In any organization for communication to be effective some common characteristics must be present. Firstly, it should provide practical and relevant information; also it should give clear directives and divulge relevant facts; information that is devoid of the feelings and perceptions of the author, and should give all sides of the argument before coming to a conclusion.
The communicator should condense the information and use aids such as diagrams and charts if these are able to help in clarifying the process. A specific audience is usually targeted; the messages should be tailored to meet this specific audience. Finally, the messages are used to persuade its audience or make recommendations that would be considered by others.
In today's world of rapid changes, business communications is even more crucial as it usually defines the thin line between a company and its competitors. The speed with which information is disseminated and the wider areas that are serviced makes it imperative that the best format and quickest means are chosen, such that the meanings that were originally meant are not lost when translated by some other translator in another part of this widening and diverse global community.
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More and more companies are engaging the use of technology to communicate with employees. E-mails, Instant Messaging, Intranets, Extranets, audio-visual aids, tele-conferencing, Voice over Internet Protocol, and facsimiles are but a few of the tools that aid communications in modern society. The growth of electronic commerce has been the catalyst that fuelled many new trends in communication. Companies need not send representatives to meet face to face; buyers can compare items and prices while at home; with the simple press of a button a contract can be entered into by persons in two different parts of the world.
Like in everything else when the tools to do the job are not used effectively or ignored altogether, the outcome are far from acceptable. Thus, ignoring the rules of communications will ultimately be the downfall of any company that chooses to bypass common fundamental rules and concepts.
In every organisation all employees share a common linkage; they are all part of the communication chain. Everything that is done by anyone while they represent the company, communicates something about that company to customers. All employees then should be trained to communicate effectively so that they reflect that professional image of their company. Companies' management owe it to employees to act with social responsibility to ensure that the highest ethical standards abounds.
In the Accident Insurance Group's scenario the company is faced with a barrage of situations that required action on the part of the management to stave-off what may have been impending bankruptcy. Their financial backer had withdrawn, possibly due to the regional economical situation, and they were now losing a great deal of their cases which previously they had won.
What had changed to caused a previously successful company with a perfect plan of action to now be at the losing end is not immediately clear; so that one can only speculate that there may have been changes in the regulations by government bodies, or possibly the resignation of key managerial and professional staff or a combination of circumstances and situations outside of the control of the management. Another possibility could be the expansion or diversification of the company into areas in which it lacked the necessary competencies.
With diminishing bottom line the company had to face the fact that its survival depended on cutting the staff on payroll by a significant amount. Many of the staff would have given long and significant service to the company.
Because giving bad news is an unpleasant task, and the fact that some of the employees had long been with the company, the management chose what seem to be an easy way to break the bad news - sending text messages. Sending messages, and written document to a lesser extent, are impersonal and the agony felt by the recipient of the news, is not witnessed as in face to face interaction.
Everyone is different, and while some may handle bad news relatively easy, others may need some professional intervention to cope with their situation. It is in this light that the company should have reviewed the processes and devised some ways of communicating frankly and honestly with the staff so that mistrust and misinformation would have been eliminated or kept at the barest minimum.
2) THE COMMUNICATION PROCESSES ADOPTED
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Without a doubt, The Accident Assurance Group was a company whose informal channel of communication was active since widespread rumours abounded whenever messages were sent out.
The company used electronic media in order to inform the staff of the shortcomings and the failure to meet salaries of the workers for the upcoming month. There is a strong internal informal channel of communication as the rumours of what was occurring spread throughout the company as workers shared information.
In giving bad news, how the message is conveyed could be more devastating than the message itself. In this case the company choose to inform the employees by means of the electronic media. Evidently there was little or no thought of the reaction of the workers when these messages were read; the multitude of questions, the distrust, betrayal and general anxiety that must have been felt by the employees, who would have most likely seek answers from management for the situation.
Besides choosing that medium of communication, the management had targeted only a segment of the employees to receive such notices. This would have even made matters worse since the workers would view that process as some sort of profiling or victimization.
As a general rule the more complex a message is to be communicated the richer medium should be employed (Bovee and Thill, Excellence in Business Communication 2004). Managers must be cognisant of the fact that different media has different capacities for delivering messages. Where the topics are difficult or there are some emotional concerns it is advisable to use a rich medium. Lean media are those that do not require the use of different formats to share the meanings of the communicated messages; rich media on the other hand offers multiple types of information as well as multiple ways in which the messages could be shared by both the sender and the receiver. Media richness theory (Daft and Lengel 1986), states that the sender should use the richest medium to communicate the desired message. This medium is even more crucial if the topic is one that is sensitive or ambiguous.
In an article in May, 2003 the NSW Industrial Relations Commission upheld the argument by the defendant lawyer on behalf of an Air Traffic Controller John Eid, who received a text message from management advising him of his dismissal (Australian Associated Press 2003). Commissioner Elizabeth Bishop stated that the text message should not have been sent - regardless of whether Mr. Eid was fired or resigned.
Clearly, in situations that are sensitive and may have serious repercussions, the senders should seek to deliver messages in formats that are formal; in which the stated message could be read, understood, and confirmed by means of feedback.
The Accident Insurance Group was aware for quite some time that its internal financial situation was weak. Yet it chose not to mention this fact to the workers. The Chairman of the company, Mark Langford appears to be less than honest and forthright in his leadership of the company.
3) THE MESSAGE OF THE SENDER
The company has been facing economical challenges partly because a major financier had withdrawn, and many of the cases for personal injury had been less than successful.
The company issued text messages to some of the staff indicating that their services were no longer required. To others, they simply stated that salaries were not paid for the month. The company demonstrated its discourteous treatment of the staff by allowing text messages to be sent.
According to expert advice given by law firm, (MHL Support 2010) “A text message as a form of dismissal is totally unacceptable. Firstly, some kind of disciplinary procedure precedes a dismissal, and that should be conveyed effectively through official channels. Professionalism is paramount”.
The Chairman of the company should, at the onset of the difficult period, explain to all staff by memos and face to face, to ensure that all employee understand what was happening, and to appreciate what the company was faced with. Instead he chose to lay blame on a third party. According to (Bovee and Thill, Excellence in Business Communication 2004)Internal communication helps employees do their jobs, develop a clear sense of the organization's mission, and identify and react quickly to potential problems. Good communicators use both formal and informal channels to ensure a free flow of information through the organization.
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By the use of text messages the management inadvertently encouraged the use of the informal channel - the grapevine - to spread the news around. The employees were given vague directive by text: to look at their bank account. Such message would surely encourage speculation and wide spread rumours; many of which would have been filled with inaccuracies.
Additionally, the Chairman's response showed lack of corporate responsibility and managerial ethics. This sort of display and utterance can cause prospective employees to shy away from seeking employment and can generally give society a bad impression of the corporate culture of the company.
Mr Langford may have been guilty of an ethical lapse by allowing the text messages to be sent, as well as withholding news of the impending failure of the company. This lapse is not to be confused by ethical dilemmas which are unresolved interpretations of ethical issues.
Evidently Mr Langford's failure to confront his staff with the bad news appears to be an ethical dilemma that he allowed to escalate to an ethical lapse when the text messages were sent. Such actions may not have been it keeping with the company's policies. While some of the management staff may not think that the action in itself was wrong, others would. The fact that only few people see matters as ethical issues while others view the same matters as minor inconveniences stems from the fact that ethical issues depends on the cultural, social,
4) THE SUCCESS OF THE MESSAGES SENT
The management chose to send the messages via electronic media. This media chosen was not the most appropriate, and rather than clear up the issue it raised many new ones as the staff did not have the required information. Also The CEO tried to absolve himself from blame and placed it on the administrators. As head of the company he is ultimately responsible for any messages coming from the company. The pockets of messages that were sent demonstrated a flaw in the communication process. Some of the employees received notification whilst others did not. For messages to be credible the communicators must be open and honest and give the entire story.
The Chairman of the company chose to distance himself from the text messages sent and blamed the administrators PriceWaterhouseCoopers; but the role of the administrators in the day to day running of the business and human resource management would have been at a minimum so the onus was on the management of the Accident Insurance Company to ensure that either formal letters were sent or meetings called to discuss what was taking place at the company. It is also possible - if we are to assume that the text came from the administrators - that the administrators were awaiting the company to inform the staff of the impending actions before acting. Needless to say no action was forthcoming so the text messages were then sent to staff that the administrators could have identified; those fortunate to have records that were accessible.
Perceptive staff would have long been aware of the impending decision of the management after seeing the appointment of the administrators, and they would have unconsciously braced themselves for the impact of some form of unpleasant news. They would have expected the management to meet and explain what was happening. Since no communication came from management, employees used a well established grapevine. According to Bovee & Thill (2004, p 13) every organisation has an informal communication network. Between seventy-five to ninety percent of the messages that passes through the grapevine are true. The lack of formal communications will encourage speculations, some correct, others far-fetched as staff try to get details of the occurrences at the company.
Dr. Jitendra M. Mishra in an excerpt (Mishra 1990), stated that “structured management uses verbal messages to communicate through the chain of command, while grapevine communication jumps from one department to another and from any level of management to another. It moves up, down, horizontally, vertically and diagonally all within a short span of time.” He noted that the grapevine, as communication, is comparable to the organizations formal information network.
The withdrawal of the financial backer would have sent a “red flag” to many of the employees that things were not all that good in the company. At times companies can be saved by the administrators but this is usually after a high price is paid and usually the restructuring of the entire operational design. ( Becoming Bankrupt. 2010)
5) BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION
Barriers to communication occur whenever the message of the sender is not received in the context in which the sender intended. It also occurs if an incorrect medium is used to transmit messages to receivers. If the messages are unclear, vague, or ambiguous then there is some difficulty in deciphering them. Sometimes there is a covert effort to send deceptive messages. This forms part of a deceptive communications tactic (Bovee and Thill, Excellence in Business Communications 2004). The messages sent by the Accident Assurance Group violated proper principles since the use of text messages is not at all ideal to adequately address a highly complicated and delicate matter as job displacement and non-payment of salaries. Text messages cannot adequately address the staff which may have questions and comments to which immediate answers should be forthcoming.
Any message that informs of job loss would provoke an emotionally charged response. Emotions are real barriers to communications. It was likely that the employees could have embarked on destructive behaviours, such as destroying properties, looting, storming offices, blocking access or a number of other deviant behaviours.
Restrictive environment forms barrier to communications. Managers that use authoritarian style would find that communication flows only downwards and hardly upwards. Managers who keep themselves from the staff also run the risk of alienating their staff to free access.
In this case a very serious barrier to communication would have been from the emotional state of the employees. If the news bearer did not use the appropriate words or was insensitive to the state of the employees the message could have been misunderstood, or misconstrued.
The use of text, with its limited ability to convey rich contextual content could have led to a number of misinterpretations which in turn could have provoked unpredictable reactions from the workers.
Mr Langford would have avoided emotional barriers if he had placed himself in the shoes of his workers, and proactively addressed their needs.
6) VIABLE ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES
Instant messages are now an integral part of modern organizations and its usage can business communications. Similarly the inappropriate use of instant and text messages can compromise professionalism in any organization. While texting has increased internationally, many new forms of regulations have been enacted to control its use.
With the use of e-mail, a timestamp is received and a read receipt can be sent confirming receipt. With a letter, the employee is given an opportunity to reply or a signature received from the courier service signifying that the employee had received and signed for its receipt.
In delivering negative messages the Accident Insurance Group should follow some clear procedures. They should have been clear about the issues that were on hand and be prepared to give specific reasons for the decision that they made. Moreover they should be aware of the way in which the message would have been received by the employees: would they want the news up front with explanations or would they like to have face-to-face meetings. Ti was incumbent on the management to ensure that whatever position they took, was in fact the alternative that the receivers of the news preferred.
Should the company choose to send the news by registered letter they must follow proper protocol. One such protocol is the approach - whether to use direct approach or an indirect approach. In a direct approach, the writer delves straight into the unpleasant news without any form of preamble. In the indirect approach the writer gives some form of explanation for the action or actions that were taken. Whatever approach chosen the writer should embark on an audience-centered approach. This audience-centered approach takes into account the tone and wording of the message. According to the adage “it's not what you say but how it is said”.
If, on the other hand the company chose to give the bad news orally then, an audience-centered approach will dictate that the bearer listens to the employees. In listening the emotions and feelings would come to the forefront, but the bearer must not allow emotions to dissuade him/her from carrying out the mission.
In written bad-news message the bearer cannot listen to the audience but is able to garner information beforehand.
In addressing the problem of correct ethical approach when the path forward is unclear, and the situation unique; as that of the Chairman and the company the best approach would have been to examine the both sides of the dilemma - the pressure from the administrators, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the fall-out that would most likely occur when the employees receive the messages. Thereafter implement what would have been the best procedure, or the one that would cause the least harm to the most people. This is the most common concept used by managers when facing dilemmas. This utilitarian approach is based on the subjective judgement of the management whose responsibility it is to examine the cultural diversity, customs, ethnicity, age group, maturity, length of service and many other factors that may be considered relevant in such cases. The idea is to realise the best benefit for the majority of the people affected.
Another way would have been the adherence to procedural justice; in this approach the management informs the employees of what the options are with the situation as it really is. And leave the option to the employees. Whatever else the management can be accused of, certainly transparency would not be an item.
To avoid further occurrences of matters of this nature companies are well advised to have a written code of ethics that governs the entire firm's relationship with its employees, with its stakeholders, with the executive management and top management. Such code can be placed throughout the company, and employees should be able to retrieve it at short notice. In the Web Sites this code should be prominently displayed or available via hyperlink.
In an article by Here Is The City Careers it was suggested that management support and train the people responsible forcommunicating redundancies - usually the human resource and line managers since it noted that: “people being made redundant go through thenatural stages of bereavement; anger, isolation, grief, loss and acceptance with different people taking lessor more time to recover”. (2010 Entrepreneur Limited 2009).
The article further showed that “failure to manage redundancy fairly and with clear communication will result in the loss of trust and whentrust is gone, it is hard to regain. The discretionary effort from employees, so important in normal times, iseven more vital with fewer employees doing more work. The employer brand and reputation of yourbrand will be damaged and not only will talented employees leave, word of mouth will make it harder toattract the new talent crucial to future company growth.” (2010 Entrepreneur Limited 2009).
On examining the state of the Accident Insurance Group it fits the profile posited by the article. Evidently the company would have been well advised to provide up-front information and deal honestly with the employees and save what little positive remnant of its image remained.
Staff at Woolsworth had found out that they were losing their jobs after they read about it in the newspapers. Claire Weekes in a newspaper article suggested that the company looked at more appropriate ways of breaking the news. She quoted Mr Paul Sweetman, director of employee engagement at Fishburn Hedges. “Every organisation should put together a multi-functional team that embraces HR, operations and IT. Co-ordination is the key. The underlying principle, though, is to talk to employees directly and before news breaks externally,' (Sweetman 2009).
Eddie Bensilum, director at Register Larkin also support this practice with his reasoning: ‘The actions you take need to be managed very carefully, and often within hours of one another, so internal and external communications are synchronised, This could include town-hall-style meetings to make announcements to staff, at the same time as one-to-one meetings with people particularly affected, and it is crucial that leaders stay visible and accessible to staff....the danger is that sometimes leaders find the whole process scary themselves and retreat.' (Bensilum 2009).
In today's world of changes and global economic downturn it is inevitable that companies face restructuring through acquisitions, mergers, change in strategies, or many other reasons for changes. Management must be able to be up-front in their approach with staff and communicate the news honestly, however unpleasant that news may be. At the heart of the matter is the treatment of employees with respect, and sensitivity; the awareness that the organisations are made of different individuals with different backgrounds who are able to cope with situations differently. Management then should use this knowledge to address each individual need as much as possible.
The world is faced with deepening recessions, and downturn of economies. A spinoff to this situation is the accompanying loss of jobs as more and more businesses restructure, merge, diversify, face hostile takeovers, or simply face bankruptcy. Management on the other hand, if not prepared to handle this sort of separation, can exacerbate the process by improper communication and procedures.
Many times in the job environment all that is needed in highly charged emotional settings is the perception that the executive is willing to listen and empathize with staff. The staff that remained also would need encouragement and psychological counselling, since they would be plagued with emotions ranging from guilt for still having a work; uncertainty and apprehension as to when the next set of lay-offs would occur and mistrust if the news was given to them abruptly.
Enterprises should follow best practices to allow employees to view their organisational culture; their view of their environmental response - in general their corporate responsibility, which, if handled with an audience-centered approach would proactively address those situations that would adversely affect its staff, and society in general. Many companies attempt to set up profiles on the Internet that allow online visitors and prospective employees to evaluate the maturity of their social responsibility and compare the services and products offered with global equivalence.
The world has now become a global village and the speed with which information travels makes it imperative that executives given to the management of human resources do so with a high degree of professionalism and sensitivity, since the audience that is catered to is not only local or regional, but international as well; therefore the benchmarks used in evaluating companies transcend local and regional practices.
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