Any attempt to emphasise the importance of communication in modern day existence, clichéd as it may sound, is bound to be superfluous. In all probability, human life would cease to exist in its present form if communication were to be taken out of the picture. Communication helps humans in a myriad ways, by defining their identities and in satisfying their needs for affection, inclusion, assertion, relaxation and control. It is necessary at all waking hours; during work and at play. It is essential for gaining knowledge and building relationships, for doing daily tasks, and for achieving progress in life. Over the years extensive research, by social scientists and human relations experts, has given rise to an extensive body of literature on the subject. It is the purpose of this essay to take up the issue of communication within organisations and groups; evaluate its functions, and analyse its importance.
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All organisations, large or small, business, governmental or not for profit, have agendas that could range from the very complex to the extremely simple. Communication is a demanding organisational issue and vitally important to organizational functioning for the execution of these agendas, regardless of size, nature or industry type. Professor Leif Aberg (1998) of the Department of Communication, University of Helsinki states that communication gives these organisations momentum by fulfilling four basic functions, namely (a) supporting core functions, (b) profiling, (c) informing and (d) socialising. While the relative importance and scope of these four functions depends, to a great extent upon the size and nature of individual organisations, all four functions, taken together, undoubtedly account for most of the formal communication that occurs within organisations.
Core functions of different organisations could range from manufacturing products to providing services; or as is the case with many governmental bodies, executing administrative work. Core processes, irrespective of their nature, can occur only through effective communication between organisational members. Communication can be top down, bottom up, horizontal or diagonal. Again it can relate to any or more of the issues involved in the carrying out of core functions. Incidences of such communication can occur in multifarious ways and can vary from production instructions given to a machine attendant to the distribution of work schedules by a supervisor or the routing of a customer order to the kitchen of a restaurant. Ineffective communication results in the creation of intra-organisational barriers and stifles efficient operations. Effective communication between the management and the workforce has, as such, become an accepted imperative for organisational excellence, and breakdowns in this area are inevitably regarded as issues of major concern
Profiling comes into play when long term corporate, product, service, or manager profiles are created. These profiles basically relate to crucial strategic choices made by organisations concerning their long term goals and objectives. A long term product or service profile, for example, represents the business strategy of an organisation. It would thus necessarily need to be communicated to all members of the organisations to make them aware about key organisational decisions and road maps.
The dissemination of information within an organisation is another key component of organisational communication structure. Very typically, significant amounts of information are regularly processed within an organisation. These can (a) relate to events as well as developments that are internal or external to the organisation, or (b) concern organisational decisions taken at senior levels. Such information may need to be conveyed to members of the establishment. Decisions to communicate this sort of information are usually taken by members of senior management in consultation with communication managers. Recent developments in Internet Communication Technology, for example, could be of interest to all members of a communications company. In such a case, the communications manager might well decide to select and convey information that could be relevant to the employees or which pertains to developments that could well impact the company in the short or medium term. Information about internal decisions could cover a very broad ambit and possibly include details about organisational performance, targets, personnel policies, promotions, increments and the like. It is imperative to ensure that real time business information reaches all ranks and functions in the organization. Considering the bulk of such information, it is thus but appropriate that the majority of communication matters within organisations deal primarily with dissemination of routine information.
The last regular function of communication concerns socialisation. Socialisation is primarily a process wherein members of an organisation or group learn to assimilate and internalise the behavioural norms, attitudes, thought processes and work ethics of the parent body. In most cases socialisation occurs when new entrants join organisations and take up their responsibilities. Its need could arise for existing organisational members too if they have to be transferred to different locations or departments. Socialisation is essentially a learning process and could be needed, both at the time of induction of employees into an organisation, or at the time of their induction to work. It is one of the primarily responsibilities of the Human Resources function and normally takes place through training and induction protocols. These protocols are obviously dependent on communication through written, audiovisual, personal interaction, mentoring, or classroom mediums for their actual operation.
Apart from these four standard functions, informal communication takes place constantly within organisations and groups and serves to increase social interaction between colleagues and co-workers; thereby helping in building relationships, inculcating feelings of belonging and strengthening organisational loyalty and commitment. The British Army, for example, encourages officers to get together at regimental messes, after the days work, to bond and build relationships of trust, regimental pride, camaraderie, and loyalty towards the country and the Queen. Informal communication takes place, most commonly between people who share the same workplace, as well as within small groups who build relationships in canteens, office gyms and during informal group activity events. While this type of communication is generally outside the administrative control of organisation, most organisational leaders try to ensure that informal communication remains healthy, or rather, that it does not disparage anybody. Most HR managers feel that informal communication should protect the interests of the organisation and remain free of gender or race abuse.
Communication is not thought of any more as a routine and peripheral function. Its role as a driver of organisational success is well accepted and managements are increasingly trying to ensure its optimal use in the shaping and steering of organisations. Richard Luss and Steven Nice (2004) of Watson Wyatt state that communication serves organisations in two major ways. Firstly it drives superior performance by ensuring the following.
- Employees feel connected to the business and understand how their actions can support it.
- New employees exhibit solid connections to the company culture starting from their initial days on the job.
- Communication quickly connects employees to changing business challenges, facilitating faster adjustments to fluctuating market conditions.
- Management effectively connects with employees through strong leadership during times of organizational change
Secondly, it helps in improving business performance by “(a) building a strong foundation of formal communication structure and processes, which rely on employee feedback and effectively use technology to connect with employees, dealing directly with the strategic issues of change, continuous improvement and business strategy integration and alignment, and (b) by changing employee behavior by inducing changes in managers’ and supervisors’ behavior and by creating a line of sight between employees and customers” (Luss and Nice, 2004)
The challenges of modern business and the intense and ever-increasing competition that have become its distinguishing features demand sharp and cutting edge operational efficiencies. The use of excellent communication is proving to be one of the most effective tools in the hands of organisational leadership for routing their companies towards ambitious targets and greater successes.
Aberg, L, (1998), Organisational communication as a strategic resource, Retrieved January 10, 2007 from www.valt.helsinki.fi/staff/aberg/iabclast/
Harris, T. E. (2002). Applied Organizational Communication: Principles and Pragmatics for Future Practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Kramer, M. W. (2004). Managing Uncertainty in Organizational Communication. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Luss, R and Nyce, S, (2004), Connecting Organizational Communication to Financial Performance: The Methodology behind the 2003/2004 Communication ROI Study, Retrieved January 10, 2007 from www.ociabc.org/events/presentations/ROI_Study_Methodology.pdf
Manning, P. K. (1992). Organizational Communication. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Tourish, D. & Hargie, O. (Eds.). (2004). Key Issues in Organizational Communication. New York: Routledge.
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