Yes, but do they get it? Featured

10:02am EDT July 22, 2002

In the next few years, business as we have come to know and accept it will change. The world of business will begin to realize just how ineffective it is to continually downsize. The business world will begin to realize once again that prosperity-real prosperity-only comes through growth.

Basically, business is pretty simple. It's about making things and selling things. And yet we continue to invent "stuff" in an attempt to make business seem more sophisticated and esoteric. When you fall prey to some of these notions, you take the chance of limiting your success.

Smaller organizations often have several advantages over their larger counterparts. Theoretically, at least, they can move faster and initiate changes more quickly. However, a shorter reaction time depends heavily on the ability to communicate more effectively. And herein lies the problem.

Moving quickly is one of the most neglected advantages the smaller organization has over its larger competitors. It's neglected because leaders in smaller organizations take for granted that they are effectively communicating with employees to the point that everyone in the company knows his or her role and fully understands exactly how it fits into management's "vision" for the organization. This can be a dangerous assumption.

More than a year ago, I sent an article I had written to several prospective clients. One plant manager liked several of the ideas and distributed copies to the corporate leadership team. Last week, the company president was meeting with employees at each plant to discuss a rather ambitious plan to double the size of the organization.

Several employees stood up and asked what they could do to help. A young engineer made several suggestions based on his recollections of my article. Some of the other managers also recalled the article, and it became the focus of the discussion.

The title was "Buried Coins," and it discussed the importance of stewardship as it applies to all organizational resources, including the human resources. It emphasized the importance of involving people at all levels of the organization when attempting to implement change.

All employees should know their specific roles in the organization and what they need to do to make those roles more successful. But in many cases, as the organization begins to grow, the corporate leaders often assume that the changes have been adequately communicated. This includes not only major course corrections planned by the organization, but sometimes even the small changes and how they will affect individual roles and expectations on the job.

Relying on articles in the company newsletter is not enough. You would be surprised how rarely some of these articles accurately communicate their intended message. Studies have shown that, in nearly 60 percent of cases where communications was not a priority, the employees tended to put a negative spin on the message.

The best method for getting the message across is still face to face. It's time consuming, but it allows two-way communication, essential when the organization is attempting to facilitate the implementation of critical changes. It's also the quickest and most effective way to increase employee involvement and build commitment for the change.

Remember, it's not the strength of the strategy, nor the size of the organization, that will ultimately determine the success of the strategy. It's the degree of commitment exhibited by the people involved in the implementation process.

Armstrong's Law For Successful Implementation: A strategy of average potency, with everyone behind it, will always defeat a more powerful strategy with fragmented support.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, "Catalytic Management: Success by Design"(McGraw-Hill), is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and WaldenBooks stores.