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We are now offering some of our management content as podcasts.
The podcasts available on this page are specially written by David Pollitt. They are drawn from reviews in the Emerald Management Reviews database.
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Saying it softly with hit words...
Intel knows better than most the importance of organizational change. It has needed constant strategic, organizational and management adaptation to ensure its survival in the highly volatile information-processing industry.
Set up as a technology-driven memory company, it decided to switch the focus of its business to microprocessors because of strong Japanese competition. Discovering that microprocessors could prove equally competitive, Intel made the controversial decision to charge competitors more for its designs – a change in the customer-supplier relationship that reverberated throughout the computer business.
Today’s Intel, strong on research and development, is a market-focused microprocessor company with systems capabilities. But that does not mean it gets every change initiative right. Frauenheim (Workforce Management, 14 Jan 2008) describes a recent restructuring that has been criticized for concentrating too much on the metrics and too little on handling employees carefully during the change process.
Tom Smith, head of organizational development at Lane4, is particularly critical of businesses that treat the employee aspects of change as ‘another work stream in the action list’. He accepts that HR teams generally want to ensure that change is a success, but their role is too often confined to a transactional one. They become involved in drafting memoranda, they write speeches for the chief executive, they might even help senior managers to communicate change. But formal communications such as e-mailed announcements, an employee intranet page and a glossy brochure do not give staff the chance to take part in the necessary open, two-way conversations.
According to Tom Smith, HR needs to move away from its transactional role and work towards learning from successful models, measuring whether the change process is going smoothly and influencing the change agenda. This involves forging strong links with top managers and feeding back to them from workshops aimed at helping employees to manage how the change will affect them personally. In this way, HR becomes both a barometer of mood and a driver of reform.
Success in engaging hearts and minds in organizational change can often depend on the vocabulary used in the communication process. Griffin (Organization Development Journal, Spring 2008) observes that the efficient organization was often likened to a smoothly running machine until the advent of the information age, when softer, more organic metaphors began to replace the harder, more mechanistic ones.
Even so, says Griffin, words such as spirit, spirituality and soul, which are associated with a person’s sense of self, are infrequently used in the business environment. The author believes that, against a background of high demand for skilled workers and the need to retain the services of talented people at a time when many are free agents, a language that enables discussion of the needs of the whole person is required.