Business Communications Skills

Interpersonal Communication Skills

Management by wandering around

This phrase explains (Peters & Waterman (1982)) one of the reasons of success of some of the excellent companies in the USA. It lends further proof to the effectiveness of huddling already discussed.

The companies, and these include some well known names such as Bechtel, Boeing, Caterpillar, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble and 3M, were all found to be action oriented. The managers in these companies move around and practise what the others term 'management by wandering around'.

This leads to the formation of small groups and small divisions and the companies tend to form a large number of these. Ad hoc groups and task forces are also pulled together at short notice as and when needed to accomplish a particular task.

These groups work quickly and informally with the minimum of documentation. They try out things and keep experimenting constantly in order to attain the optimum for any particular operation or situation.

These companies were found to operate an informal communication system but its intensity and effectiveness is unbelievable. It, of course, shows up in the 'bottom line'. Though informal, the communication system acts as a remarkably tight control system without the conventional hierarchical control devices.

Also, in refreshing contrast to the conventional practice, the excellent companies tolerate failure but learn from the mistakes. They put the KISS principle, 'keep it simple, stupid', into practice. Their written memorandum is brief and simple, such as the fabled one-page memorandum at Proctor & Gamble. Other characteristics of these companies may be stated briefly:

  • MBWA is extended not only throughout the organization, but also externally to suppliers and customers. As a result, managers usually spend nearly 30 per cent of their time outside the office.
  • They have a genuine people orientation exemplified by full-employment policy, extraordinary training facilities and great respect for the individual. There is intense screening for recruitment, but once hired the newcomers are made to feel at home by socializing etc.
  • Every excellent company was found to have a culture and value system, the values being qualitative rather than quantitative. The value system attempts to inspire newcomers and those at the very bottom of the organization
  • On the one hand they are rigidly controlled; on the other they allow, in fact insist on, autonomy, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
  • They are not top heavy and have very few people at the corporate level, mainly for solving problems rather than checking on things.

It is interesting to note that most of these characteristics have a direct or indirect bearing on the business communication aspect. Many of the studies findings seem simple and pedestrian stuff, for example MBWA and KISS, but their practice is not easy to develop.

The study of these excellent companies also proved that people are not good at processing large amounts of new data and the utmost we can hold in short memory is a mere six or seven pieces of data. This reinforces the necessity of simple communications, like the one-page memorandum of Proctor & Gamble mentioned above. Rene McPherson, on taking over the Dana Corporation, one of the excellent companies brought out in the study, threw out the 22 half-inch-thick policy manuals and replaced them with a one-page statement of philosophy.

For really effective communications, the excellent companies insist on frequent face-to-face meetings among a large number of their staff at different locations. This can be somewhat expensive in terms of travel and entertainment expenses, but it can pay rich dividends.

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