Valuing internal communication; management and employee perspectives

I’m working on my paper for Bledcom, an International Public Relations Symposium that has been organized over the past 17 years to provide a venue for public relations scholars and practitioners from around the world to exchange ideas and perspectives about public relations in all its forms. This year the focus is on Internal Communication.

My paper, “Valuing internal communication; management and employee perspectives” is also being written as part of my research for a PhD at the University of Central Lancashire. I must thank my supervisors at the university, led by Dr. Mary Welch, for the excellent support they provide.

There are plans for a Masters in Internal Communication at the university – a great initiative which shows how seriously internal communicaiton is now being taken.

My abstract

The role of communication is becoming an increasingly important factor in the understanding of the value of intangible organisational assets. Communication within organizations is linked to higher levels of performance and service, generating communication capital and social capital, 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. The paper will examine different approaches to assessment and explore the gaps between management and employee perceptions of required content and channels for internal communication.

Internal communication 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. The paper will review journal articles and management reports to analyse how far research addresses what employees require in terms of channels and content and the links to effective information sharing and decision making.

Academics often place an emphasis on the individual in models of employee questions that line managers must answer. A focus on an individual’s role at work is usually drawn from work conducted in the practitioner survey field on employee engagement (for example, Gallup) that suggests that it is the role and work that are the most important engagement factors. However, this is to sideline or underplay the connection to the wider organisation and the significant impact this has for engagement. A new model of employee questions to be addressed through line manager and corporate internal communication will be developed. The model will incorporate a better balance between individual and internal corporate communication. It will highlight the importance of employee voice, based on being well informed and will make connections to organisational support and identification. The model will form the basis for internal communication measurement that can be associated with higher levels of engagement.

Finally, in a fast changing internal communication environment, traditional approaches to assessment may well be outdated. They are focused on process, volume and channels rather than content, dialogue and social integration. The paper will, therefore, explore the impact of social media within a framework of medium theory. As media change, for example from print to television and more recently to internet, this affects the way people think and relate to each other. There has, to date, been minimal application of medium theory to internal communication and it could be argued that its second media age has yet to arrive, with practice focused as it is on a model of transmission of messages from senior management (the few) using email and newsletters (broadcast channels) to employees (the many). The dawning of a new age of social integration in internal communication raises challenging questions about theory that will be examined and incorporated into proposals for new models of assessment.

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