Communication as a new religion

<b>Reinspiring The Corporation: The Seven Seminal Paths to Corporate Greatness</b>, by Mark C Scott (Wiley, &pound;17.99)
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What is corporate re-inspiration? This book's answer: "The re-inspired organisation is one where the level of identification between the individual and the collective goals of the company is indivisibly close; where the majority of people are committed to it with passion."

What is corporate re-inspiration? This book's answer: "The re-inspired organisation is one where the level of identification between the individual and the collective goals of the company is indivisibly close; where the majority of people are committed to it with passion."

Brave words, but keeping the workforce that remains fully committed after the deluge of downsizing, restructuring and consolidation is one of the toughest problems facing large companies.

Would the author try to test his re-inspiration theory at Rover? Could it have worked at the joint stock banks which have seen a massive shake-out, or in the cases he quotes, the 85,000 employees shed at IBM, 80,000 at AT&T and 70,000 at General Motors?

Does he realise that further consolidation in the City alone is expected to lead to the loss of a further 60,000 jobs? How can firms shake off the post-downsizing malaise and regain momentum?

In the author's view "the way forward is intellectually a simple one. It centres on the emotional relationship between employee and firm and electrifying or recharging that relationship. It is about collective human drive we call re-inspiration ... "

Can quasi-religious faith really bind people together behind the goals of corporate advancement?

The author's Seven Seminal Paths to Corporate Greatness postulates that if the corporate world cannot offer a reliable paragon of re-inspiration, the only communities that can are the great religious movements. The world's seven great religions, he says, have a number of common characteristics "in terms of how they unify and inspire their vast communities". But isn't the lack of inspiration one of their great failures?

What the author is bravely searching for is a new psychological contract between employers and employees. Lessons from the great religions and vague notions of a new shared credo or moral framework as meaningful as the creed of Confucius or Buddha are hardly likely to inspire corporate management or workforce.

The nature of work is changing dramatically, and it is relevant to ask how the power brokers, business, political, trade union and religious leaders are responding to changes.

Are business leaders especially feeling the sociological and personal impact of this revolution? Are the leaders of giant companies in tune with the social problems that surround them, affecting employees and customers, such as the impact of single-parent families.

Is there a lack of strong, moral, underpinning awareness and concern for the proliferation of social problems? More specifically, what the author touches on but doesn't develop, is the nature of a new psychological contract between employers and employees.

Such a contract needs to encompass the organisation of the future, which is likely to have only a small core of full-time permanent employees. Most necessary skills will be outsourced or brought in as temps, contract workers, part-timers, home-workers and interim managers.

What companies should say to their people is: "We want your commitment and we are prepared to make a commitment to you."

Any new contract needs to be based on providing employees with suitable training to help them become more employable, to work independently, to manage their time, familiarise themselves with IT and show them how to market themselves.

Some companies offer a degree of job security in return for a negotiated wage agreement, though this might be slightly below normal rates. Trade union leaders such as John Monks of the TUC talk of a new partnership - union-employer deals which involve consultation on company strategy, workplace issues and commitment to joint goals.

Mark Scott's point that the strength of a firm's moral framework correlates closely to its competitiveness is at least well argued. The moral framework of a firm shapes the way insiders think and what they aspire to.

But Mr Scott tends to get carried away. "Moral frameworks are the only workable forms of management in the modern corporation."

His contention is that the moral framework will replace the worn-out reliance on corporate strategy. A curious assessment from someone until recently operations director at WPP Group, the fast-growing communications group.

Mr Scott is a communications specialist and executive vice-president of a newly created global marketing communications group. This expertise dominates the latter part of his book, as the earlier part is largely devoted to his obsession with moral frameworks.

The bulk of most companies' planned communications activity, he claims, is external, telling the market about their ideas. One would have expected him to admit that the marketing process "refined to a neo-science" amounts to rather more. He shows the global advertising market is worth $800bn in billings alone and the average fast-moving consumer goods company spends around 8 per cent of its turnover on external communications.

Companies are more concerned about interactive relationships with customers. But is it right, the author asks, to spend millions on advertising "when what matters in at least equal measure is the level of drive among employees to engage in a relationship with customers"?

He is saying internal communications are at least as important as the external audience, yet the aggregate spend on internal communications is less than 1 per cent of the external spend.

Difficult to see how he arrives at this figure, but he is clearly trying to tell us something, especially when he says the internal communications process is a complex one and requires more sophistication.

Perhaps he has a point. In an age where the only significant capital is intellectual, the "re-inspired corporation" has a better chance of winning.

The reviewer headed a corporate communications company and is co-author of 'Future Work' to be published later this year