Who are the most significant people when it comes to communicating in organizations? Is it the Internal Comms department? Or line managers? Or is it, perhaps, those influential, ‘tuned-in’ and/or well-linked individuals, who have no formal comms role but who seem to be highly active informally?
Well, all of these have a part to play. And the last two are particularly important contributors to the sense-making process that sits at the heart of the informal coalitions view of organizations. But to leave it at that would be to miss the crucial role that others play in the dynamics of organizational change and business performance.
In a recent post, The language of organizational change, I drew an analogy between the central role that verbs play in language learning and the equivalent role played by organizational dynamics in understanding how change happens. As I argued there:
"... once people understand the underlying dynamics of organizations, they understand change. The rest is just content."
To take this a stage further, Informal Coalitions shows how the critical dynamics of change are embodied within (and simultaneously emerge from) people's everyday conversations and interactions. So this places talk and language at the core of change and organizational dynamics.
In writing this blog, I have often found myself referring to the work of Peter Drucker. Much of his thinking still resonates strongly with me today, even though a lot of it originated more than 50 years ago.
And so it is with his insightful-as-ever comments on communication.
In the October 2008 edition of Scientific American Mind, social psychologist Prof. Frank T. McAndrew argues that "… gossip is a more complicated and socially important phenomenon than we think". It is, he says, a by-product of the psychology that evolved in prehistoric times to enable our ancestors to survive and thrive in their communities.
Viewing organizations as networks of conversations inevitably brings gossip into focus. And gossip, like other aspects of ‘small talk’, is often dismissed as an irrelevant or, worse still, destructive component of the ‘conversational mix’.
However, McAndrew identifies a number of positive aspects of gossip.
"New marketing is about conversations - listening, having something new to add, and talking like we mean it instead of hiding behind pre-packaged corporate-speak."
So begins Lois Kelly's highly accessible, thought-provoking and informative book, which advocates a conversational approach to marketing in a connected world.
What she has to say about marketing goods and services to people 'outside' a business resonates strongly with the informal coalitions perspective of how change happens 'inside' organizations. And her thoughts on what managers might do from a marketing standpoint provide some equally useful pointers as to how they might lead change more effectively within their organizations.
In Lessons in Communicating Change,on her Body Talk blog, Dr Carol Kinsey Goman, challenges conventional wisdom on leadership communication in organizational change.
In particular, she stresses the critical importance of informal communication - the "complex web of social interactions and informal networks" as she puts it – which accounts for upwards of 70% of all organizational communication. Her post goes on to underline the powerful role that she sees non-verbal signals playing in the communication process.
The Cognitive Edge weblog contains an interesting exchange on the nature and role of storytelling in organizations. It was prompted by blog author Dave Snowden's reading of an article by Gabrielle Dolan of One Thousand and One, an Australian consultancy specialising in storytelling as a tool for organisational development. Dave Snowden is well known for his work on the role of narrative and complexity theory in organizational sensemaking.
My comment on the discussion from an informal coalitions perspective is reproduced below.
Performance management is usually thought of almost exclusively in terms of formal, structured processes through which managers are expected to control the performance of their staff. These include formal target setting procedures; routine progress checking and performance monitoring; programmed feedback sessions; and end-of-year reviews. Often these elements are driven more by the requirements of an organization’s pay structures and the felt need for managers to get to grips with ‘poor performers’, than by the wider considerations of business performance and staff engagement.
While leaders are focusing their attention on getting these formal systems and processes ‘right’, though, they need to recognize that other, more powerful forces are at play which unavoidably impact upon organizational performance. The everyday conversations and interactions that they have with their staff – and that staff have with each other - are particularly influential in this.