Communications within my organisation – The Revenue Commissioners
This author has been employed in the Revenue Commissioners since 2003. In that time, I have been assigned firstly to the Collector General’s Division for five years and then to the Customs Division for the following ten years. Since December 2017, on promotion, I have been re-assigned to the Collector General’s Division. In the past fifteen years, I have witnessed and been a part of a changing environment within the Revenue Commissioners communications models. In this report, I will attempt to outline my experiences of the variety of communications with Revenue, the strengths of communications, any barriers to effective communications, the impact of information technology on communications and I will conclude with recommendations for improvement of communications.
Organisational structure and communications
At the end of 2017, there was 6,372 people employed within Revenue (Revenue.ie, 2018). These staff are divided amongst many levels of management and across sixteen divisions. Each division reports to a specific Commissioner who is responsible for the organisational performance for the division below them. There are three Commissioners (Revenue.ie, 2018). The volume of information that needs to be communicated within the organisation is vast, both internally within the organisation and externally to customers and other government agencies.
Revenue has established a mission for external communications which is the External Communications Strategy. The purpose of Revenue’s External Communications Strategy is to make sure that:
- We communicate clearly with our stakeholders
- We give our customers clear, timely and understandable information so that they can be voluntarily tax compliant.
- The consequences of non-compliance are understood.
This promotes the values of transparency, clarity and efficiency in Revenue’s communications to the public. Revenue utilises many media to communicate; websites, briefings, email, phone contact, Revenue-Online-Service (ROS), letters and forms, radio and television advertisements. This method of communication allows for the organisation to gain trust and to provide clarity to the receivers. It encourages engagement from the public. The ability of the organisation to engage effectively with its audience ensures effective voluntary compliance and self-assessment from taxpayers. In 2017, Ireland was the most effective country in the EU in which to pay business taxes and 4th most effective worldwide (Pwc.com, 2018)
For communication of corporate information, policy and changes within the organisation, Revenue has a specific branch known as the Communications and Knowledge Management Branch. One specific responsibility for this unit is the management and administration of the main communications medium, RevNET. This is an Intranet within Revenue. It has a vast amount of information available to all staff. It allows staff to access operational procedures, legislation, policies and the corporate layout of senior management.
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As with any organisation, Revenue’s management has to effectively communicate with its staff and in return its staff must communicate effectively with management. In 2017, Revenue introduced its “Employee Engagement Charter” (Appendix 1). This charter lays out a plan for engagement and communication between staff and the organisation. This is a template for an effective relationship between staff and the organisation. Practically every element in this charter requires an element of communication in all directions, laterally, upwards and downwards. This communication occurs in many styles:
Computer Mediated Communications (CMC)
According to Susan C. Herring (1996), Computer Mediated Communication is “communication that takes place between human brings via the instrumentality of computers”. In the modern era, computers would also define smart phones, tablets and similar communication devices as computers and they have constant communication abilities. Within Revenue, e-mail would have to the most common means of communication, allowing the one message to be communicated to one or many recipients. Email is instant and currently allows for the delivery of attachments, files, meeting requests and it also links to the users calendar, assisting with planning and time management. Email also allows for planned prose. The use of email creates an opportunity also for subordinates in an organisation to communicate with higher management without a high level of anxiety or fear. Within Revenue, most staff are at their desks and communicate mainly with email. The drawbacks attached to email however, is that accessibility to other members within the organisation is greater now. Customs officers now have smart phones assigned to them so that they can provide twenty four hour cover. With email access on these phones, they are now accessible at all times, whether they want to or not. Security is a risk to organisations now with cyber attacks. With more staff with access to email, the risk of attack is greater and therefore, a greater emphasis is placed on security, especially with the high income of emails from the public every day. The ease of emails and the frequency of their use have also reduced the instances for interpersonal and face to face communication. A fault of this is that individuals lose their skills for interpersonal communication and due to this, text in an email can be misinterpreted.
This style of communication occurs within the organisation, amongst colleagues, manager and staff, staff and the public and manager to manager. This style of communication is usually on a one to one basic and is done in person, over the phone or today, can be done over video calls. Interpersonal communication can be defined as having the following characteristics:
- communication from one individual to another
- communication which is face-to-face
- both the form and content of the communication reflect the personal characteristics of the individuals as well as their social roles and relationships (Hartley, 1993)
It can also take many forms, speech, body language, hand gestures, but it is always two-way communication, that is, the transmission and the receiving of a message. Someone to tell the message, and someone to listen to the message. What is important to realise is that this style of communication can be misinterpreted. Hartley (1993) implies that it is not just the message that is transmitted but the meaning also:
“There must be some shared meaning for there to be any communication at all! If we all lived in completely unique and idiosyncratic “perceptual worlds” we could not talk to one another. There would be no basis for any language system to work. It may be difficult for you to understand how I interpret particular events (and vice versa) but I could explain my interpretation to you, given sufficient time and patience.”
This emphasises the meaning for clarity in transmission of the message, and the need for a full understanding of the message by the receiver. Within Revenue, colleagues in the same unit or group would have a better understanding of messages being transmitted between one another. Once the message is being transmitted outside a group with a common task, the message needs to have more clarity and perhaps, further explanation for the full message to be received.
Small Group Communication.
Many of the departments in Revenue are made up of teams or sections of four to fourteen staff, which would have two to three layers of management. It is common therefore for a section to have a monthly or bi-monthly communications meeting. This is an opportunity for members of a team to measure their performance and monitor their progress according to the goals set out in the section’s business plan. The section manager sets out the agenda for the meeting. This would comprise of communication down from senior management and recording feedback for communication back up from the section to senior management. It provides the group to look at any issues within the section and bring forward ideas and suggestions to help with the organisation and planning of operations in the section. A duty I had within Customs in Revenue was to plan and organise surveillance operations. I need to assign roles to members within a team and give a briefing on the operation, outlining the objectives and methods to be used in the task. I had to communicate with clarity and without misunderstanding. After the operation, I would then debrief the team on what had occurred and what would be the next step. It was an opportunity for the team to collaborate and provide feedback on the operation. The example I have outlined would demonstrate the small-group communication definition as provided by Myers and Anderson (2008), “Three or more people working interdependently for the purpose of accomplishing a task”. This example and the communication meetings carried out by most sections within Revenue contain similar threads. Boddy (2008) outlines the how these briefings allow managers to:
- Deliver a consistent message
- Involve line managers personally in delivering the message
- Deliver the message to many people quickly
- Reduce possible distortion by “the grapevine”
- Enable staff to ask questions.
Impact of Information Technology on Communications.
The Revenue Commissioners has a very strong ethos when utilising information technology and makes the best uses available to it. The main developments in the communications methods used by Revenue is in the area of e-government. Van den Hooff, and Van de Wijngaert, (2005) give a broad definition of e-government as:
“The use government makes of ICT – of which the internet is a part – in its public tasks and underlying work processes, provision of services and interaction with stakeholders, for instance citizens.”
With the introduction of Revenue On-Line Service (ROS) in July 2003, Revenue has provided a platform for taxpayers to make on-line returns, payments and view their accounts. It changed the thinking of taxpayers from the idea that tax returns and payments are only something that qualified accountants can do, to the idea that, “I can do this myself”. It enabled taxpayers to utilise other on-line services such as requesting statements, forms and guides, thus changing the methodology of communication from making phone calls to Revenue to going on-line. Taxpayers have become more dependent in their dealings with Revenue. More recently, with the advantages that smartphones give, Revenue has developed an application, RevApp.
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Internal communications has also become more effective due to the developments in information technology. For example, all written correspondence to staff in Revenue is now centrally scanned and then digitally assigned to the relevant manager, who in turn assigns it to the relevant staff member. Revenue developed the software to carry out this process. This has increased efficiency and speed of which written correspondence is dealt with.
Recommendations for improvement
In this report I have attempted to illustrate how effective communication is within my organisation. In fifteen years, I have seen a shift in more motivated staff moving from lower grades into management, bringing with them enthusiasm, modern ideas and a greater knowledge of current information technology. I have seen the paradigm shift in senior management, creating an Employee Engagement Charter to enable greater communications with the organisation and developing current information technology to allow greater communications with taxpayers. If I was to make any recommendations, it would be to continue with staff training to provide the ideas to make the organisation even better. Benton (2018), outlines the importance of having a skilled workforce,
Having a trained workforce means your workers are learning new skills that can improve production, cut time spent in creation of your product (or service), reduce production costs, reduce mistakes, build confidence in your workforce, and create a better working environment. An investment in your employees’ skill sets is an investment in your company. When everyone gets better, everyone gets better.
- Annual Report 2017 Revenue.ie. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/press-office/annual-report/2017/ar-2017.pdf [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].
- Boddy, D. (2008). Management : an introduction.. 4th ed. Prentice Hall, p.539.
- External Communications Strategy Revenue.ie. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/press-office/annual-report/2017/ar-2017.pdf [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].
- Hartley, P. (1993). Interpersonal communication. London: Routledge, p. 4
- Herring, S. (1996). Computer-mediated communication. John Benjamins Publishing, p.1.
- Office of the Revenue Commissioners – Senior Management Roles and Responsibilities Revenue.ie. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/documents/governance/revenue-senior-management-structures.pdf [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].
- Paying Taxes 2018 Pwc.com. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/paying-taxes/pdf/pwc_paying_taxes_2018_full_report.pdf?WT.mc_id=CT13-PL1300-DM2-TR2-LS1-ND30-TTA4-CN_payingtaxes-2018-intro-pdf-button [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].
- Myers, S. and Anderson, C. (2008). The fundamentals of small group communication. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, p.7.
- Van den Hooff, B. and Van de Wijngaert, L., (2005). Information and communication technology in organizations: adoption, implementation, use and effects. London: Sage Publications, p.
Revenue Employee Engagement Charter
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