The failure to address communication problems is triggering a "spiral of stupidity" in corporations trying to deal with change, says consultant Steven Webber.

"Management comes in and makes vague comments about doing more with less or the need to improve. I call it 'sea-gull management': They fly in, crap over everyone, then fly out," says Webber, the president of Naperville, ILbased Management Training Resources. Then the stupidity cycle begins, with middle managers' attempts to motivate employees by fear. Miscommunication, the greatest obstacle to change, goes unaddressed.

"No one really communicates with the employees. There is very little caring, very little of the human element," Webber says. "A morale problem develops along with its symptoms: high turnover, bad attitude, a drop in productivity, and possibly a loss in market share." The spiral continues when senior management sees this and responds by grasping at fads. "This month it's total quality, next month it may be self-directed work teams, but none of these flavors of the month mean anything to employees," Webber maintains.

His prescription for successful change? Senior management must focus on employees' needs. Part of the trouble is the reward structure of most companies. Middle managers are rewarded for bottom-line results alone. Webber believes their evaluations should be based, at least partially, on their development of others.