Organizational Communication: Fad, Fiction or Fact?

By Schonfelder, Valerie | Communication World, June-July 1998 | Go to article overview
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Organizational Communication: Fad, Fiction or Fact?

Schonfelder, Valerie, Communication World

What do you get when you cross a monkey, an alligator and a bird? It can fly, it can swim and swing through trees. Well, that's what it feels like to work in the field of organisational communication (OC) sometimes.

OC is one of the buzzworks in our profession. Is it really something new and different? Or, is it the same old stuff with a few tweaks, new wrapping, ribbons and bells?

I imagine many sceptics are thinking, "Oh no, another buzzword to follow Downsizing, Rightsizing, Restructuring, Reengineering, and now - Organisational Communication. Worse, they want to give it an acronym - OC." (It does save space - we'll see if it sticks!)

OC is real, it is exciting and it is very different from traditional internal or employee communication. Don't miss the train because it is difficult to understand how different it is.

The good news is, it is not too late. Most companies don't have the direction decided, the tracks laid, the train to put on them, nor the drivers. You have a chance to be there from the very beginning! OC is an opportunity to influence your organisation's behaviour and culture.

OC is becoming an area of expertise, like public relations, advertising, organisational development and journalism. I do not believe it is a fad on its way in or out, but an area of expertise that is evolving as a consequence of the rapid cultural changes taking place in most organisations and our society as a whole.

Creating a Communication Culture

OC is a holistic approach to communication within an organisation. It assumes that everyone is involved in, and responsible for, communication. OC's focus is on the behaviours and processes needed to create an effective "communication culture" in an organisation. An effective communication culture will ensure the proactive exchange of knowledge, opinions, ideas, by everyone in an organisation. The effect should include faster decision making, increased productivity and allow that old buzzword, empowerment, to actually happen.

Several studies have shown that managers, for example, spend 70-80 percent of their time communicating, depending on which study you read. Communication time can be meetings, writing, on the phone, chatting in the corridors, doing performance reviews, and more.

Imagine, being able to influence that much of someone's day.

But what is it?

OC is kind of a cross between internal communication, human resources, and facilitator. (Don't even try to figure out which one can swim, fly or swing!)

The following dialogue is an example of what could be a focus group discussion or interview from any of the companies we have done OC assessments for. It gives you an idea of what OC experts look for. The dialogue is simplified and only includes the deeper discussions regarding one train of thought. A real discussion would have explored all of the different avenues raised. Many of you may have participated in similar discussion.


Question: What are some barriers to effective communication?

Answer 1: Managers and supervisors don't communicate weft or at all.

Questions Why? (Repeated often)

Answer 2: Because they don't:

* want to

* know how, have the skills

* think it's part of their job

* have the time

Question: Why?

Answer 3: Because they:

* have other things to do

* communication is not a priority

* don't consider it important

* have other priorities

Questions Why?

Answer 4: Because:

* they are told what their priorities are

* communication is not high on the list

* they are evaluated on other priorities

* it's not one of their objectives

* they are paid for other objectives and tasks

When you dig deeply with the why question and you start going in circles, you may have found a root cause.

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Organizational Communication: Fad, Fiction or Fact?


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