Valuing Internal Communication; Management and Employee Perspectives

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In a review of 12 leading recent academic and consultancy studies it was found that there is no consistent approach to measuring internal communication. Underlying internal communication theory is not always applied and emerging theory is missing from many approaches to measurement. The emphasis is on process not content, reflecting a managerial not an employee perspective. There is a reliance on a quantitative research methodology and outdated survey instruments. A new conceptual model is explored as a framework for a new approach to measurement that reflects the linkages between internal communication and employee engagement. This is supplemented by consideration of how the use of internal social media impacts internal communication theory and measurement.

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VALUING INTERNAL COMMUNICATION; MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEE PERSPECTIVES 1

Valuing internal communication; management and employee perspectives Kevin Ruck and Dr. Mary Welch, University of Central Lancashire, UK

Author note Kevin Ruck, Lancashire Business School, University of Central Lancashire; Dr. Mary Welch, Lancashire Business School, University of Central Lancashire. Correspondence about this article should be addressed to Kevin Ruck, The PR Academy, Maidstone Studios, Vinters Park, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 5NZ. Email: kevin.ruck@pracademy.co.uk

Abstract

VALUING INTERNAL COMMUNICATION; MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEE PERSPECTIVES 2

In a review of 12 leading recent academic and consultancy studies it was found that there is no consistent approach to measuring internal communication. Underlying internal communication theory is not always applied and emerging theory is missing from many approaches to measurement. The emphasis is on process not content, reflecting a managerial not an employee perspective. There is a reliance on a quantitative research methodology and outdated survey instruments. A new conceptual model is explored as a framework for a new approach to measurement that reflects the linkages between internal communication and employee engagement. This is supplemented by consideration of how the use of internal social media impacts internal communication theory and measurement.

Introduction The role of communication is becoming an increasingly important factor in the understanding of the value of intangible organisational assets (Ritter, 2003 p. 50). Communication within organizations is linked to higher levels of performance and service (Tourish & Hargie, 2009 pp. 10-15) generating communication capital (Malmelin, 2007 p. 298) and social capital (Lee, 2009), grounded in organisational relationships. It is therefore important for managers to be able to assess internal communication. Many well established tools developed in the 1970s are still used, such as the Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ), the ICA Audit, the Organizational Communication Development audit, and the Organizational Communication scale (P. G. Clampitt, 2009 pp. 58-61). Though managers have long recognised the importance of internal communication, it is often seen from the perspective of management rather than the employee. As Welch and Jackson (2007 p. 187) argue, research into employee preferences for channel and content of internal corporate communication is required to ensure it meets employees needs. This is echoed by Uusi-Rauva and Nurkka (2010 p. 303) who assert that little research has focused on finding out what employees consider important in the internal expert communication process. This paper is based on a review of twelve leading academic and consultancy studies representing 10,928 respondents. It argues that approaches to assessment are too narrowly focused on process, rather than content. Assessment tools are outdated, rooted in a positivist research philosophy, and take little account of employee communication needs and the rise of internal social media.

VALUING INTERNAL COMMUNICATION; MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEE PERSPECTIVESCommunication, organisational identification and engagement

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Employee communication needs Before examining the twelve studies, this section explores the general approach to assessment of internal communication. Goldhaber et al., (1978 p. 82) found that an employees primary needs include, first, more information about personal, job-related matters, and then, information about organizational decision making and a greater opportunity to voice complaints and evaluate superiors. According to the consultancy, Towers Watson (2010, p. x), Most firms do well at communicating about the business; howeverless than half of firms report they are effective at communicating to employees regarding how their actions affect the customer or increase productivity. Towers Watson (2010) go on to report that internal communication messages are delivered either centrally or locally and content differs as shown in table 1 below. Table 1 Towers Watson 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report. Messages delivered centrally Explaining and promoting new programs and policies Educating employees about organizational culture and values Providing information on organizational performance and financial objectives Providing individuals with information about the true value of their total compensation package However, there is no evidence in the report to suggest that these topics are the most important ones that employees expect managers to discuss. Furthermore, the conclusion that firms do well at communicating about the business is challenged by Truss et al., (2006 pp. 13-14) who found that 25 per cent of employees say that their manager rarely or never makes them feel their work counts. And only around half of all employees say that their manager usually or always consults me on matters of importance or keeps me in touch with what is going on. In general, 42 per cent of employees say that they are not kept very well informed about what is going on in their organisation (Truss et al., 2006, p. 17) and this applies to both the public and private sectors. An effective communication climate is, according to Robertson (2005) based on the following topics; job, Messages delivered locally Helping employees understand the business Telling employees how their actions affect the customer Integrating new employees into the organization

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personal, operational and strategic issues. Many of these are reflected in an audit of communication in a healthcare organisation, where the following top six topics were cited for information needed (Hargie and Tourish, 2009 p. 252) How problems that I report in my job are dealt with (3.8) How my job contributes to the organisation (3.6) How decisions that affect my job are reached (3.6) Things that go wrong in my organisation (3.5) Staff development opportunities (3.5) My performance in my job (3.5) Scale: 1 = very little: 2 = little: 3 = some: 4 = great: 5 = very great These results signify the importance of upward feedback and managers closing the loop of concerns raised. They also highlight an interest in things that go wrong, something that does not sit comfortably with a journalistic, tell or sell approach that can be perceived as organisational propaganda.

The dominance of process and the individual The general focus of internal communication audits tends not to be on content so much as process. For example, Tourish and Hargie (2009, p. 31) state that audits typically focus on who is communicating with whom, the issues that receive attention, the volume of information sent and received, levels of trust and the quality of working relationships. Valuable as these perspectives are, this highlights the general starting point for internal communication audits and research; the managerial perspective on process rather than individual employee expectations of content. In the review of studies conducted for this paper, little research could be found that specifically tackled what employees would like their organisation to communicate. As Chen et al., (2006 p. 242) argue, A review of the research on organizational processes concluded that member satisfaction with organizational communication practices has been ignored. DAprix (2006 p. 238) does place an emphasis on the employee perspective in his model of the employee questions that line managers must answer (see figure 1). This is similar to Robertsons proposal (above) with a primary focus on the individuals role at work. This is indicative of work conducted in the practitioner survey field on employee engagement (for example, Gallup) that suggests that it is an individuals role and work that are the most important engagement

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factors. This represents an individual, cognitive psychological, perspective on communication and engagement and underplays the pivotal role that social connection to and involvement with the wider organisation has for engagement. It is not enough only to know where the organisation is heading, that is just a starting point. As Truss et al., (2006, p. 45) report, the three most important factors for engagement are much deeper: 1) having opportunities to feed your views upwards 2) feeling well informed about what is happening in the organisation, and 3) thinking that your manager is committed to your organization.

Figure 1. DAprixs (2006) employee communication model Furthermore, it could be argued that job responsibilities, performance feedback, and individual needs are purely hygiene factors for engagement; if they are not satisfactory then employees will be disengaged. If they are in place, then social identification with the organization, reinforced by informed employee voice, is what leads to higher levels of engagement. This concept is explored in more detail in the following section.

Content and organisational identification Miller (2009) suggests that the content of internal communication is dependent on the approach to management in the organisation. For example, in a classical organisation it is argued that communication about task is very narrowly focused (Miller, 2009, p. 29). However, in human relations organisations the innovation content of communication is critical (Miller, 2009, p. 50). Sluss et al., (2008 p. 457) point out that although a myriad of potential exchange relationships exist within and between organizations, all employees have two seemingly

VALUING INTERNAL COMMUNICATION; MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYEE PERSPECTIVESpreeminent relationships at work; one with the immediate supervisor, and one with the organization. Organizational identification, based on social identity theory, is the degree of oneness with the organisation and has been found to be associated with job satisfaction, job involvement, turnover intentions, and in role and extra-role performance. Leiter and Bakker (2010 p. 2) suggest that Employees responses to organizational policies, practices and structures affect their potential to experience engagement. This is illustrated in a social identity theory approach to organisational identification adopted by Millward and Postmes (2010, p. 335) in a study of business managers in the UK. They reported that The fact that identification with the superordinate grouping of the organisation was particularly relevant to performance is important for theoretical, empirical and pragmatic reasons. This reinforces research by Wieseke (2009) that found the higher the level of organisational identity of sales managers the greater the sales quota achievement. Furthermore, a lack of organisational identification has, according to Knight and Haslam (2010, p. 721) been associated with increased stress and burnout, withdrawal, and sickness. These are powerful drivers for an organisations investment in what Welch and Jackson term Internal Corporate Communication (2007, p. 186) defined as communication between an organisations strategic managers and its internal stakeholders, designed to promote commitment to the organisation, a sense of belonging to it, awareness of its changing environment and understanding of its evolving aims.

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Corporate vision, values, image and identity Although DAprix includes organizational vision, mission and values in his communication model, the detail of the content in these categories requires deeper consideration For example, corporate image and identity is not prioritised in the literature on internal communication as it is often seen more as the realm of external communication. However, Cartwright and Holmes (2006 p. 200) suggest that it can matter a great deal to an employee as it represents their assessment of what characteristics others are likely to ascribe to them because they work for a particular organization. Holtzhausen and Fourie (2009p. 340) argue that the non-visual elements of the corporate identity impact on employer-employee relationships and thus need special attention when managing employer-employee relationships. Although employees are interested in knowing about organisational strategy, it is how it is discussed that is critical. Daymon (1993 p. 247) suggests that the reasons why employees give up on the communication process is the failure to connect strategy to people:

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I think people didn't go . . . because the first one that [the chief executive] held was all financial. . . . It was all money, money, money, and it meant very little to a lot of people. He wasn't talking about realities. He was talking about fiscal policies. . . . Sluss et al., (2008, p. 458) suggest that, in terms of values, perceived organisational support is a key factor. This is defined as the subordinates perception of the extent that their work organization values their contribution and cares about their well-being. It is especially important as many more people today are seeking a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their extending working lives (Cartwright & Holmes, 2006 p. 200).

Review of approaches to assessment

Shortcomings in establishing theory in internal communication have often led to a predominance of the assessment of channels used, or volume of information generated (the what); essentially process explanations rather than the content of the communication itself, how well it is provided, or understanding. The well established International Communication Association (ICA) survey is a comprehensive approach made up of eight main sections. In an adapted version set out by Hargie and Tourish (2009, pp.420-437) one of the sections explores content and another channels, four are more generally about processes and volumes of information sent and received and two can be tailored to specific organisational issues. The range of content topics is mainly job related; pay, performance, promotion, development, with only one question in the set related to wider organisational goals. Respondents use a five point Likert scale to rate the topics according to the how much information is provided. The balance of job related questions and organisational related questions is skewed towards the individual job level and this underplays the importance of organisational identification. Furthermore, some important topics, such as job security and the general support provided by the organisation, are omitted. In terms of channels, the audit provides a list of channels and asks the question, how much information are you receiving through these channels? This may provide a useful snapshot of channel use in a given organisation. However, it does not explore what content is provided through specific channels and whether or not this is appropriat...

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