New Processes Require New Communication Routes
A process approach must be supported by different arteries that facilitate cross boundary communication. Information has to cut horizontally across the system, instead of following the traditional pathways up and down the organization hierarchy.
Processes just don’t work well when the various functions are walled off from one another. If information has to struggle up through the chain of command in one department, make it over to another area, then dribble back down that silo to the people actually doing the work, the process is far too sluggish. So the vertical communication patterns must yield to more sideways give and take.
Word can get around a lot better moving laterally.
This means the slow-moving routes must be bypassed. Just as an interstate freeway cuts around or over a city’s clogged traffic patterns to speed travel, you have to help construct new arteries that accelerate and enrich information flow. Fast and accurate communication—across the entire process, and between processes—is crucial to performance.
You personally shouldn’t be operating in the same old information loops as before. Spend your time differently. Your job is to help reduce the number of communication relay points. To focus more on communications that span the white spaces on the organization chart. To connect more closely with the customer and make sure the process serves the way it should.
You’ll also need to upgrade the communication skills of your people, because they now carry much heavier responsibility for information exchange. While you’re at it, you may need to beef up your own competency as a communicator.
If we were to single out one particular skill required of everybody in a process-centered world, it would be communication. The process-driven approach to work is very interpersonal. People don’t perform individual tasks in a solitary, isolated fashion . . . they work together, in teams, performing processes. They need to be good at getting their ideas across to others. Orally and in writing. They need to know how to handle conflict. How to resolve differences. How to work collaboratively. They’ll be involved in new communication patterns now, because much more of the problem-solving and decision-making will be pushed down to their level.
For your part, you also have to address the communication challenges that go with changing the way the organization operates. Remember, the toughest part of process redesign is getting people to change their behaviors and attitudes. You won’t succeed without a well-conceived and sustained communication strategy.
Plan your approach to the overall change effort like you’re designing a public relations campaign. You’re trying to sell ideas, a new way of work. So strategize like you would before introducing a new product or when pitching some candidate for public office. Start communicating early, well ahead of any actual implementation. Help people understand the business reasons for the change. They need to know the competitive threat your organization faces. Also help them see the vision for a far more successful future. Finally, assure them of the organization’s potential to improve its processes and business results.
Give thought, every step along the way, to what new communication patterns are needed to build acceptance and commitment. People will be hungry for answers. They’ll be anxious and in need of assurance. You’ll find them impatient for information on how they personally will be affected. Don’t leave them in the dark. Either you communicate and stay in control of the story, or gossip and the rumor mill will take over. Then you’re in deep trouble.
Powerful new communications won’t guarantee your success at process improvement. But without new communication patterns, you’re guaranteed to fail.