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Communicating and Training for Quality:

a Leadership Function

Jose C. Gatchalian, Ph.D


Chairman, Quality Partners Company, Ltd.
Former Dean, University of the Philippines
School of Labor and Industrial Relations

Introduction

Leadership in quality is generally supported by two vital functions: communication and


training. Communication lies at the very heart of the leader-follower nexus and therefore plays a
crucial role in relationships at work. The quantity and quality of communication between
management and employees at the enterprise level is a significant factor in establishing and
maintaining harmonious and productive industrial relations. Information that can be shared may
include present day-to-day quality issues that affect the company. Communication channels
should ideally provide a channel for management to obtain feedback regarding programs or
policies and their implementation.

Training, on the other hand, is a crucial component of workplace communication and


empowerment. Empowerment involves decentralizing power within the organization to individual
decision makers, and further down to the bottom rung of the workforce. It adds dynamism to the
employer-employee relationship by affording workers not just a voice in decision making on
matters that affect their interests and welfare, but also provides the opportunity for them to
contribute creative and innovative ideas towards achieving company goals of enhanced product or
service quality and productivity. That is, if they are properly and adequately trained.

As a key motivational tool, individual employees are encouraged to take responsibility for quality
in terms of carrying out activities, which meet the requirements of their customers. In this respect,
the strategy of Workplace Cooperation constitute one of the latest innovations in communication
which is providing quality leaders a valuable platform for action.

Definition of Concepts

Communication and training, together with information, are generic concepts that are multi-
dimensional. They need to be defined in the context of work relations within the workplace.

 Communication may be defined as a process of sharing information between company


leaders and their workers through certain channels to attain mutual cooperation.
 Training is a process of learning for improving knowledge, attitudes and skills.
 Information may include messages, meanings or words that the partners in production
(management and workers) share with each other to arrive at mutual cooperation.
 Workplace Cooperation - a process of working together to attain shared goals such as
quality goods or services, better productivity and profitability of the organization.
Elements

The process of communication has four elements that are usually found in any communication
situation: source, message, channel and receiver. The source initiates the communication
process. The message or information contains the intention of the source in communicating to the
receiver. The channel is used by the source to ensure that the message reaches the receiver. The
receiver finally decides whether to accept or reject the message.

In the workplace, the source is often the manager, and the receiver is commonly the worker, at the
interpersonal level. At the organizational level, the source is the management while the receiver is
the collectivity of individual workers or employees.

Various messages may be conveyed between source and receiver – including such matters as a
quality policy, project, or technology, compensation and salary scale, downsizing, subcontracting,
retirement, code of conduct, etc.

The channels could be varied. At the personal level, our five senses such as sight, hearing, smell,
touch and taste are considered our built-in channels. At the group level, the methods that could be
used in delivering messages are seminars, meetings, workshops, etc. At the mass level, the
channels are the mass media such as the radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, book, movies and the
Internet.

The Communication Process

The basic communication process may be depicted in the schematic diagram below:
Effective Communication

Communication is said to be effective when it attains the changes that it hopes to achieve. The
attainment of these changes could be immediate or delayed. The delay could be due to the
expected effect(s). Immediate effects could easily be achieved in terms of awareness. Most
delayed change could be observed in change of behavior or practice. Attitude is usually more
difficult to change than either knowledge or skill.

Communicating and promoting quality in an organization is an essential function of leadership.


Training is a method of actuating and implementing this important function. The diagram below
demonstrates the integrating link between communication and training, in terms of change in
knowledge, attitude and skill (K A S). As the source and initiator of messages, the leader can
enhance the knowledge, change the attitude and improve the skills of his followers in the
organization.

s m c r

K I.R . LECTURE K

H .R . CASE A
A

C .B . ROLE-
S S
PLAY

O th er
O th er
T o p ics
M eth od s

Figure 2. Communication and training interface

Experiential Approach to Training

The experiential learning technique represents an innovative approach toward training,


best suited to the development of a highly-skilled, motivated and high performing workforce.
Experiential learning incorporates a flexible structure of classroom activities, simulation
exercises, and actual experiences in “real life” situations. The learners’ acquisition of knowledge
and skills related to their work must be facilitated by competent trainers. The primary role of the
trainor is one of creating learning environments which are stimulating, relevant, and effective.
This learner-centered experiential approach toward training allows the individual learners to
manage and assume responsibility for their own learning.

Experiential learning is exactly what the name implies – learning from experience. Experiential
learning occurs when a person engages in an activity, reviews this activity critically, abstracts
some useful insights from the analysis and applies the result in a practical situation. The
experiential process follows the theoretical circle shown in the diagram below.

Experiencing
Activity “Doing”
Processing
Applying
(Sharing and
(Planning more
discussing reaction
effective behavior)
and observations)
Generalizing
(Inferring from the
experience truth
about the “real world”

Figure. 3. The Experiential process of learning

There are a wide range of activities and exercises for providing trainees with experiences from
which they may extract the data (information) to process and make generalizations. Individual
and group activities used to facilitate the “experiencing” step includes:

• role plays
• case studies
• films and slides shows
• sharing descriptions of specific experiences
• placing in actual situations requiring them to react and/or perform
• allowing trainees to train one another

Workplace Cooperation – A Communication Strategy

One of the more recent and promising innovations integrating communication and training for
quality is the adoption of the workplace cooperation strategy. This approach has been especially
effective in creating new channels of communication and new techniques for training in quality.
Thaler, et. al. have documented many cases on a wide international basis which demonstrates
workplace cooperation as an effective communication and training strategy for continuous
improvement within companies. Excerpts from their published guidebook are utilized
extensively below for purposes of this paper.

According to Thaler (2002), innovations in labor-management-government (LMG) cooperation


invariably open up new channels of communication, and vice-versa. In documented experiences
from Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and
the United States, it was shown that their respective governments provided a legal framework,
and sometimes funding, to encourage enhanced communication.

A broad range of strategies that organizations can implement in order to attain substantial
improvements in workplace relations, and to foster quality and productivity, include: offices and
meeting rooms that can be redesigned with the intent of improving communication; formal and
informal training that can be used to enhance communication; and information exchanges that
may take place in venues such as quarterly and morning meetings, broadcast messages,
newsletters, and bulletin boards.

The Architecture of Communication

Thaler (2002) states that new channels of communication may be facilitated (or frustrated) by the
physical layout of the firm: for example, room arrangements at the office (or at the shop floor) can
be a key to success. The example of Thai Honda in Thailand describes a practice called “One
Floor Management,” which aims to open up the channels of communication: “Without private
rooms and partitions, all associates can see each other. Working tables are arranged face-to-face
whether they are staff member’s tables or the president’s table.” Communication flows more
freely as a result. Some organizations feel they must add meeting space so labor and management
have a place to collaborate and communicate. At Matsushita Refrigeration in Singapore, for
example, they built a Union Room for union related activities and meetings

Training as a New Channel of Communication

According to Thaler (2002), training provides a channel to deliver new communication skills and
new information. Participants often find training sessions to be a “safe” place to try out new
behaviors, and new information may be easier to digest when it is presented in a new
environment, away from the office or shop floor. It may also be helpful for management and
workers to share the learning environment so that each can see the other in a new light and
reinforce the idea that cooperation is a journey of discovery, made easier and more effective by
mutual support.

The national strategy for more effective labor-management cooperation in Chile included a
primary focus on workforce training. APEC case studies from Mexico, the Philippines, New
Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Canada, and the United States (Atlantic Baking, Miller Dwan and
Philadelphia Zoo) mentioned training in business fundamentals and the skills necessary for
cooperation.

Morning, monthly and quarterly meetings

Outside of the Labor-Management Committee meetings, most of the firms held other types of
meetings to move information to the workforce and to provide opportunities for two-way
communication. This channel of communication was so important to the survival of Hankuk
Electric Glass Company in Korea that the President met with production line workers three times
a day, at 3 a.m., 9 a.m., and 6 p.m.! Lunchtime roundtable discussions were also held at the
Philadelphia Zoo that many more employees could participate in discussions that might affect
them. Monthly and quarterly meetings were conducted at Matsushita Refrigeration Industries in
Singapore. Matsushita’s quarterly meetings had fairly broad objectives such as company
performance, skills training and safety and health, while the monthly meetings were narrower in
focus, allowing in-depth discussion of specific HR policies.

Broadcast messages

Thai Honda used a public address system to disseminate important news throughout the company.
Other firms commonly use the telephone system, email, the internet or an intranet to record and
broadcast essential information to employees.

Newsletters

The Open Communication Room is the title of Hankuk Electric Glass’ bulletin that is published
every Tuesday and Friday. “Special emphasis was placed in this newsletter on communication
between employees and management, and the president provided space for information sharing,
and the exchange of opinions,” according to Dr. Chan Young Hur. Other organizations have used
a response form in their monthly newsletters that can be used by employees to suggest
operational improvements. Lots of white space and judicious placement of graphics best draw
readers into newsletter text.

Bulletin boards

Thai Honda used bulletin boards to open new channels of communication. “There are the labour
union’s boards and the company’s boards at Thai Honda. Due to mutual trust, the information
can be released on the boards without any approval from the Human Resources department. No
problems have occurred so far,” said officials.

LMCs as Vehicles for Workplace Cooperation

Along the lines proposed by Thaler as useful innovations for improving communication is the
Labor-Management Committees (LMCs). The importance of this strategy is its impact on quality
as well as on the quality of worklife. The concept and practice of LMC had been earlier presented
by the author here in Tehran in July 2006, during the 7th International Conference of Quality
Managers.

Basically, the LMC is a forum wherein labor and management can express their views regarding
felt problems and needs to each other and to share information about present and anticipated
issues that may affect the company and its employees. This interchange, if regularized and
institutionalized, can lead to mutual understanding, consensus and joint action to resolve issues
between them. An LMC can serve as an organizational communication mechanism which can be
utilized by both sides for mutual benefit.
The LMC can also serve as a participatory vehicle which can enable workers to have a say in
decision-making on matters that affect their interest and welfare. It is a channel by which
management can obtain feedback on its programs, policies and actuations. By consulting and
involving employees in selected areas of decision-making, they can be given a chance to input
useful ideas and suggestion that can meaningfully improve working conditions, work processes
and relationships (Heron,2002).

Training and capacity building

The best results from Workplace Cooperation can be obtained with the joint efforts of well-
trained and capable members of task forces or action teams. Enhanced problem-solving skills,
the ability to utilize modern, quantitative tools and techniques, and capabilities for effective
teamwork are essential for productive labor-management partnerships at the workplace.

Workers’ empowerment and workplace cooperation are hollow aims, if not backed up by training
and capacity building, particularly in the areas of quality and productivity. Successful experiences
culled from case studies of company best practices clearly indicate that WPC should be a means
and not an end in itself. And while the lessening of industrial disputes and grievances is an
important goal, other higher, value-adding goals of successful WPC programs should be geared
towards enhancing quality, productivity and competitiveness. In the case studies, demonstrable
results have been produced in all these significant areas, which in turn have led to greater
industrial harmony and better relationships at the workplace. In all cases, quality leadership
proved to be the definitive factor, when focused on the functions of communication and training.

References:

Cesar M. Mercado, Ph.D. 2005. “Communication, Information and Labor-Management


Cooperation,” (Unpublished paper), DCAAP

Gatchalian, J.C., “Workplace Cooperation: An Empowerment Strategy for Quality,” Paper


presented at the 7th International Conference of Quality Managers, July 2006.

Heron, L. (2002). “Improving IR at the enterprise level: A resource book for trainers.”
Improvement of industrial relations at the enterprise level. Jakarta, Indonesia: International Labor
Office.

Knowles, M. 1980. The Modern Practice of Adult Education – Andragogy vs. Pedagogy. John
Wiley and Sons, New York

Thaler, David, Ed. 2002. Responding to Change in the Workplace: Innovations in Labor-
Management-Government Cooperation, BEST PRACTICES TOOL KIT, U.S. Federal
Mediation& Conciliation Service, U.S. Department of Labor.