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World Class Organization

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Date added: 17-09-13


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To achieve world-class status, an organization must stimulate creative thinking, encourage dialogue and introspection and promote understanding and new actions. Most important, it must give people - inside and outside the organization - something to care about. When people think of "world-class" organizations, chances are widely admired companies such as General Electric, Microsoft, British Airways, Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola and Disney spring to mind. Yet what elevates these and other companies from merely "successful" to the more desired status of "world-class? A closer look at the "best of the best" reveals several shared characteristics. Besides being the premier organization in their industries, world-class companies have talented people, the latest technology, the best products and services, consistent high-quality, a high stock price, and a truckload of awards and accolades acknowledging their greatness. Dig deeper and you'll also find that communication is practiced as a strategic process within these companies that's woven into their business planning, decision-making and organization-wide priorities.

It defines their cultures by encouraging dialogue, feedback, interpretation and understanding. The Secret Behind World Class Something else also distinguishes world-class companies from all the others. World-class companies give people - their customers, employees, suppliers, even the people in the communities in which they operate - something to care about. While it may sound simple, a closer look at some of the world's most respected and most successful companies indicates it's true. Look at Disney, for example.

Beginning with CEO Michael Eisner, everyone at Disney gives people a reason to care about the company because everyone there takes great pains to make their "guests" believe in make-believe. All new hires at Disney experience a multi-step training program where they quickly learn the language: Employees are "cast members," customers are "guests," a crowd is an "audience," a work shift is a "performance," a job is a "part," a job description is a "script," a uniform is a "costume," the personnel department is "casting," being on duty is being "on stage," and being off duty is "backstage. " The special anguage along with the complete immersion into the company's history and mythology, reinforces the Disney frame of mind, starting with its new employees. All this acts to strengthen the sense of purpose and cult-like unity, ultimately intensifying the underlying ideology: To make people happy. These things, including unity of purpose and preservation of image and ideology, work together to make Disney world-class. GE is another example of a world-class company that goes to great lengths to make people care by manufacturing high-performance products that consumers don't need to worry about.

GE has invested millions of dollars in turning customer responses into business opportunities. The company's Answer Center, located in Louisville, Ky. , receives customer inquiries 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and handles 15,000 calls a day from people considering the purchase of a GE product. Their computerized database contains more than 650,000 responses to a variety of inquiries, which allows customer representatives to provide knowledgeable answers at the touch of a button. GE sees its investment in managing customer inquiries as just as important as investments in production capacity, technology and personnel.

From a communication standpoint, Jack Welch challenges managers to turn complex business initiatives into simple concepts so employees and customers can understand and contribute to their successful implementation. Finally, there's FedEx. CEO Fred Smith gave people a reason to care about FedEx because it took the unusual step of providing a guarantee in an uncertain world. FedEx has become synonymous with overnight delivery, much like Xerox is for copiers and Kleenex is for tissues.

The company is built around a reputation to not only deliver packages worldwide, but also to deliver excellent customer service. Customers trust that when the FedEx guy comes to pick up their package, he's personally taking it to the plane that flies to the truck that drives to the van that delivers the package. With more than 2. 8 million packages going to 212 countries every day, FedEx can still guarantee overnight delivery (now even on Sundays) while offering time and cost savings and customized logistics solutions to its customers.

World Class During Good Times and Bad While many world-class companies often serve as role models for their industries, it's important to note that their track records aren't always perfect. Their ability to handle adversity, however, is another characteristic of their world-class status. Take Coca-Cola, for example. Robert Goizueta, the late chairman of CocaCola, went to great lengths to make people care about Coca-Cola - to the point where the product transcended our thirst and became a part of our everyday lives.

Yet the company made the fateful error of underestimating the power of the brand when it introduced a new formula - New Coke - in the mid-1980s. The debacle convinced the company that Coke wasn't just a drink, but a part of life that shouldn't be tampered with. Today, everyone at Coca-Cola is focused on one thing - ensuring their products are available to thirsty consumers, wherever they are. To that end, communication plays an integral role. Coke's public relations people are business-oriented counselors who act as enablers and supporters of corporate strategy and initiatives.

And, as is the case with other world-class organizations, Coca-Cola makes sure its communication philosophy is understood by all employees through constant reinforcement, dialogue and involvement. Working to Stay World Class It's interesting to note that world-class organizations are not built overnight, yet by most people's definition, world-class companies are enduring. They are able to withstand - and even capitalize on - the vagaries of the marketplace and the whims of consumers. They've made an impact on the world we live in, and they've withstood multiple product or service life cycles.

An underlying spirit in everything they say and do conveys their world-class status. It is this quality that separates them from the pack of successful companies and catapults them into the company of the "best of the best. " But what happens when a company that is widely perceived as world class falters? Several noteworthy examples of companies were considered to be world-class organizations, yet for one reason or another, took their eyes off the ball, lost their focus, and forgot to give people something to care about. Their fall from world class was both quick and shocking.

Consider McDonald's, for example. The company forgot that people cared about them because they provided consistent-tasting food - hot, quick and cheap. Or Apple. They forgot people cared about them because they took chances and gave them new and different products for their changing lifestyle. And Kodak forgot people cared about them because they gave people a simple way to capture their lives. These companies are not alone. In their relentless pursuit of growth, many companies forget to give their own employees something to care about.

Even more tragic, many forget how employees are the only difference between success and failure. Once companies forget about why people care about them, the dangerous downward spiral continues, as everyone from the CEO to the receptionist loses sight of what they were doing to make the company respected, successful and enduring. Building a World-Class Organization through World-Class Communication The ability to define and articulate what it is that makes people care about you is critical for any company striving to become a world-class organization.

The challenge for leaders, managers and communicators is defining that quality, consistently delivering on it, communicating it in all you say and do, and then, never losing sight of it. Here are some suggestions to get communicators and managers started: For Those in Management Start by answering the question, why should someone care about your company? Should people care about you because you make the best-tasting, safest, fastest or least expensive product? Should they care about you because you make them feel good when they use your product or service?

Should people care about you because you stand for the same things they stand for: quality, safety or value? Whatever you decide, let it overwhelm the company. From the vision and values of the organization to how you set high standards of performance - not just in public relations but throughout the company - from the receptionist answering the phone to the sales force selling your product. Let this desire to become world class drive you to be more visible to employees, customers, suppliers and influences.

Let it remind you to repeat as often as possible the key messages for your business. For Those in Public Relations Management Look yourself in the eye, and tell yourself one thing: I am not in the job I started in when I joined this company - whether you joined yesterday, last year or 10 years ago. Having acknowledged that, have the courage to relearn your profession, relearn your business, relearn what employees think, relearn what customers want, and relearn what the CEO needs to accomplish. Let it force you to remove performance barriers for you and your staff.

Push your staff for new ideas and new suggestions. Make sure what you're doing is giving people something to care about. Invest in research to find the facts before you act; Ask for different information on the company and read different things. Ask the right questions. When confronted with a manager or marketing person, try to determine their objectives instead of trying to teach them PR. For anyone in communication, try coming to work on a Monday morning and for that week, ask yourself one question before and after you complete a task: Who cares?

Make sure that whatever you are doing keeps people focused on what matters. Put yourself in someone else's shoes; then, take that insight and use it to ensure that managers, employees, customers, media, have a deep understanding of your business and your company, including its vision, mission and values. Practicing World-Class Communication At the best companies, communication is an interactive process, led by the CEO. The corporate culture is based on respect for the individual and an egalitarian, non-hierarchical management model.

Communicators are counselors and managers are seen as key communicators. Experience proves that strategic communication is critical to any organization striving for world-class status. based on our work with many world-class companies, Boxenbaum Grates, Inc. has identified the key characteristics found in world-class communication: * The CEO drives the effort; communication supports the CEO's priorities. World-class communication cannot exist in an organization without the involvement, commitment and support of the CEO and senior management team.

The CEO needs to take the role as lead communicator, driving the process and establishing high expectations for the function. This means that communicators are responsible for everything from implementing corporate strategy, differentiating products and services in the marketplace and protecting the organization's reputation, to motivating employees and building relationships. * Managers are credible and reliable sources of information. Another crucial characteristic of world-class communication is that managers and supervisors are key communicators.

Recognizing and employing them as such reinforces a strong focus on the importance of interactive communication at the employee level. * PR managers have a comprehensive understanding of the company, its employees, customers, business, industry and regulatory environment. In world-class communication, communication managers are expert in providing counsel to the CEO and senior management team on a range of issues affecting the company. At FedEx, for example, the vision of corporate communication is to serve as a strategic partner in the company, providing communication expertise to key decision-makers. PR professionals are more business-oriented, which translates into a more strategic approach to communication. The management at one Fortune 500 company, for example, looks for new PR people, primarily from outside the organization, who have global business experience. Some organizations such as those in the automobile industry may look for people with a mix of journalism, agency and automotive backgrounds. As one executive put it, you can teach anyone communication, the challenge is understanding the business and industry. PR professionals practice PR. Public relations practitioners are engaged in establishing relationships with the media/press, understanding their angles, information requirements, deadlines, and involving the appropriate managers and other company personnel in being readily available to work with the media. This expertise is essential in keeping the information flow to and from the organization open and respected. * Communication is measurable. In world-class communication, measurement is integrated into the communication function.

It goes beyond content analysis, opinion polls and general surveys, and focuses on its bottom-line effect. * PR professionals are first-hand witnesses. PR professionals are actually talking with customers, employees and the media. They are involved in the company's business on a real-time basis. They establish contact with the media and understand how different groups interpret their business and help the organization learn from it. * Management model dictates communication importance. Communication is a philosophy within the world-class organization.

It is woven into strategic business planning and organization-wide priorities. It permeates and defines the culture by encouraging dialogue, feedback, interpretation and understanding. A team concept is a good method of how an organizational structure can promote teamwork, dialogue and trust. Similarly, a culture and work environment should be based on a respect for the individual and an egalitarian, non-hierarchical management model. Considerations: Does the management infrastructure encourage communication?

Is communication a one-way street or is it interactive? Is it the right management model for the changes the company is making to become more competitive? Raising the Bar To be sure, examples of world-class communication vary from company to company. To some companies, communication is considered "world class" when their factory workers start asking detailed questions about the business. Others think world-class communication means having customers and prospects understand the company's positioning and purpose.

The bottom line for any organization is that world-class communication is synonymous with a learning culture, where employees are motivated, enabled and empowered. As we look to the business world of the future, the challenge is on for all communicators to create world-class communication processes, functions and professionals, which, depending on the circumstances, act as enablers, drivers and supporters of corporate strategy and initiatives. The result is building a world-class organization. Gary F. Grates is CEO, Boxenbaum Grates, New York City.

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