Managing to communicate, communicating to manage: How leading companies communicate with employees

Topic: Best Practices in Internal Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication

Young, M., & Post, J. E. (1993). Managing to communicate, communicating to manage: How leading companies communicate with employees. Organizational Dynamics, 22(1), 31-44.

Summary

This study is built on the idea that internal communication processes are an important ingredient in successful change, and understanding best practices in change communication can help organizations better manage the process. The researchers first surveyed several dozen communication and human resource managers at leading companies to generate a list of organizations with excellent employee communication programs. Ten of the companies on the list had successfully undergone recent major change programs. Researchers then visited each of the 10 companies and interviewed a range of senior executives and communicators involved in the change efforts. Two of the 10 companies were subsequently examined in greater depth.

The study confirmed that certain communication practices and characteristics improved the ability of senior management to effect large scale organizational change. Eight principles of effective internal communication during change management were identified. The most significant factor was the CEO’s leadership, both philosophical and behavioral commitments. Shared responsibility for communications also was a key principle; every manager is a communication manager. Other principles included: 1) Lived messages, or the match between words and actions, 2) a commitment to two-way communication, 3) an emphasis on face-to-face communication, 4) the willingness to share bad news as well as good news, 5) a clear focus on employees as customers and audience, and 6) a clear and compelling communication strategy that provides message context as well as content and helps align individual jobs with company objectives.

Neither the size of the communication budget nor the reporting relationship of the communication function influenced the effectiveness of employee communications. The researchers concluded that internal communications is a critical management process, not a set of products, and effective communication practices should be consistent under all organizational conditions.

 

Implications for Practice

The importance of each of the eight principles has been highlighted consistently in later studies of communication and change management. Practitioners may use each principle as a guideline for assessing and planning change communications, or for creating a rich communication climate.

Location of Article

The article is not available online. It may be obtained by request through university or public libraries.

Posted in [Research Library], Employee / Organizational Communication, OrgComm Best Practices and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. It’s interesting to see the eight principles which were concluded in a study 20 years ago are still being discussed quite often among internal communication practitioners and scholars today ! A lot has changed in the past decades, such as the booming of new technology and social media. However, the key principles of excellent public relations still apply. For example, several recent studies found that even in the social media era when a wide range of channels available to organizations, face-to-face communication is still employees’ mostly preferred venue to receive information from the organization and their immediate leaders. Two-way communication is emphasized more than ever before because of the availability of the various interactive and two-way communication tools.

    This study suggested that CEO leadership is the most significant factor in influencing the success of change communication. Indeed, during organizational turbulences, whether the top leadership would commit and convey confidence could make a big difference in employees’ confidence and trust of the organization. In fact, even during those good days (e.g., peaceful times), CEO communication, effective or not, could largely influence every aspect of the internal communication. CEO has a natural linkage with the organization. How the CEO present him/herself and his/her communication style could influence not only how the CEO is perceived, but also how the organization is perceived internally. But surprisingly, there are very few studies in the communication literature examining CEO or executive communication. I think this is a relevant and particularly important topic in the social media age because new technology shortened the distance between CEOs and employees. CEOs could easily project an image or character on social media by maintaining a profile page on Facebook or Twitter and interacting with their employees directly online. How should CEOs communicate and what they should communicate with internal and external publics would be an interesting question to explore.

Join the Discussion