Employees Who Are Working Are Communicating, and the Sum
Of All Their Communication Is What You Are As An Organization.
By Thomas J. Roach
Terms like public relations, community relations and public affairs are misleading, because they assume that communication is a component of the business system. Actually, communication is the business system.
People may be responsible for managing communication or assigned to generate specific kinds of communication, but all employees who are working are communicating, and the sum of all their communication is what you are as an organization.
Public relations first became a profession in the early 1900s. Journalists were hired away from newspapers and charged with negotiating with editors and writing and publishing favorable stories about the companies that hired them. Little was understood about business culture at the time, and communication seemed limited to messages sent to news media in the form of press releases and to potential customers in the form of advertising.
Preoccupation with finances and ignorance of the communication dimension led to the development of adversarial labor unions in the early part of the century and the quality crisis in American manufacturing in the 1970s. Most companies did whatever seemed profitable at the moment and sent their public relations people to fix any problems that erupted.
Businesses are Social Systems
Today we understand that businesses are social systems with distinct business cultures, and business cultures are composed of everything companies say through media releases, mission statements, and advertising, and everything their managers say to employees and that employees say to one another.
All the feedback that moves up the chain of command, and all the communicative symbols like raises, layoffs and corner offices are all forms of communication that function as cultural building blocks.
When one considers that money is always available for good ideas and that companies all draw from the same global pool of workers, communication and culture emerge as the determinant force distinguishing winners from losers in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
People at all levels of the organization chart provide labor, effort, decision-making and consistency. Information exchanged during employment interviews and employee reviews determines labor and effort. Information passed from supervisors to employees and feedback from customers to employees and employees to supervisors drives decision-making. And the overall fluidity of the communication matrix produces consistency and quality.
Because public relations offices were established first, the expanded role of communication in business has come to rest there. Essentially, the contemporary corporate public relations executive reports to the CEO and is responsible for the culture and reputation of the organization.
At forward-thinking companies, public relations departments may still send messages to news media and produce institutional collateral, but their role is much more expanded. They run advisory boards with community members, develop employee orientations, train managers to run meetings, manage suggestion boxes, conduct employee surveys, and run interactive intranet sites and social media.
Several theoretical models have been proposed for the practice of public relations, but the only valid model for this broad cultural application is systems theory. Systems theory holds that business systems are like biological organisms, and they need to adapt to their environments to prosper and survive.
Adaptation requires feedback from the environment. In business systems, the environment is people, or as we say in public relations, publics. The give and take of messages sent and the feedback provides a kind of adjustment rhythm called cybernetics.
An enlightened public relations department sends and receives messages for the organization, but also develops and implements communication processes throughout the organization to ensure that information passes in all directions and that all employees are able to make ongoing adjustments to meet corporate goals and to satisfy the needs of the internal and external publics around them.
All professionals are professional communicators. We are all practicing PR.
Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].