Making Communication Manageable

In An Open Communication Culture Information Freely Moves Up And Down The Organization And All Decisions Are Informed Ones.

By Thomas J. Roach

The communication construct has only two components: information and channels. Each of the components has two dimensions: what we have and what we need. A communication audit discovers what people know and what they need to know, and it discovers what channels they use and what channels they could use.

Much of what we learn from communication audits is the same for all companies. The channels almost always include meetings, email, websites, social media, traditional and digital advertising and marketing platforms, print and electronic news media, word-of-mouth and public speaking.

The information or messages that pass through the channels include identity and goal statements, principles that guide decision-making, announcements, employee and customer wants and needs, orientation, training, reward and recognition, small-talk and gossip and, most importantly, corrective adjustments.

If the key public groups are identified and questioned through interviews, focus groups and surveys, it is possible to build a picture of the current and potential networks of communication. One picture shows what people know and how they get their information, and the other shows what they need to know and how they could best access that information.

This may sound abstract and unobtainable, but it is not if you look at it one communication process at a time. Once the processes and potential processes have been listed, they can be addressed sequentially over a period of one or two years, and the result will be a new, more functional communication culture. After the channels of communication are installed and repaired, the information side of the equation takes care of itself.

Take meetings, for example. A communication audit might reveal that some meetings that should take place never happen, and conversely, other meetings that are unnecessary are called anyway. You may find that some meetings are erratic with no agenda or with the wrong items on the agenda, people who have vital information are not allowed to speak up, and decision-makers are not paying attention when they do.

A plan to fix these problems might include setting up a schedule of meetings for all workgroups, training for managers and a feedback system that allows senior management to monitor the meeting apparatus and replace middle managers who lack the skills to function as leaders.

The information needs should be automatically addressed if the meetings are held when needed, if everyone has a chance to contribute to the agenda and to raise issues and ask questions, and if managers are accountable for responding.

Just repairing this one channel could result in faster replacement of dysfunctional machinery, rapid response to safety issues and innovative problem-solving adjustments to procedures that lead to cost-savings, improved products and services and, ultimately, profit.

Of the two halves of the communication construct, information is most important. It drives decision-making and connects workers, management and customers. That is why it is prudent to audit information needs and problems. However, it is communication processes that transmit the information, so almost all of the adjustments resulting from a communication audit are to communication processes.

If an employee is not fully prepared to accomplish an assigned task, then getting information in the form of training to the employee solves that problem, but setting up a feedback-adjustment communication process, like a well-run workgroup meeting, will lead to solving that problem and many others as well.

The formula for change through communication auditing then is to identify key publics, ask them what they need to know and how they get their information, make a list of all the communication processes with recommended adjustments and start making the adjustments one at a time.

The result will be an open communication culture where information freely moves up and down the organization and where all decisions are informed ones.

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 Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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