Why do organizations at times communicate in incomprehensible jargon, with inconsistent terminology or empty buzzwords, and in a bureaucratic, impersonal style? Do they not have talented, committed communicators, or are there other, organizational factors at work? If so, which organizational pitfalls can lead to unclear corporate communication, and how can they be avoided?
In the January-February 2012 issue of Communication World, we presented results from the study Complex to Clear and looked at the drivers of complex communication. The report, produced in partnership with the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, and with the support of the IABC Research Foundation, identified the elements that make a message CLEAR--providing a context, structuring messages logically, focusing on essential elements and removing ambiguity, and creating resonance with the target audience through examples, visuals and stories.
But there's more to it. Poor corporate communication is often the result of organizational dysfunction. Unlike freelance or independent professionals, corporate communicators work closely with their peers, subordinates and superiors, and rely heavily on them to provide information and feedback. While collaboration is certainly beneficial, the interdependent nature of the communication role can affect the clarity of messages. Corporate communicators may not have full control--or the final say--over messages dealing with complex issues (for example, with legal implications), or they may be pressured by other departments to include superfluous, inconsistent or simply confusing elements.
Using case studies for a variety of organizations, researchers from the Institute for Media and Communication Management at the University of St. Gallen have documented a number of typical problems, along with their root causes and countermeasures. Recognizing whether your organization suffers from any of these patterns can provide a good starting point for improvements.
1. Too many cooks
Imagine (or recall) a press release or strategy briefing created with the involvement of multiple departments, each with equal power over the final document. The individual sections are inconsistent, overlap and have different styles because of the different people who produced and submitted them. The result is a confusing document that strays from its core message.
Example: Unclear, "cut-and-paste" …