Managerial Communications PLA Outline & Objectives
by Sheryl Frost
1) Explain the historical development of communication as an organizational process affecting internal processes and external relationships. We are going to look at a history of communication using works of such ancient philosopher as Husserl. We will define the major participants and actions of the communication process with its focus on how it affects organizational processes.
2) Define the steps in the process of human communication. We will take the major steps in the process and look into each of them trying to figure out its influence on the whole process as well as we will detail each step and look at the mechanism of its performance.
3) Compare interpersonal communication at individual and group levels. We will strike the great importance of this part of communication process on both levels, individual and group. Also we will find out what possible positive outcomes can we have of successful interpersonal communication.
4) Describe managerial communication as a component of organizational communication, and relate it to the roles and responsibilities of managers. We will strike the issue of manager/employee relationships and how important the communication process here.
5) Identify the characteristics of technology that impact and interact with organizational and managerial communication. We will figure out the resent most important advancements in communication technology and its impact on communication processes within society and organizations.
6) Explain the key strategies for effective written and oral communication within and between organizations. We will look at several examples of effective written and oral communication between and within organizations identifying the strategies that were used in these particular cases.
1) Explain the historical development of communication as an organizational process affecting internal processes and external relationships.
We can find a clue to guide our investigation into the phenomenon of communication in the account given by Husserl in his Logical Investigations. It is usually said that Husserl adopted a solipsistic point of view in the sense that he considered only that meaning-function in the understanding of linguistic expressions which can be present even in solitary mental life. In other words, Husserl has been criticized for not taking account of the communicative function of language. Husserl admits that the original and fundamental task of linguistic expressions lies in performing the communicative function. (n1) He then, however, performed a kind of “reduction,” which can be divided into two steps. The first was that of removing the communicative elements from the structure of linguistic expressions; the second amounted to postulating the “ideal identity” of meaning-unities in Platonistic fashion. Husserl’s assertion that it is possible to carve out a level of meanings as ideally identical unities turns on his concern for the fundamental question of how linguistic meaning can be transmitted free of ambiguity in scientific exchange, in which the accuracy and precision of communication are all-important.
When we examine in detail the first Logical Investigation, however, then we find that Husserl did not ignore the communicative functions of linguistic expressions and in fact he already described all the communicative elements involved in linguistic expression and even takes into consideration certain types of speech acts. According to Husserl, two different functions are interwoven together in ordinary conversation: (1) the function of indicating (Anzeigen), and (2) the function of meaning (Bedeuten). The first, which is possessed also by nonlinguistic signs such as direction-markers, makes it possible that a certain sign points out or refers to something directly to the interpreter (the addressee). Husserl thought that the actual functioning of indicating in language presupposes at least two persons, namely addresser and addressee, and therefore that such a function cannot be exercised in “solitary mental life.” He thus removes this function from the essential structure of linguistic expressions, leaving only the function of meaning conceived in terms of ideally identical unities.
Now we encounter a fundamental and difficult question: of what elements is the process of linguistic communication composed’? Husserl considered the following elements:
(1) the speaker
(2) the hearer
(a) a complex of articulated vocal sounds or written letters (the sign vehicle or physical aspect of linguistic expression)
(b) the speaker’s intention to express some meaning-content concerning the subject-matter of the discourse which has been conceived in his mind
(c) this meaning-content itself
(d) the mutual recognition, on the part of speaker and hearer, of each other as potential performers of communication
(e) a bestowing of sense on the part of the hearer: the latter, when he perceives the articulated expression, must give it meaning and thus come to apprehend a certain objectivity, i.e., that state of affairs which is expressed by means of the given sounds or letters.
While (b), the intention to express oneself, is private and occasional, (c), the expressed meaning-content, is “ideal” and “objective.” In addition, when the hearer understands the expression uttered by the speaker, he must previously have apprehended the latter not merely as an emitter of physical signals but also as a person who uses language and is able to mean some message intentionally by uttering vocal sounds. At the same time, the hearer must recognize the speaker as a person who tries to inform the hearer of the meaning-content in the speaker’s own mind.
Integrating these elements, we can formulate the process from (a) through (e) in the following way. Through the prior mutual recognition of persons as potential performers of communication, and through the intentional manifestation of the mental experiences or thoughts of the speaker, the hearer apprehends the speaker’s thought by interpreting the meaning-content of his linguistic expression.
In each case of communication there occurs an interpersonal contact whose core consists of the manifestation of inner mental content and the apprehension thereof. This communicative structure of linguistic expression has been “parenthesized” through Husserl’s reduction, but it is of first importance for the phenomenological theory of communication that is to be presented in what follows.
According to Husserl, because the communicative elements do not function in “solitary mental life,” they must be excluded from the essential structure of linguistic expressions. What remains after this reduction, the so-called “phenomenological residuum,” are the expressions themselves and the meanings they express. From the point of view of Husserlian semantics such expressions are not mere physical things but expressions “animated by meaning.” After this first stage of the reduction, there occurs the second stage of “semantical reduction,” which is focused upon what Husserl calls “objective expressions,” i.e., those expressions which contain objective meaning-content, by which he means content as far as possible freed of those “occasional” elements which change their meaning according to the situations of utterance and the persons involved. Context-dependent expressions such as pronouns, indicative and indexical expressions are thus excluded from the domain of Husserlian objective expressions, as is all expressive manifestation of “private” mental contents in the speaker’s mind.
The objectivity and universality of scientific theories with which Husserl was primarily concerned, depends upon the univocality and unambiguousness of expressions used in scientific discourse. In order to maintain the objectivity and universal validity of scientific, and indeed of philosophical utterances, every shifting of meaning must be prevented. Thus only those types of expressions whose meaning-content is “ideally identical” remain as residue alters the semantical reduction. The universal validity and objectivity which are attained through this reductive procedure can be called a kind of “transcendence of occasional elements.”
In spite of Husserl’s doctrine about linguistic communication, it is still possible to consider phenomenologically certain communicative elements in linguistic expression and this holds especially for those elements which pertain to our motivation to communicate with others, the essential structure of motivation being present in all acts of communication. Our motivation to communicate consists, simply put, in the striving to come into contact with another’s mind. Every primitive intentional act (for example every perceptual act) is marked of necessity by a certain personal perspective. Hence, as Klaus Held has pointed out, the first step toward the cognition of another’s mind must consist in transcending this “occasionality”:(n2) the possibility of cognition of another’s mind depends upon the degree to which such twinned pairs of occasionals as “I/you,” “here/there” can be bridged—in a word, on “trans-occasionality.”(n3)
One of the simplest types of intentional act is that of perception, which can be described as follows: Now I here, perceive this. Such an act is entirely occasional. Husserl holds that we can overcome and transcend the occasional differences via a special sort of intentional act which he calls an “analogizing apprehension” (analogisierende Apperzeption—a matter of putting yourself, analogously, into the other’s shoes). If all the occasional elements were hereby to be excluded from the process of visual perception, however, then there would remain only an empty universality. What is important, therefore, is that some of the differences of personal perspective be overcome, and some remain. There is a multiplicity of differences between the participants, which typically mark ordinary communication: in its initial stages, and we can now say that it is our motivation to overcome some of these differences which impels us to communicate with each other. It is one of the elements most essential to linguistic communication that it seeks to produce something common among the participants.
Through our elucidation of Husserl’s analysis of linguistic communication its two most important elements have become clear: (1) a prior mutual recognition of others as potential performers of communication, and (2) the anticipation of an “ideal identity of ‘meaning’.” We must now add one more element: (3) a difference at the initial state as the motive to produce something common among the participants.
2) Define the steps in the process of human communication.
Like all good planning processes, communications planning has four basic steps:
- Research and analyze the present situation.
- Set goals or outcomes.
- Choose communications strategies, and decide how to implement them.
- Decide how you’re going to evaluate your communications efforts.
When it comes to analyzing the present situation, first identify some key questions that you need answers to: How do people perceive you, and why? Do they trust you? And if not, why not? What are the big issues on people’ minds when it comes to your organization? What are our peers’ expectations of us? How do they get information about your organization? What kinds of resources can be assigned to this communications program?
Only you can answer this last question, but the rest can and should be answered by people. As with so many communications activities, the way you approach this step will probably be partially driven by the budget. If your budget is tight, go the informal-research route. Chat with people in coffee shops, attend neighborhood meetings, or ask for 20 minutes at the Rotary Club’s weekly meeting.
Make sure you don’t just ask people activists; talk to people you doesn’t usually talk to. If you have more resources for this initial-research step, consider surveys, either random-sample telephone surveys or mailed ones. People focus groups also are effective for gaining a greater depth of information.
The results of your research should drive the goals or outcomes you set for your communications effort. Based on the research you’ve conducted in the first step, ask yourself what changes your organization needs to make. And as much as it may hurt, be honest. You may simply have a communications problem on your hands that can be addressed with a long-term effort to get information to peoples about the job your organization’s doing.
Or, you also may need to make changes in the way you’re doing business: revamping your customer service approach, fine-tuning the way your departments are delivering services, and opening up your decision-making processes so that peoples can genuinely help influence decisions. Even the best organizations usually find they can improve on a variety of fronts.
Then, figure out how to measure the changes you need to make. A key thing to remember in the measurement step is that activities do not equal outcomes. That is, producing three brochures, one video, and nine news releases may or may not translate into any true change in peoples’ perceptions of your organization. You want to be able to measure such tangible results as voter turnout rates, approval of ballot initiatives proposed by your organization, or the number of people inquiries or complaints about service. Decide what you’re going to measure over time, then collect current information in these areas, so that you have benchmarks in place before you begin. Next in designing your communications program, you need to choose the methods you want to use and to define how to implement them. What’s the most effective way to communicate with peoples—a monthly newsletter, a Web site, direct-mail brochures, special events, or presentations to civic clubs? The possibilities are almost limitless.
It’s important at this step to think strategically. Challenge yourself to choose the most effective means of communicating, keeping in mind that there is no “general public” made up of people who all care about the same issues and get their information in the same way. Seniors care about things not even on the radar screen for young moms. And teenagers certainly don’t get their information like the rest of us do.
When choosing how you’re going to communicate, rely on multiple methods. A quarterly newsletter is great, but supplements it with information on your Web site, banners, billboards, flyers and postcards to neighborhood groups, or an organizational presence at community events, with employee-staffed displays and activities. Challenge yourself to come up with unusual and effective ways to get your message to folks and, better yet, to build relationships.
Using newspapers, television, and radio is an effective way of getting the word out, but this method is just one tool. Too often, local governments rely on the news media to be their only communications conduits to peoples, and more often than not, this doesn’t work.
It’s simply not the news media’s job to make your organization look good or to make sure that peoples have all the information they need about your services. Their job is to report the news and sell advertising. Your job is to establish a good relationship with the people you serve, and you need to take the initiative to make this happen. Certainly, you want to maintain a good, professional working relationship with the news media, treating their members openly and honestly and asking for their help in informing the public. But don’t abdicate your responsibility to them when it comes to restoring trust with peoples.
If resources are a problem when it comes to starting a communications program, know that there are ways to get some help. Convene an informal advisory group of local communications professionals to assist you in the design of the plan and perhaps in its implementation. Some advertising and public relations firms will assist on a pro bono basis, especially if their efforts are noted publicly or at least to your elected officials.
Use interns from local colleges and universities. Often, students will volunteer simply for the experience, in the hope of paving their way to future employment in the communications field, Be creative in devising ways to use other people’s money. Seek corporate cosponsors, and talk to your local utility company about partnering on projects.
One of the best investments you can make, whether you’re just starting out or have had a communications program for years, is in membership in the City-County Communications and Marketing Association (3CMA). It offers its members a strong network affording individual assistance and problem-solving expertise and is an outstanding source of creative ideas and professional development options.
Once you’ve implemented your initial communications program, it’s time to take the final step: evaluating what you’ve accomplished. What goals or outcomes have been achieved? What new goals do you need? Have you changed perceptions or behaviors?
Spread the news about the results of your evaluation—these results can help justify using some of the scarce dollars spent on communication and can help build trust, both within the organization and with the public. Let your evaluation procedure serve to start the communications planning process again, in an ongoing effort.
So where do you begin, if you haven’t already, when it comes to launching a communications program to help your peoples understand the responsibilities of and constraints on local government? Here are some truisms to guide you as you develop your approach:
You won’t build trust through one-way communications alone. You need to listen to peoples as much as you talk to them. Make routine public involvement part of your communications program.
Communications should be considered a core service. You are wasting your time and money if you treat it as an afterthought or as a luxury service reserved only for when times are good. A professional communications effort should be considered to be as essential to effective management as astute legal advice or solid financial planning. Open communication should be embraced as an organizational value for which everyone is responsible.
3) Compare interpersonal communication at individual and group levels.
The idea that interpersonal communication skills and competencies are crucial for survival in the business world is not new. Numerous studies and articles have been published that attest to the importance of interpersonal communication skills, specifically oral communication competency (Hildebrandt, Bond, Miller, & Swineyard, 1982; Kim & Wright, 1989; Wilmington, 1989; U.S. Department of Labor, 1989). As early as 1938, Barnard pointed out that business executives must be able to speak effectively to function successfully. Other studies over the years have continued to cite oral communication as a skill identified by business practitioners as necessary. Research continues to show that a large portion of a manager’s workday is dedicated to communication, much of which requires oral competency.
As the year 2000 looms into more immediate view, educators have been bombarded with a vast number of articles and speeches that identify the survival skills needed in the 21st century. Frequent challenges are issued urging that more attention be given to teaching the skills identified by so many researchers. Interpersonal communication stands out as one of these skills.
In a more recent major and extensive research study, Carnevale, Gainer, & Meltzer (1990) employed a variety of methodology designs to determine more thoroughly the essential skills employers want employees to possess. The American Society for Training and Development and the United States Department of Labor authorized and funded this project. The study not only identified the standard academic skills employers require but also determined other key basics as a foundation for building broader, more sophisticated job-related skills. This 2-year, national project identified oral communication as a vital skill. The authors affirmed that success on the job is linked to good communication skills; poor communication skills, resulting in lost productivity and errors, can cost companies heavily.
Thus, the literature consistently shows that interpersonal communication skill is vital to success in today’s business world, but specific competencies are less often identified and ranked in value. Robbins (1989,p. 5) highlights this research deficiency in a summation statement that “even though general agreement seems to exist that interpersonal skills are necessary for managerial success, . . . unfortunately, there is no consensus as to what specifically those skills are.”
4) Describe managerial communication as a component of organizational communication, and relate it to the roles and responsibilities of managers.
Supervisors have to be many things—but first and fore most, they have to be good communicators. Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Leaders only achieve results by working through others. That requires communication. If you can’t get your messages and meanings across clearly and effectively to your bosses, your customers and your staff or crew, you can’t succeed as a supervisor. This doesn’t mean managers and supervisors have to be silver tongued orators, but they do have to be able to explain, direct, inform, instruct, inspire and get their point across to many different audiences. Not all managers can do it. You know some of them.
Supervisors don’t make more communication mistakes than other people, but it often seems that way because their communication shortcomings often have more far-reaching impact. Misunderstandings, mixed messages and murky meanings are always bad for business. Unfortunately, they occur far too of ten in factories, shops and offices all across the country.
There are lots of reasons why supervisors fail to communicate; but most message mix-ups are attributable to one or more of the following causes:
Misunderstanding the nature of communication. Some middle managers make the mistake of thinking communication is about the sender. Actually, it’s just the opposite. Effective communication must be focused on the receiver. The purpose of communication isn’t to enhance the image of the sender, but to assure clear understanding by the audience. Supervisors who try to use communication to make themselves look good, feel good or sound good, miss the point. Good communication occurs only when audience-members get the message, not just when they are impressed.
Misinterpreting the supervisor’s role in communication. Every organization has, at least, one manager who sees his role as a broker of communication who decides who gets what information and when. They believe they can dispense or withhold information in order to enhance their own mystique or authority or alter the course of events. They’re wrong. Communication isn’t a commodity to be rationed by management. Rather, it is the lifeblood of the organization. When supervisors try to hoard or manipulate it, they cease to be credible, believable or persuasive.
Undervaluing the importance of communication. Too many supervisors fail to communicate because they simply don’t work at it hard enough. They think communication will just take care of itself. They misjudge communication’s complexity and crucial importance in getting the job done. On the other hand, effective managers and supervisors make communication a top priority every day. Addressing these common pit falls is the first step toward be coming a better communicator. From then on, it’s mostly a matter of learning to do a lot of little things just a bit better.
Most supervisory personnel already have acceptable communication skills or they would not have been pegged for a leadership position in the first place. But every supervisor can improve. (“The biggest room in any factory, shop or office is the room for improvement.”—Anonymous) The better communicator you become, the better supervisor you become at the same time.
You probably already know what it takes to communicate effectively. But, if you are like many managers or supervisors, you easily forget or ignore what you know and readily fall back on old bad habits. That’s why improvement usually comes by way of reminders, not revelations. Good communication skills aren’t just nice tools for a leader to have; they’re a prerequisite. Anything you do to sharpen your ability to communicate helps you, your workers, your employers and your customers all at the same time.
5) Identify the characteristics of technology that impact and interact with organizational and managerial communication.
Electronic technology is like the printing press. It’s just another tool kit available to human resources and benefits professionals to help the communication process. It’s a tool kit with both advantages and disadvantages. For today’s communicator, understanding electronic technology can make the process of communication easier and more efficient. Regardless of the types of technology you use to communicate with your employees, one of the fundamental questions you need to ask yourself is, “Are you paving cow paths or building new roads?” By that I mean, are you using technology to do the same old thing or are you taking advantage of the inherent advantages technology has to offer?
For example, are you taking communication materials that you used to distribute in print form and simply distributing them electronically? Or are you thinking about what technology has to offer and examining the advantages and limitations of each medium available to you to see how best to make use of them?
Transitioning to New Technology
There are a number of reasons people initially replicate existing processes using new technology rather than rethink how they communicate to take advantage of the features of the new technology. Among these are the cost and time in making the transition from legacy technology to new technology. New technology doesn’t always make it easy to bring forward files and computer code from older systems, whether considering files as simple as word processing documents or as complex as databases in proprietary file formats or systems, such as mainframe systems.
Eventually, however, you’ll want your new systems to take advantage of what new technology has to offer to improve communication. For example, when you transition your print SPDs to Internet/intranet technology, you’ll want cross references in your printed documents to become hypertext links on your Web pages.
When utilizing technology, you’ve got to remember that while you’re planning for the future, you’ve got to live with the past. This means you’ve got to plan for transitioning information—whether documents or data—from older systems to newer systems. If you’re smart, you’ll take into account that this won’t be the only transition you’ll end up making. You’ll probably have to make transitions to still newer technology, as it becomes available.
You’ll also have to manage expectations along the way, especially when it comes to schedules for your transition processes. Remember, there’s no job too big, no deadline too tight, no demand too unreasonable when somebody else is doing the job. Yet when you are doing a job, the first order of business should be to manage expectations.
Available Technology for Benefit Communication
These days, the big push is for Internet/intranet technology for benefit communication. As this push takes place, there seems to be a technology exclusivity mindset. The idea is that the Internet/intranet should be the only tool used for benefit communication. That’s an inappropriate mindset. Technology in benefit communication should not be limited to one media. In addition to Internet/intranet technology, there should be room for other benefit communication technology, such as
Voice response units (VRUs)
Personal digital assistants (PDAs)
The point is there is no one technology that is right for all situations. Multiple media can coexist nicely. Furthermore, all technology can coexist nicely with print or other traditional communication media.
For example, many organizations are adopting Internet/intranet technology to handle benefits and human resources transactional functions, such as benefits enrollment. In doing this, they may consider dropping voice response technology. However, these two technologies can coexist very nicely, especially in organizations that have people whose primary contact with headquarters is by phone. For these people, VRU for transactions may be far more functional than Internet/intranet technology, even if it is more limited in its functionality.
Implementing Benefit Communication Technology
Carpenters have a saying: “Measure twice, cut once.” Similarly for benefit communication professionals charged with implementing technology the saying should be: “Think twice, act once.” Thinking through how to deploy benefit communication technology can save you time, money and frustration! Think about your users. What are their current needs and what will their future needs be? Think not just about the technology they will be using, but also the content and transactions they’ll need. When planning to deploy technology, ask yourself some fundamental questions like “What am I trying to accomplish?” and “What makes sense for my users?” The great thing about asking the question “What am I trying to accomplish?” is that it provides for a built-in measurement of what you’re doing.
For example, is your goal to electronically publish all the information you now have in print, or are you trying to get people to handle more routine tasks by themselves using technology? One does not necessarily lead to the other. With respect to what makes sense for your users, provide as much information as possible. But when doing so, make sure you have a user-focused sense of priorities for what to make available. After you consider your users, think about the technology you will use and its inherent capabilities. Think about how it might cause you to change the way you currently operate.
For example, much of the technology available for benefit communication not only allows for, but encourages, interactivity by users. You need to make sure that the way you develop your technology is interactive. This means you want to prepare information in chunks. For VRUs, this means preparing scripts that have short, easy-to-understand messages followed by an action step. For intranets or the Internet, this means writing to fill not much more than a screen of information and having links to related topics or action steps. This approach is far different from the way most traditional benefit communication has been prepared.
If you think about your users and about the technology available to you, and you develop technology to give your users what they are looking for, they will be less inclined to call you asking you to do for them what they can do themselves. This is a far better scenario than giving them what you want to give them and having them tell you it’s not what they need. Then you’ll have gone to the time and expense of creating content but not freeing up any of your time.
Ongoing, you should look for ways to use the technology you deploy to gather additional information about what your users want. Both VRU and intranet/Internet technology are excellent for conducting surveys, as is e-mail.
So when beginning to think about using or enhancing your benefit communication technology, think about the content first and the technology second. Users want specific information and the ability to make transactions or decisions based on the information they receive. Think about their expectations. Are your expectations for how you will deploy technology aligned with your users’ expectations?
Many times your desired expectations and your users’ desired expectations are aligned, but the reality of your time and your budget wreak havoc on your desires. In these situations, when you know you can’t deliver immediately on your users’ expectations, you need to manage their expectations. You need to explain what they can expect and when they can expect it and why they can’t have what they want fight away.
6) Explain the key strategies for effective written and oral communication within and between organizations.
In today’s world of constant change, most organizations have well-developed techniques for designing new strategies. But the means of communicating these new strategies to those whose attitudes and actions will dictate whether or not they succeed are less well developed. Many a brilliant blueprint is left to blush unseen, trapped in the executive suite because nobody outside it understands the reasons for, the philosophy behind or the desired outcome of the new policy.
It is only in the resent several decades that any kind of communication has been properly recognized in business. Today, the media person in need of useful information is well served by people who claim to be professionals in the art of external communication.
Internal communication, on the other hand, is only now achieving the status and, more importantly, the resources which PR departments have commanded for two decades. Talking theoretically it is hard to reach a high level of success in internal communications. Relatively few people can claim 100 per cent success, perhaps because the discipline is still largely undefined, or because success itself is so elusive. Benchmarking is almost non-existent.
My knowledge of the subject comes from experience working with clients and from research into effective communications, some of which we commissioned ourselves, and some that was conducted by other organizations. The most valuable research has been the study of people who are responsible for training and communication within organizations. I commissioned Quadrangle, a consultancy, to ask such people not how communication should be conducted, but how they actually do conduct it. The answers were revealing.
I found out that those with experience of facilitating seminars or training sessions have scant regard for old-fashioned videos – by which they mean the 15 to 20-minute program full of creative devices to cram in as much information as possible. Video was regarded as an expensive and clumsy medium, except when it is carefully structured to perform one of the special functions which no other medium can remotely match.
Text, audio and slides also have something to contribute to the media toolkit, but any communications manager will agree that the best medium is the human being – there is no substitute for face-to-face sessions. The media must support, not take the mace of, the facilitator.
That means keeping video sequences short and simple, using the printed page as paper to be written on as well as carrying text; and, above all, constructing the media in such a way that they challenge the user, triggering response, not simply entertaining the audience and showing off the creativity of the producer.
This corpus of knowledge has given us the courage – or bare-faced cheek – to define five rules which I believe should guide any communications program.
1. Plot your route
Broadcasting programs are often launched before the message has been finally defined. The process of creating the media is expected somehow to clarify messages which have left the board without clear definition or agreement. Then executives believe that communication will happen by an industrial version of osmosis: that manager will magically grasp the message and role they are to play, and develop communications skills in which they have never been trained.
An important strategy or program of change must be meticulously planned, not just through a single round of meetings but through a series of feedback loops.
2. Shoot the pianist
The old tunes aren’t necessarily the best ones. Quite simply, most companies have been and still are – poor communicators, although they don’t like being told so. The chairman or woman addressing the central management cadre once a year is not carrying out good communication unless those managers are given a clear plan of campaign and trained to conduct it.
To give one example, the traditional concept of using media to help convey an important message has been to produce the standard “corporate video” and then send copies for people to view in their own time. Alternatively, organizations place the chief executive in front of a camera and let them talk turgidly in the belief that this will somehow galvanize a shop floor worker or traveling salesperson to increase their efforts or change their ways.
3. Enroll your owners
If there is one most common cause of failure in corporate communications programs, it is the failure of junior management and supervisors to pass the message on and encourage relevant action and feedback. They can’t be blamed if they haven’t been trained in communications techniques or briefed on the content of this program.
4. Encourage positive heckling
A single seminar or workshop can work wonders: delegates leave walking taller, their brains teeming, excited and determined to improve their performance. Until three days later, that is, when it’s hard to remember what was said and those good resolutions have been forgotten, ignored or both.
If the message is to be received and understood properly, it has to be reinforced. If people are encouraged to question and make suggestions, they will remember what the points were to which they responded. Messages will be remembered for longer if people are encouraged to formulate action plans. However, even action plans will fade unless they are monitored and there is someone to act as mentor.
Feedback shouldn’t stop at the group session; it should continue over time and be fed up the management tree until it produces a convincing response. This negative feedback loop should continue until there is no gap between input and output.
5. Count the cost
It is astonishing how often companies believe that a communications program will cost them little or nothing. “We’ve got a communications department, and our executives are pretty articulate. There’s no need to spend money on fancy media or specialist advisers,” the argument goes.
The most important factor they have overlooked is the fact that the biggest expenditure is inside the organization: the need for senior executives to be seen endorsing the program; the time that operatives must spend away from the production line in order to hear and debate the issues; the time which every manager and supervisor should spend tracking the progress of the change program and feeding back the results. Furthermore, the cost of not communicating is often greater than the cost involved in planning and executing effective programs.
UNITED DISTILLERS (UD) – one of the case studies in the book, The Communicating Organization, written by Michael Blakstad- is a good illustration of the practical application of these rules. It had suffered a decade of merger, acquisition and a messy takeover by Guinness. As the communications director put it, nobody knew which the true culture of the group was: the silver teapots and china crockery of the old paneled head office in St James, or the plastic cups and automatic drinks dispensers of the open-plan marketing offices in Hammersmith.
UD had worked with a consultant, Greg Spiro, who had been with the group longer than most of its managers. He and the personnel team had written the “UD Way”, a digest of the culture to guide behavior in the group. The first essential step plotting the route had been taken – there was a blue-print. There was also a meticulous schedule for implementation.
For a year, seminars were held with managers all around the world at which theUD Waywas introduced and discussed. Although this technique was successful, the company found that it couldn’t hope to reach everyone in the company using traditional methods, and the demand from other staff was mounting to crescendo point – shoot the pianist. So UD commissioned the small communications company we work for, Workhouse, to help roll out the philosophy to the other 14,000 staff in 35 countries.
On to rule three – enroll your owners. UD went to considerable lengths to select and train people to facilitate the sessions. A facilitators’ guide was written and an audio tape produced purely to advise them how to run the sessions.
The first element of theUD Wayis the rationale, the business mission which the group is following. The next are 10 core values, the philosophy which should guide behavior. The values were each demonstrated in short video clips. One such clip, Our Standards, showed two aspects of bottling and labeling. InTokyo, customers were shown rejecting any packaging that was less than perfect. InLouisville, the women on the packing line described their view that anything less than perfection was unacceptable. The message was summarized in a short sentence at the end of each module and staff were encouraged in their groups to come up with their own interpretation of the Standards.
The third ingredient in theUD Wayis 10 operating principles, expressed as behaviors, attitudes and outcomes that were in or out of keeping with the values. These too were demonstrated via short video clips, after which the groups were invited to discuss each issue and come up with actions of their own. TheUD Waytoolkit avoided using video where text could provide a less expensive and more accessible medium.
Next a series of activities was designed in which the facilitator can involve the groups. They were all based on genuine cases which we had encountered in our research. For example, a division had just jettisoned all the badges of rank – reserved car-park spaces, management canteens, etc – and introduced open-plan offices, work groups and so on. A new manager was appointed from outside whose first act was to reintroduce the status symbols and rebuild the office walls. What does the group do?
The principle was that people don’t retain the message unless they are involved in it. People are used to watching television or reading in a relaxed state of mind, letting the content wash over them. Of the 16 items in a typical news bulletin, people seldom remember more than three. People should be involved in the message and stimulated to devise actions.
Rule four – encourage positive heckling. Nothing remotely new to the cognitive psychologist, of course, but nobody, as far as we knew, had applied learning theory to the design of media in corporate communications.
The sad thing about the UD project was that there was a change in top management just after the program was completed, which meant the steam went out of it. Some countries have used the materials with great enthusiasm, but most are waiting for the new chief executive to sign up to the UD Way. There are no regrets, however: even the partial benefits are deemed worth the money spent and UD entered the project with its eyes open and a budget that was strictly controlled. Rule five – count the cost.
Past media – text, slides, audio and video – have been rapidly being overtaken by electronic media. BT and IBM are examples of companies using their own products to communicate with their massive workforces.
With e-mail, faxes and satellite-delivered business television already commonplace in large corporations, and interactive multimedia on its way, companies now have extraordinary opportunities to build two-way communications with their employees. CD-Rom players and IBM’s desktop television give firms the chance to send out programs m every medium. In formats which can then be tailored to the needs of each user. Digital transmission makes it possible for moving pictures and large volumes of data to be placed at the fingertips of each user with a terminal.
But few put companies put communication on their boardroom agendas or have a budget for major messages; virtually none are yet introducing the latest technology; and all too often the communications manager is buried deep in the “marzipan” layer of management.
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(n2.) Klaus Held, “Das Problem der Intersubjektivitat und die Idee einer phanomenologischen Transzendentalphilosophie,” in U. Claesges and K. Held (eds.), Perspektiven transzendentalphilosophischer Forschung (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1972), pp. 3-60.
(n3.) Cf. Carl-Friedrich Gethmann, Dasein: Erkennen und Handeln—Heidegger im phanomenologischen Kontext (Baerlin: De Gruyter, 1993), p. 18.
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