Organizational Size, Company Type, and Position Effects on the Perceived Importance of Oral and Written Communication Skills

Article excerpt

Researchers and practitioners have long recognized communication skills are critical to job performance, career advancement, and organizational success (Aranoff, 1989; Eckert and Allen, 1986; Harper, 1987; Joyce, 1991). According to Casady and Wayne (1993), communication skills are becoming increasingly important in a variety of occupations. Their study found 10,000 job positions requesting communication skills. Previous research has examined relationships among many dimensions of communication skills and employee performance. Scudder and Guinan (1989) found communication competencies to be strongly related to supervisory perceptions of overall subordinate job performance. Curtis, Winsor, and Stephens (1989) found communication competencies to be key factors in entry-level business jobs and subsequent success on the job. Chief executive officers, middle managers, first-level managers, and business school deans have consistently identified written and oral communication skills as important for business success and professional advancement (Andrews and Baird, 1986; Bennett and Olney, 1986; Harper, 1987; Porter and McKibbin, 1988).

Despite the importance of communication skills, researchers have found significant deficiencies among employees (Bednar and Olney, 1987). Increasingly, employers are offering communication training to meet management development needs and to enhance the productivity of employees (Moore and Mulcahy, 1991; Leslie, 1986). Concurrently, in response to needs identified by employers of their graduates, business schools have begun to address the quality and quantity of written and oral communication skill development in their curricula (Eckert and Allen, 1986; Smeltzer and Gebert, 1986).

Written Communication Skills

Many studies have focused exclusively on written communication. Brostrom (1983) concluded writing skills were critical for accountants' success. Rader and Wunsch (1980) found both accounting and finance-related jobs require individuals to spend one-fourth or more of their time writing.

Kirtz and Reep (1990) found managerial, technical, social service, and clerical employees spending 20 to 60 percent of their time on writing tasks. Most of these employees indicated writing was either critically important or very important to their job performance. In addition, many respondents identified effective writing as a critical or very important determinant of promotability.

Previous research suggests writing skill needs may differ across employment situations. Quible (1991) undertook a study to determine how business employees perceived the importance of writing competencies in (a) various employer categories, (b) various major areas of business and industry, and (c) organizations of varying size. His study concluded that a number of writing competencies were perceived by business employees as very important in preparing a variety of business documents. These employees perceived certain competencies as very important independent of the type of business or industry in which they worked. Employer category, major area, and size of the organization affected the perceived importance of other written communication competencies.

Oral Communication Skills

Prior research has consistently identified oral communication as a critical component for managerial success (Bennett and Olney, 1986; Maddox, 1990; Smeltzer and Gebert, 1986; Wilmington, 1989). Recent college graduates ranked oral communication skills as more important to job success than written communication skills (Bednar and Olney, 1987).

Maddox (1990) found the more formal education first-line managers had, the more importance they placed on oral communication skills. Seymour (1989) found oral communication skills to be a key factor in the selection and appraisal of first-line managers due to the communication intensity of their jobs.

Seymour identified the following key oral communication needs: conducting performance appraisal, speaking in front of groups, counseling, listening, giving instructions, conducting meetings, interviewing, solving problems within groups, consulting with superiors, using the telephone correctly, and dictating properly. …