the technology they were developing. Organizational leaders of General Electric imposed unnecessarily long, cumbersome organizational processes for procuring resources and solving technology-related problems in the development phase (Chimitiganti, 2018). Furthermore, the developers were dictated to what technology they were developing and what the timeline for development was rather than being consulted with regarding such decisions (Chimitiganti, 2018). Similarly, Chimitiganti (2018) noted that poor communication to employees impacted by the new technology included no invitation to employees to experiment with the new technology and provide feedback regarding their experience. As with their relationship with developers, communication from organizational leaders of General Electric to their employees was given in the form of directives which increased resistance and decreased the likelihood of successful change.
Strategies for Improved Communication
What can we learn from the failures of General Electric’s leadership in this change initiative? What strategies can other organizations adopt which would increase their likelihood of changing successfully? Firstly, organizational leaders must acknowledge the importance of careful and thoughtful communication to all stakeholders within the organization. Saruhan (2014) developed a list of vital organizational change factors. The researcher noted that communication and perception of organizational justice are both vital factors, and that good communication positively impacts employees’ perception of organizational justice. The research of Raina (2010) also concluded that communication is the most vital factor and predictor of organizational change success or failure. Additionally, Amis (2013) discovered that communication is also the primary instrument used effectively by organizational leaders to prepare employees for change. The research of McClellan (2014) agrees with this conclusion. The researcher noted that communicating and announcing change should be seen as opportunities for open dialogue with shareholders to invite them to serve as active change participants.
Communication is arguably the most important factor for organizational leaders in considering and implementing organizational change of any type. This is true not only in the technical sense of utilizing appropriate communication tools, but more importantly in what it communicates to stakeholders about the values of the organization. Research has demonstrated the importance of trust between organizational leaders and stakeholders, but it has also highlighted the importance of a sense and perception of proper organizational justice by leaders implementing change (Huevel et al., 2013). This sense of justice deals with the treatment of employees throughout the process of change (Saruhan, 2014). In addressing this issue, Saruhan (2014) noted that while there are many reasons organizational change initiatives fail, human related issues are the primary reason. Many of these human-related issues surface in the form of resistance to change which may be alleviated with purposeful and intentional communication from organizational leaders (Huevel et al., 2013). Oreg (2003) constructed a “resistance-to-change scale” comprised of four factors: routine seeking, emotional reaction to imposed change, short-term focus, and cognitive rigidity. The researcher concluded that the greater the dependence of individuals on these factors, the greater will be their resistance to change. Inversely, it can be concluded that the greater and more personal the communication by organizational leaders to address these issues during change processes, the greater the likelihood of changing successfully.
While the objectives of the organizational leadership of General Electric may have been in the best interest of the company, the communication during this season of change was so poor that this message was never received by shareholders. Consequently, the change initiatives proved disastrous. Company revenue provides the most glaring example of this disaster and its consequences. Alwyn Scott, writing for Reuters, noted that General Electric’s revenue for 2017 equaled $124 billion. Current projections for the year 2020 expect General Electric’s revenue to equal just $12 billion (Scott, 2017). This indicates that this failed change initiative cost General Electric more than ninety percent of their annual revenue. What practical steps need to be taken going forward?
Organizational leaders of General Electric must re-evaluate the importance they place on communication. Trust and a proper sense of organizational justice must be re-established throughout all levels of the organization prior to any new change initiatives. Therefore, a listening phase is recommended to encourage participation and engagements at different organizational levels. Initially, a forum should be initiated by organizational leaders to include as much of the company as possible. This would address all employees and other members of the organization and encourage their feedback and input on the proposed changes. Secondly, a subsequent listening phase should be held with each department. Departments should have their own forum, as this will allow organizational leaders to learn and absorb how proposed changes will impact departments differently and how resistant various groups are to organizational change. Furthermore, specific attention should be given during this listening phase to the “resistance-to-change scale” constructed by Oreg (2003). This scale is comprised of four factors: routine seeking, emotional reaction to imposed change, short-term focus, and cognitive rigidity. Each of these factors should be at the core of communication efforts to employees to minimize employee resistance to change initiatives.
Secondly, experimentation should be encouraged once change initiatives are launched. This further encourages employees and shareholders to interact with the new changes with the understanding that their interaction and feedback are valued more than the technical usage of the technology. This further communicates to those impacted by the changes that their contribution to the organization, and their role within the organization, are more important than the technology they utilize. Throughout each of these phases, it should be communicated how this new technology will improve the life of the shareholder as well as the organization. This provides a purpose for the changes that will help shareholders grasp how these changes are beneficial. These recommendations help build a framework for the employees in which they are valued, encouraged, and empowered and the organization continues to be effective and prosper as well.
Effective communication is essential for organizations to survive and grow in the modern environment. While leaders can develop communication techniques and strategies, coaches and consultants can be employed to assist in this process. Several common factors recommended by researchers and mentioned in this paper can be utilized by organizational leaders to communicate more effectively with organizational members, specifically during times of change and uncertainty.
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