Communicating for Productivity

posted May 8, 2012, 11:35 AM by Too Good To Be New Les Landes and Jim Shaffer   [ updated May 8, 2012, 2:21 PM ]
"Communicating for Productivity"
Communicating for Productivity
by Roger D'Aprix
Thirty years ago this year, Roger D’Aprix’s book, Communicating for Productivity, went onto the store shelves.  I read it shortly before Roger and I met for dinner in Washington, DC. At that time I was a consultant in the Washington Office of Towers Perrin, the consulting firm now known as Towers Watson.   Roger had just joined the firm.
That dinner was the beginning of a friendship that exists yet today.  It’s a friendship based on shared values about people and the role they can play in helping to achieve a greater life purpose – for both themselves and the organizations where they work. It’s about fairness, civility, common sense, honesty and the golden rule.

Early in the book, Roger wrote: “It is not difficult to understand why there are monumental employee morale and employee communication problems in practically all work organizations. Our collective dependence on organizations for a livelihood, our increasing expectations of the satisfaction work can provide, management's tendency to invoke the corporate credo when questioned or criticized, and a divine-right faith in the obligation of people in positions of authority to dole out punishment all combine  to defeat our efforts to improve management practice and organizational understanding.”

Addressing that mess was precisely what Communicating for Productivity was about.   In the last issue of “To Good to Be New,” I reviewed Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis, published in 1982.  If that book defined modern management, as I believe it did, Roger’s Communicating for Productivity, published in the same year, defined the way people in organizations need to treat each other. 

As with all of Roger’s books, Communicating for Productivity is both foundational and instructive. It’s foundational in that it offers context and perspective—the “why” behind the actions we need to take to create more open and, hence, productive workplaces.
It’s instructive in that Roger provides the “what,” that’s needed to build those kinds of organizations.

In the book, Roger draws on experiences he had at Xerox and elsewhere to explain the distinction between proactive and reactive communication models.

The reactive model creates mayhem.  It “tends to give us additional pieces to add to the puzzle, while doing little to help us complete the puzzle,” Roger wrote.

The proactive model provides managers the discipline they need to help people improve personal and team performance. In the proactive mode, communication is deliberate and thoughtful.

“There are significant advantages for management in the proactive approach to communication,” Roger wrote. “For one, communication becomes a planned process rather than an afterthought or an attempt to explain what went wrong or to defend why something was done.”

Thirty years later, many organizations still struggle to extricate themselves from the reactive approach which today Roger often refers to as the journalistic model—reporting on events rather than driving events. The reactive model is a very inefficient way to run a business.  It saps energy, causes confusion and hurts organizational performance.
Communicating for Productivity introduced us to the need for leaders to create communication assumptions that, like credos, should guide our beliefs about people and communication and the practical day-to-day implications of those beliefs.  He introduced the concept of managing both the “say” communication and the “do” communication through what is formally said, actions that are taken and policies that are enforced. He introduced these notions at a time when organizational communication was pretty much a top down tell-them-what-they-need-to-know-process.
Perhaps the most enduring contribution Roger made with Communicating for Productivity was his discussion about information people need to perform well. This later led to the “Six Questions” that every communication practitioner should have been introduced to early in their careers:
  • What’s my job?  (Job Responsibilities)
  • How am I doing? (Performance feedback)
  • Does anyone care? (Individual Needs)
  • How are we doing? (Team Objectives and Results)
  • What’s our vision, mission and values (Vision, Mission and Values)
  • How can I help? (Engagement)
In his later book Communicating for Change, published in 1996, Roger explained the relationship of the first five questions to the sixth question, How can I help? 
“Where large doses of this kind of leadership are commonplace, you will inevitably hear people ask the most important question they can in any organization: How can I help?”
Roger wrote in Communicating for Change:  “Interestingly, that question is a gift that the worker can either give freely or withhold begrudgingly. It is a response to high-quality leadership. It cannot be forced from someone against their will. It cannot be cajoled or threatened out of any body. It can only be offered by someone who is willing to offer it.”
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 Written by Jim Shaffer, Leader, Jim Shaffer Group