Banking Giant Re-Defines Its Communication Mandate. Unusual Survey Technique Determines New Strategic Communication Planning for South African Financial Group

Article excerpt

Applied organisational communication was identified as one of the primary tools in the extensive development process currently under way a process encompassing a total rethink on job levels, skills development, rewards packages and the way the organisation will position itself to meet future prospects.

The ABSA group is one of Africa's largest financial service institutions. Its interests include commercial, merchant and international banking, insurance underwriting, brokerage and property services.

The organisation has 37,500 employees in executive, managerial, professional, administrative, technical and support capacities - a work force rich in diversity and expectations.

The change in the South African political climate, as well as the country's acceptance into the international financial arena, has brought plans for globalisation of ABSA's markets and interests.

In addition, a 1991 merger between two building organisations and a banking group brought together different cultures and attitudes. The complexities deepened when, a year later, another banking group was acquired.

Coupled with its extensive commitment to the country's reconstruction and development programme, ABSA is poised for an even more demanding future. A future that has to include ever increasing productivity and high-level commitment from the ABSA work force into the year 2000 and beyond.

Using strategic communication as a development tool

Executive management of the financial institution stressed the importance of the communication process in promoting understanding, buy-in and cooperation up front.

Specific initiatives

The purpose is to align both internal and external communication processes with the planned strategic direction of the entire organisation.

The communication function was restructured to include strategic communication development, internal and external communication, corporate affairs, media and public relations, and operational support.

Planning initiatives include improved internal customer service strategies, communication-practitioner skills alignment and training, management communication and ongoing measurement.

A structured process

The process embarked upon follows a standard organisational development procedure in terms of diagnosis, planning implementation and evaluation. This process kicked off by first addressing the internal climate before moving outwards to external customers and the general public.

The internal communication climate was diagnosed and constituent research, in terms of worker and management communication needs, completed. This comprehensive research will be used as benchmark for both needs-directed planning and future intervention, as well as future programme evaluation.

Modeled from the ground floor up

The internal communication research project took three months to complete. The research model was specifically for ABSA's needs, applying standard communication and organisational development theory.

This model was designed by a strategic communication development team in conjunction with a specialist research consultant, Stephanie Griffiths of Material Assistance Communication, Kenmare, South Africa, and is believed to be unique in methods of dimensions tested.

In constructing the survey, particular attention was paid to the demographic profile of the South African work force, a demographic tapestry rich in cultural and skills diversity.

The model is geared towards the servicing of internal client needs - both from a service and product point of view. The research consisted of three phases, run simultaneously.

In the first phase, valuable information was gathered through one-on-one interviews with key executives in the organisation.

Phase two focused on management and professional staff needs from the internal communication function to identify blockages in communicating effectively and to ascertain their own assessment of their individual management style. …