By Goke Ilesanmi
All organisations, no matter what their size or scope, are held together by and perform their functions through the process of communication. Communication is indeed the channel of influence, the mechanism of change and the means of motivation that enables an organisation to reach its goal of productivity and profitability among others. Without communication, there can be no interpersonal interaction, group, government or even a society as we now have. Rather than being a product, communication is a process. Rather than being a specific item which can be handled from one person to another, communication is a dynamic, flowing, ever-changing phenomenon.
Whoever a manager is or whatever management style he or she adopts, his or her work is not an impersonal process because managers manage people. It is through these people that a business succeeds or fails. A manager’s primary responsibility is the development of a team that will work with him or her rather than for him or her. If the manager can accomplish this, the likelihood of realising the maximum return from individuals and achieving the goals of the organisation is greatly assured.
James Robbins and Barbara Jones, business communication experts, even advocate communication types such as directional flow of communication; downward flow of communication; upward flow of communication; facilitating upward communication; written upward communication; oral upward communication and communication with peers in a bid to achieve effective workplace communication.
Research confirms that about 60 per cent of corporate public relations effort is devoted to internal communication because good communication is at the heart of every good workplace. Despite all the emphasis on electronic communication these days, the most frequent and important means of workplace communication is still face-to-face.
What’s more, studies have shown that communication is the most common activity of management as managers typically spend 60 to 80 per cent of their time in operational communication. In large part, communication is their work, mainly face-to-face in meetings, or by telephone or email.
Unfortunately, most managers are not good at communication. In a 2002 survey of 1,104 employees in organisations around the United States of America, 86 per cent said their bosses thought they were good communicators, but only 17 per cent said their bosses actually communicated effectively. A 2004 international survey conducted by Melcrum Publishing of 712 communication and HR practitioners found that the quality of communication of operational managers was generally poor. Only 14 per cent of communicators rated operational managers in their organisation as “good” or “very good”.
The managers were confident and knew their business but were poor at managing and representing their own staff. The biggest problem areas were reported to be managers’ skills at communicating upwards the views and concerns of their team, managers not acting as leaders and not aware of the employees’ needs. Respondents blamed the managers for the problems because they said the managers did not make the effort to communicate even though they had the time.
However, in most cases, management policies allow communication problems to develop. Only 20 per cent of respondents said their organisations measured the communication performance of their managers. Of those organisations, the most common measure, 70 per cent, was the segment Changes in employee satisfaction, which was (and is) only an indirect measure.
The second most common measure was 360-degree feedback (59 per cent), which depended ( and still depends) heavily on the way it was (and is) administered. Another common measure was Changes to employees’ understanding of the business strategy/goals (54 per cent), but improvements in knowledge of business imperatives could occur for reasons other than communication from their managers. More than half the organisations (54 per cent) gave no communication training to any level of managers.
Respondents identified the three main barriers to rewarding and recognising effective communication as lack of a method to measure communication performance (32 per cent of the organisations); the organisational culture did not include recognising communication as a core competence for managers (32 per cent) and lack of buy-in from senior management to make communication a performance measure (25 per cent).
But as a PR manager, you can hardly place all the blame at the feet of your operational managers because the problem is partly of your own making. It is your job to push for communication competence to be defined and measured, and it is your job to initiate communication training for managers.
Communication improvement techniques
Good communication skills are not the only concern of the public relations (PR) people. The PR department provides a support service to management, and this service is not for people who may lack the necessary communication skills. Managers and other leaders also need to develop and use their own communication skills to be effective in their work and their relationships with others. They cannot fall back on the PR department to communicate on their behalf every time, even though some people continue to think that the PR department is responsible in general terms for all formal organisational communication in a corporate organisation. They do not realise that every manager needs to take the responsibility for communicating within his or her own sphere of activities and especially with his or her own staff.
The job descriptions of almost all managers and supervisors include good communication skills as an essential component because everyone knows that good leadership depends on good communication.
How can managers be accountable and what can be done to improve their application of communication skills? One answer is that good communication practices can be built into the performance requirements that most managers and supervisors have these days to cover their day-to-day work responsibilities. These practices can be measured in various ways.
Performance management agreement
Experts such as Kim Harrison, a renowned public relations authority suggest that the performance management agreement of these people should include acceptable targets and measures of communication activities. As a public relations manager, you can advise the human resource department on suitable activity targets and measurement processes to set for managers.
For instance, the performance agreement for a divisional general manager may include the following activities and time: Conduct of a communication audit of managers and staff in the division by 20th December, 2010; development of an internal communication strategy by 21st December, 2010; preparation of a stakeholder relations strategy by 22nd December, 2010; undertaking of an attitude survey of medium and high priority external stakeholder groups by 23rd December, 2010, etc.
As a public relations manager, you can arrange training for managers on interpersonal communication skills, which should include topics such as “How to understand the importance of non-verbal communication”; “How to measure the quality of your personal communication”; “Recognising barriers to good communication”; “Developing behaviour to enhance your working relationships”; “How to deal with difficult people”; “How to develop active listening skills”, etc.
Measuring managers’ communication skills
At this analytical juncture, let us examine how to measure the communication skills of managers. Managers’ communication skills can be measured in various ways. You can measure the extent to which they meet the above activity targets; conduct “transmission checks”, that is, simple surveys of staff to see what they know about information their managers have been asked to pass on to them; review the responses to simple questionnaires to check how the staff rate their managers’ communication skills; survey how well the staff understand the organisation’s mission or goals and where they fit in to the organisation, etc.
One effective way to rate the communication skills of supervisors or managers is to ask their staff to respond through grading to a simple questionnaire such as: (1) My manager genuinely listens to me when I speak to him or her: 10; 20; 30; 40; 50; (2) My manager tells me about important things happening in the organisation: 10; 20; 30; 40; 50; (3) My manager communicates clearly to me what his or her expectations of me are: 10; 20; 30; 40; 50; (4) My manager consults with all appropriate team members before he or she makes important decisions: 10; 20; 30; 40; 50; (5) My manager communicates team members’ views and concerns up the line effectively: 10; 20; 30; 40; 50; (6) My manager acts appropriately as a leader in the organisation: 10; 20; 30; 40; 50.
Staff ratings of supervisors’ or managers’ communication skills can quickly be calculated and summarised from the responses to the questionnaire. Note that the statements are about behaviour rather than merely about attitudes. It is much easier to change observable behaviour than underlying attitudes.
Ideally, this type of survey would be conducted across your organisation. Then the results could be tabulated for comparison of all the managers’ results. The important thing then is to circulate the table to all managers and if possible discuss in a meeting in which they are all present. This will unleash powerful competitive peer pressure among the managers to do better next time.
The above measures relate to outputs rather than results. Results are really the things that matter, and simple measurement techniques can provide the mechanism to improve operational results. You can take the initiative and achieve impressive results by using measurement techniques to identify operational communication blockages and reach solutions that clearly improve profitability of your organisation.
GOKE ILESANMI, Editor-in-Chief/CEO of https://www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng and Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is a Certified Public Speaker/Emcee, (Business) Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Career Management Coach, Renowned Book Reviewer, Corporate Leadership Expert and Editorial Consultant.
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