Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Communication Audits and the Effects of Increased Information: A Follow-Up Study

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Communication Audits and the Effects of Increased Information: A Follow-Up Study

Article excerpt

Communication audits have now been featured in the literature for 50 years, and many audit approaches have been evaluated. However, follow-up studies designed to chart the actual impact that an audit makes upon communication performance have not been reported. Rather, audits are typically presented as one-shot events, whose impact is not measured. It is as if the audit is an end in itself rather than part of a process of measurement and performance improvement. This paper is therefore timely because it employs a follow-up audit to track the effects of an initial audit upon a major health care organization. The findings do not support the view that the frequently expressed desire of staff for greater communication is a metamyth, and that an increased flow of information simply produces a demand for more. Rather, and consistent with the precepts of Uncertainty Reduction Theory the provision of information reduced uncertainty and generated increased satisfaction with communication processes. The results from thi s study also illustrate how the audit can play a useful role in an organization's communication strategy.

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Effective communication is central to business success, and as such, should form an integral part of the strategic planning process for all organizations. Where organizational communication is poor the outcomes tend to be, inter alia, lower staff commitment, reduced production, greater absenteeism, increased industrial unrest, and higher turnover (Hargie, Dickson & Tourish, 1999). It follows that communication systems and practices must be carefully designed, implemented and evaluated (Barker & Camarata, 1998). The first step in developing a coherent communication strategy is to ascertain the state of an organization's communicative health. It is necessary to discover fundamental themes in current practice, and then develop, articulate and achieve strategic goals for the future (Clampitt, DeKoch & Cashman, 2000). Above all, managers need to know how well their communication systems are currently functioning. Some accountability is needed for the flow of organizational communication. At the practical level, th is means that if vital information is not reaching its target audiences, then the blockages in the communication channels need to be identified and dealt with (Tourish & Hargie, 1996).

Systems must therefore be put in place to chart the organization's communicative functioning. Communication audits have been the key means of achieving this outcome. Discussions of communication audits emerged in the general academic literature in the early 1950s (Odiorne, 1954), and their use has frequently been urged for business, public relations and human resources practitioners (e.g. Campbell, 1982; Kopec, 1982; Stanton, 1981; Strenski, 1984). Their role has also been stressed in not for profit organizations (Lauer, 1996) and as an important ingredient of strategic marketing in the healthcare sector (Hargie & Tourish, 1996). The value of the communication audit as a pedagogic instrument in the teaching of management communication has been asserted (Conaway, 1994; Shelby & Reinsch, 1996; Scott et al., 1999a). Communication audits have also been recognized as a valuable ingredient of general employee audits (Jennings et al., 1990) and in corporate assessment (Furnham & Gunter, 1993). Part of the role of a udits has been to assess what has been defined as communication climate. Climate is generally conceived as relating to supportiveness (between managers and their staff); participative decision making; trust, confidence and credibility, openness and candor; and high performance goals (e.g. the extent to which performance goals are clearly communicated to those charged with their achievement) (Goldhaber, 1993). Audits can be utilized to explore the nature of communication climate and its impact on wider organizational functioning. …

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