The value of communication

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In today's knowledge economy the most valuable commodity is communication. Demonstrating that sound internal communication activities within an organisation have a positive impact on its outward performance is the starting point for this dissertation.

As globalization continues apace and customer expectations rise, internal communication will play an increasingly pivotal role in defining leading organisations from the also-rans. Indeed, for many companies in mature or declining marketplaces a robust internal communication strategy offers one last source of competitive advantage in aiding the eternal drive for greater efficiency.

Although research in this field is now growing it is only in the past 20 years that commercial enterprises have begun placing greater emphasis on internal communication as a strategic function within their organisations. In 2004 global communication consultants Watson Wyatt published the most definitive study to date (subsequently updated year-on-year) linking organisational communication to financial performance. The ROI study found that a significant improvement in communication levels is associated with an increase in market value of up to 29.5%. Companies with the highest levels of effective internal communication experienced a +26 percent total return to shareholders from 1998 to 2002, compared to a -15 percent return experienced by firms that communicated least effectively.

Internal Communication

internal communication is the act of imparting the wider business picture to all or a specific part of an organisation's employees from the top down. A more contemporary perspective defines internal communication as a bilateral exchange of information, ideas and feelings that generates positive dialogue and action throughout organisational ranks.internal communication activities focus on better informing and engaging an organisation's workforce. The way in which such news and information is received, discussed and acted upon by employees will ultimately have a positive or negative influence on business performance. Employees that feel better informed about their organisation become more personally involved in the business generating higher quality work. In fact, as well as higher quality, Clampitt & Downs (1993) identify the business benefits of internal communication as being improved productivity; reduced absenteeism; increased levels of innovation; fewer strikes and reduced costs.

In practice employees do not receive their information in the same way. Individuals are different so a balanced suite of communication channels is required to best serve the broad needs of an entire organisation. These channels can be incredibly diverse. A ACAS advisory booklet on Employee Communications and Consultation (2004) identifies 15 general communication methods. These range from direct, spoken channels such as cascade team briefing systems, conferences and management roadshows, through to indirect, written or audio-visual methods such as staff magazines, intranets and DVDs. Like any operational process internal communication channels are numerous and highly dynamic. They vary depending on the shape and culture of the organisation.

The concept of the 'communication escalator' (Quirke, 1995) demonstrates the role a balanced range of internal communication channels have to play in developing employee awareness. Working together these channels can influence employee action in the form of positive behavioural change.

Context for Organizational Change and Development

Change is possible; the need for change is increasing; change capability is necessary for the organizations that will succeed in the future. So say the respondents to my survey about change management success.

Change management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome.

Change management incorporates the organizational tools that can be utilized to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption and realization of change.

In fact, internal and external consultants, and organization development, training, facilitation and human resources professionals responded in a fairly consistent voice. (The one underrepresented group was line managers--I'll find ways to tap their ideas in the future.) Change is not going away; change is manageable; organizations can do change well. I looked for patterns and trends in the responses, and provide them here for you.

Successful change management requires:

  • effective communication,
  • full and active executive support,
  • employee involvement,
  • organizational planning and analysis and
  • widespread perceived need for the change.

These are the big five when successful change is achieved.

Implementing your change in an organizational environment that is already employee-oriented, with a high level of trust, is a huge plus. Understanding and responding to the range of human emotions during times of intense change, is also cited as critical. All of this may sound straightforward, but your suggestions about how to do each of these successfully are priceless.

Communication Is Key in Change Management

Communication is one of the toughest issues in organizations. Effective communication requires four components interworking perfectly for "shared meaning," my favorite definition of communication.

  • The individual sending the message must present the message clearly and in detail, and radiate integrity and authenticity.
  • The person receiving the message must decide to listen, ask questions for clarity, and trust the sender of the message.
  • The delivery method chosen must suit the circumstances and the needs of both the sender and the receiver.
  • Appoint an executive champion who "owns" the change management process and makes certain other senior managers, as well as other appropriate people in the organization, are involved.
  • Be honest and worthy of trust. Treat people with the same respect you expect from them.
  • The content of the message has to resonate and connect, on some level, with the already-held beliefs of the receiver.

With all of this going on in a communication, I think it's a wonder that organizations ever do it well.

Change management practitioners have provided a broad range of suggestions about how to communicate well during any organizational changes.

Build Support for Effective Change Management

  • Provide as much information as possible, to as many employees as possible, about the business. Share financial information, customer feedback, employee satisfaction survey results, industry projections and challenges, and data from processes you measure.
  • Assuming decisions about needed change are made based on relevant data, an informed workforce will understand and agree with the need for change. (They may not agree on the how and/or what, but you are miles ahead if you have agreement on the why and the whether.)
  • Create an urgency around the need to change. Project, for your workforce, what will happen if you don't make the needed changes. Communicate this information honestly and use data whenever it is available. You do have compelling reasons for making the changes? Right?
  • Spend extra time and energy working with your front line supervisory staff and line managers to ensure that they understand, can communicate about, and support the changes. Their action and communication are critical in molding the opinion of the rest of your workforce.
  • Align all organizational systems to support needed changes. These include the performance management system, rewards and recognition, disciplinary approaches, compensation, promotions, and hiring. A consistency across all Human Resources systems will support faster change.
  • Align the informal structures and networks in your organization with the desired changes. If you can tap into the informal communication and political network, you will increase change commitment. (As an example, eat lunch in the lunchroom and discuss the changes informally. Spend extra time communicating the positive aspects of the change to people you know are "key communicators" in your organization.)

Help employees feel as if they are involved in a change management process that is larger than themselves by taking these actions to effectively involve employees in change management.

Change Management and Employee Communication Strategies

By Marcia Xenitelis in Business if your employee communication strategy to communicate change focuses on stakeholder communication plans, an intranet site, CEO forums and Staff Information Bulletins via email stop right there. Your efforts are focused on information, not communication and the likelihood of engaging employees in change is remote.

My interest in employee communication is to distinguish between the tools communicators use that inform and those strategies that engage employees and therefore impact business outcomes. The concern is that there seems to be confusion in the market place where roles are advertised for "Change Managers" when the organization is really looking for an internal communication professional not a change practitioner.

An internal communication professional focuses on tools to impart information and in some cases create dialogue including:

  • the corporate intranet
  • staff information bulletins
  • emails
  • providing information for managers to brief their teams face to face
  • organizing staff forums for the CEO
  • briefing kits for supervisors and team leaders

Planning and Analysis in Change Management

Turn the change vision into an overall plan and timeline, and plan to practice forgiveness when the timeline encounters barriers. Solicit input to the plan from people who "own" or work on the processes that are changing.

Gather information about and determine ways to communicate the reasons for the changes. These may include the changing economic environment, customer needs and expectations, vendor capabilities, government regulations, population demographics, financial considerations, resource availability and company direction.

Plan the communication of the change. People have to understand the context, the reasons for the change, the plan and the organization's clear expectations for their changed roles and responsibilities. Nothing communicates expectations better than improved measurements and rewards and recognition.

Be honest and worthy of trust. Treat people with the same respect you expect from them.

Effective change management can help you successfully implement any change necessary for your future prosperity and profitability.

Managers to Be Successful at Organizational Change

Managing change is the responsibility of everyone in the corporation-from senior managers on down.

Significant organizational change occurs, for example, when an organization changes its overall strategy for success, adds or removes a major section or practice, and/or wants to change the very nature by which it operates. It also occurs when an organization evolves through various life cycles, just like people must successfully evolve through life cycles. For organizations to develop, they often must undergo significant change at various points in their development.

Leaders and managers continually make efforts to accomplish successful and significant change -- it's inherent in their jobs. Some are very good at this effort (probably more than we realize), while others continually struggle and fail. That's often the difference between people who thrive in their roles and those that get shuttled around from job to job, ultimately settling into a role where they're frustrated and ineffective. There are many schools with educational programs about organizations, business, leadership and management. Unfortunately, there still are not enough schools with programs about how to analyze organizations, identify critically important priorities to address (such as systemic problems or exciting visions for change) and then undertake successful and significant change to address those priorities. This Library topic aims to improve that situation.

Change Management Recommendations

Now that you have some context for the changes experienced by the study respondents, these are the factors they experienced that increased their organization's success with change management. Each participant did not cite all of these; I am highlighting those change management factors most frequently mentioned.

More rigorous studies of change management success and failure are required to assess the impact of each of these actions, but, I believe, the results of my change management survey provide you with great guidance as you embark upon your desired change.

Additionally, each of these factors does not occur separately from the others. They do not occur in a predictable sequence. In other words, portions of "Executive Support and Leadership" are usually happening while "Organization Planning and Analysis" is underway. You will also find overlap across all areas.

Recommendations About Communication for Effective Change Management

Develop a written communication plan to ensure that all of the following occur within your change management process.

  • Communicate consistently, frequently, and through multiple channels, including speaking, writing, video, training, focus groups, bulletin boards, Intranets, and more about the change.
  • Communicate all that is known about the changes, as quickly as the information is available. (Make clear that your bias is toward instant communication, so some of the details may change at a later date. Tell people that your other choice is to hold all communication until you are positive about the decisions. This is disastrous in effective change management.
  • Provide significant amounts of time for people to ask questions, request clarification, and provide input. If you have been part of a scenario in which a leader presented changes, on overhead transparencies, to a large group, and then fled, you know what bad news this is for change integration.
  • Clearly communicate the vision, the mission, and the objectives of the change management effort. Help people to understand how these changes will affect them personally. (If you don't help with this process, people will make up their own stories, usually more negative than the truth.)
  • Recognize that true communication is a "conversation." It is two-way and real discussion must result. It cannot be just a presentation.
  • The change leaders or sponsors need to spend time conversing one-on-one or in small groups with the people who are expected to make the changes.
  • Communicate the reasons for the changes in such a way that people understand the context, the purpose, and the need. Practitioners have called this: "building a memorable, conceptual framework," and "creating a theoretical framework to underpin the change."
  • Provide answers to questions only if you know the answer. Leaders destroy their credibility when they provide incorrect information or appear to stumble or back-peddle, when providing an answer. It is much better to say you don't know, and that you will try to find out.
  • Leaders need to listen. Avoid defensiveness, excuse-making, and answers that are given too quickly. Act with thoughtfulness.
  • Make leaders and change sponsors available, daily when possible, to mingle with others in the workplace.
  • Hold interactive workshops and forums in which all employees can explore the changes together, while learning more. Use training as a form of interactive communication and as an opportunity for people to safely explore new behaviors and ideas about change and change management. All levels of the organization must participate in the same sessions.
  • Communication should be proactive. If the rumor mill is already in action, the organization has waited too long to communicate.
  • Provide opportunities for people to network with each other, both formally and informally, to share ideas about change and change management.
  • Publicly review the measurements that are in place to chart progress in the change management and change efforts.
  • Publicize rewards and recognition for positive approaches and accomplishments in the changes and change management. Celebrate each small win publicly.


Organizations undertake change in order to improve performance - through reduced costs, improved efficiencies, increased revenue, better utilized employees, reduced risk exposure, etc. To improve performance, changes must be made to the processes, systems organization structures or job roles - and ultimately these changes impact how people do their jobs. For these changes to be successful, they must be managed from a technical perspective using project management and from a people perspective using change management.

The better we can separate out and define change management, project management and "the change" - the more success change efforts will have. Think about what each component is trying to achieve (see the table below) - this is the best way to tell someone else what change management is, and how it is related to "the change" and project management