Frand and Helen are the senior managers in Perfect Solutions, a management consultancy. Over time, they have used the following to communicate with their staff of twenty people. The company is growing rapidly and employs one or more new people about every four months.
In the past, Frank and Helen have found the suggestion box useful as the staff have responded with some positive ideas. They value the ideas of individual employees and like to encourage them to contribute ideas. They feel that the more people can participate in planning and decision making, the more they will enjoy their work.
Frank and Helen also spend a lot of time preparing the in-house newsletter to pass on management information, gossip, and flattering features about staff. Every six months, Perfect Solutions organizes a party, picnic, or team sports activities to encourage the staff to mix socially.
Jane, one of the team leaders who reports to Frank, calls into his office for an informal chat. She mentions that other staff at her level feel isolated from the decision making. In their view, they have no input into decisions about new processes and changes. It is even difficult to make an input into standard procedures and patterns. People feel their views are ignored. Frank says that he and Helen use a suggestion box and newsletter and parties and picnics. Jane says that is fine but all that happens is “We are told what to do. We want to have frequent department meetings with general participation, and occasional plant-wide meetings at which the managing director might announce and explain company policies and plans. We want to be treated with respect, consideration, and understanding.”
Fidelity of Communication
Communication is important in any organizations. Effective Communications (1990) confirmed that communication is an organization’s lifeblood. Yet, almost all companies have communication issues to solve. Organizational communication is important to the development of the employees and companies alike. However, different organizations have different management and communication styles, and different problems that come with it.
Frand and Helen use an indirect approach to communicate with employees. They use a suggestion box to welcome comments and ideas, a newsletter to inform employees of current happenings, and socials to improve camaraderie, just like what other companies do. In communication, this is called the Ritual Model. According to Tamayo (2004), the ritual model uses symbols and representations to convey a message. These symbols may not mean anything for someone who is not familiar with them. For instance, a Christmas tree reminds one of Christmas, but it will not mean anything to someone who does not know what Christmas or a Christmas tree is. So what went wrong with Perfect Solutions’ use of ritual communication?
The employees do not understand what the suggestion box, newsletter, and socials are for. They know they can use them but they do not realize what they are for, and they were not told. Indirect communication approaches, such as the Ritual Model, work well only with high-fidelity encoders and decoders. With high fidelity encoder, we mean someone who can express the meaning of the message in its perfect sense. A high-fidelity decoder, on the other hand, can translate the message accurately (Berlo, 1960). With Frand and Helen’s situation, both encoders and decoders have low fidelity. The managers did not explain to the staff the channels they used to communicate, and the staff had no clue tat the management was trying to communicate with them.
Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver’s Shannon-Weaver Model explains the concept of fidelity in communication elaborately (Berlo, 1960).
Diagram 2. Shannon-Weaver Model
When applied to Frand and Helen’s situation, the source is Perfect Solutions/Frand and Helen, the message is employee participation, the channels are the suggestion box, newsletter and socials, and the receiver is the staff. Jane communicated the feedback to Frand, who is one of the sources of the message. The feedback turned out to be a misinterpretation of the message: the employees felt left out with the company’s decision-making process. They felt that they are being dictated and they are not encouraged to participate in developing the organization. The misconception was brought about by noise, not the usual distracting sound that we know noise of (physical noise) but the one that relies on the encoding or decoding of the message (semantic noise).
Frand and Helen assumed that their subliminal messages are understood. Apparently, they are not. Assumption is a major communication blockage. When the members of the management assume that the subordinates already know a fact because the management knows it, a communication problem arises. Employees will often not know enough about information unless the management makes a clear-cut way to tell them (McNamara, 1999). When the sender of the message is convinced that he is transmitting the message effectively, that communication process will most likely fail. It is important that messages are transmitted with regard to how successful the receiver can get the message, not how the sender can effectively transmit the message (Burgess, 2002).
Means of Clear Communication
Frand and Helen’s channels are useful, but it leaves the staff with questions. Who suggested which? How can we enrich the idea? How can we tell the management that we want to enrich the idea? Wolkomir (1981) called this “boomerang talk” or boomerang communication. The management imposes the staff’s suggestions. On the other end, the employees are asking themselves questions. Both parties are communicating among themselves in a one-way manner that is rather unclear.
To ensure clear communication, the means in which a message is transmitted must not be taken for granted. Burgess (2002) asserts that messages should be conveyed in as many ways as possible—spoken, written, even acted out.
Harold Laswell’s Formula suggests that communication will be clear by answering key questions. (Tamayo, 2004).
Who? Frand and Helen (Perfect Solutions)
Says what? Welcomes employee participation
In what channel? Meetings, suggestion box, socials
To whom? For the staff
Under what circumstances? The use of the channels should be discussed with the staff
For what purpose? To ensure that the opinion of employees are considered
With what effect? To make them feel appreciated and involved in the development of the company
For McNamara (1999), the flow of organizational communication is important. There should be “downward communication,” where the management communicates with the employees by updating them on company policies, major decisions, and accomplishments, and “upward communication,” where employees update their superiors on developments, suggestions, and concerns.
This further stresses that an effective communication process is one that allows for an exchange of ideas. Hence, the encoder and the decoder also act as the decoder and encoder through the course of communication. The messages move in a circle. This process is featured in Osgood and Schramm’s Circular Model of Communication (Tamayo, 2004).
Diagram 3. Osgood and Schramm’s Circular Model of Communication
Osgood and Schramm illustrates that the messages should cause the players in the communication process to exchange places. When one is the encoder (sender), the other one automatically becomes the decoder (receiver). When the decoder becomes the sender, the other one should act as the receiver. This shows how important feedback is in communication.
Laswell’s and Osgood and Schramm’s communication models agree on one aspect of communication: interaction. The sender and receiver of the message should freely be able to interact with each other—have a free-flowing exchange of ideas instead of a one-way flow—to facilitate clear communication.
Listening is an essential facet of interaction and communication as a whole, especially in organizations (Covey, 1999). It is in listening that communicators get ideas to evaluate and communicate about. However, listening is often an underdeveloped skill (Effective Communications, 1990). People often hear but not listen. Receivers of a message may appear that they listened to you and understood what you said, but they did not. Either they did not want to listen, or they are afraid to admit that they did not understand (Burgess, 2002).
Effective listening is emphatic listening. Effective Communications (1990) defines emphatic listening as one where the entire message is transmitted and heard, understood form the sender’s point of view, and evaluated after the entire message, along with its viewpoint, has been conveyed.
Bureaucracy and Communication
Managers of young companies feel that they are not sensitive to bureaucracy, only to find out that in one way or another they are being bureaucratic in relating with their subordinates. When Frand and Helen implemented the guidelines in which the staff can communicate with them, they already fell in the trap. They did not intend to be bureaucratic, they are sure many companies are encouraging their employees’ participation in the same way they did. However, the mere setting of inflexible rules which employees have to follow—give us your suggestions on paper, read the newsletter, attend the party this Saturday—is bureaucracy.
According to McNamara (1999), the mere presence of extensive written guidelines and policies for employees is already a sign of bureaucracy. This means that bureaucracy cannot be avoided. Still, McNamara (1999) recommends that increased reliable means of communication can solve this common organizational communication problem.
Periodic departmental and general conferences will eliminate one-way communication and will encourage interaction: when a staff raises an idea, the management and staff members can discuss it right away. Meetings should also be managed effectively, with both the management and the employees in a non-unilateral discussion of ideas (McNamara, 1999).
The staff should also be encouraged to contribute in the making of the newsletter. They can give updates on each department, opinions on company policies, even articles on personal victories in the office and simple joys of working for the company. This way, the staff will look forward to getting a copy of the newsletter as they will feel involved in its production.
If there will be events or socials, the staff should be consulted and included in planning them. The management can assign one department or group at a time to plan an even for the company. This will allow the staff to choose the events that they like to participate in, instead of being forced to join in pre-set activities.
Segmenting the staff into departments will also help each employee realize his individual importance. The growth of the company may overwhelm employees and make them feel a part of a whole. If the company has several small sub-divisions, it is easier for employees to speak with sub-division heads about their concerns instead of trying to meet with the big bosses. It will also be beneficial if the department heads schedule an open-office policy at least once a week so the staff can approach them for their suggestions and comments.
A clear purpose and interaction completes an effective communication process. When Perfect Solutions’ management and staff are willing to cooperate, they will both get the respect, consideration, and understanding that they need for the progress of the company.
Berlo, D. (1960). Process of communication, an introduction to theory and practice. Publisher unknown.
Burgess, D. (2002). Six laws of organizational communication and some of their implications for christian workers. Retrieved April 6, 2006, from http://www.leaderu.com/isot/docs/orgcomm.html
Covey, S. (1999, March). Why character counts. Reader’s Digest, p. 48.
Effective communications. (1990). Makati, Philippines. Amertron Incorporated.
McNamara, C. (1999). Basics in Internal Organization Communications. Retrieved April 6, 2005, from http://www.managementhelp.org/mrktng/org_cmm.htm
Tamayo, AG. (2004). Lectures on communication and social change.
Wolkomir, R. (1981, March). Let’s really talk. Reader’s Digest, p. 50