Establishing an Effective Corporate Communication System
By Ian Ségal
27 December 2019
With a myriad of interdependent components triggering different dynamics within an organization, the one element that is most instrumental and paramount to delivering functional effectiveness across all business dimensions is known as corporate communications. As described by Dutta (2019), “Corporate communication is the practice of developing, cultivating and maintaining a corporate identity or brand image.” At its surface value, this appears as being rudimentary, but the practice of corporate communications is much more than this. In addition to shaping the image of a company and creating its brand awareness, corporate communications play a vital role in providing the rhythm for driving conversations between internal and external audiences, compelling reciprocal action, all while maintaining the operational tempo of the organization.
And whether those audiences are employees or customers, corporate communications is necessitated by the overall business effort—driving favorable outcomes that cover everything from human capital management to operations, sales, marketing, and public relations. Moreover, depending on the audience that is either being targeted or addressed, different varieties of communication need to be facilitated to effectively carry not only the message but in many cases a call-to-action. Irrespective of the audience being comprised of clients, prospective customers, employees, contractors, stakeholders, media, publics, or government agencies, the establishment and execution of an effective communication system can mitigate direct and indirect failures while ensuring successful outcomes from efficiently composed discourse.
The Importance of Establishing a Communication System
Whether it involves sustaining a positive reputation with external communities, building the corporate identity, facilitating coherent dialogue with internal audiences, or harnessing social media influence, innovative communication technologies have compelled companies to revisit their communication frameworks. Prior to the expanding digital age of the 21st century, organizations were able to operate within the silo of physical barriers that controlled the bidirectional flow of business messaging—internally and externally. However, the sprawling nature of the Internet has pushed companies to consider the implications and backlash of not adapting to changing times. And, as overwhelming as these tasks may be, many organizations have either created or extended the responsibilities of communication departments to help with the acclimation to the new order of dialogue and exchange of information.
Likewise, some of the essential areas identified as the provocation for establishing an efficient and effective communication system were categorized as the need to prioritize transparency, address larger communities, improve internal interchange, establish social media presence and control, and create the corporate story. And having a corporate communications system that is properly aligned with a business model can systematically support the inherent needs for managing media and public relations, customer connections, crisis management, internal relations, and operative harmony (Dutta, 2019). To delineate this further, a corporate communication strategy embedded inside the context of an effective system will support and promote the corporate mission and values, ensure employee engagement, and remedy crises, customer challenges, and all while maintaining a viable corporate image. The building blocks for designing an effective corporate communications system can be found in a wide array of variables that impact and support a foundation that ensures both confidence and longevity.
Variables That Impact Effective Communications
The overall purpose of communications, at the most fundamental level, is to provide the facilitation for exchanging information alongside a variety of channels to both internal and external audiences. But, even with this basic approach, there are intrinsic influencers that will impact the creation and distribution of these dialogues including cultural diversity, message misinterpretation, emotional disparity, past experiences, educational differences, social affiliations, positional inequality, and the sender-receiver relationship (Hynes, 2016). Sometimes these aspects behave as barriers, obstructing the flow of communication, while other times they distort the message quality with unrecognizable output. Understanding these elements can help an organization design a communications system that reflects the true identity and business model of an organization.
Cultural diversity. Many times, people of different ethnic or racial backgrounds can become an underlying cause for misunderstanding messages due to their inability to interpret corporate messages into their background or dialect. And although this can be a challenge for organizations that have little exposure to an internal mix of culturally dissimilar employees, it can also be an impediment when dealing with such diversity externally exhibited by client-facing conversations. As a remedy, many organizations have diversified their organizational structure by attracting a wide array of disparate ethnicities into their employment and broadened the scope of their human resource efforts to improve interpersonal dynamics (Hynes, 2016).
Message misunderstanding. Business communications often collapse when different parties give different meanings to the same words or phrases. This is even more prevalent with the integration of business or technical jargon in conversations that are not transparently understood by the receiver (Hynes, 2016). These kinds of language hurdles negatively impact both internal and external audiences who may not have a full grasp of certain business vernacular or terminology.
Emotional disparity. With life constantly in flux, many people are typically impacted by a variety of different personal events which can negatively alter their resilience to maintain comportment in a corporate setting. Additionally, professionals in the workplace often find themselves emotionally defensive regarding a number of business issues that reach into their core ethos. Everyone has different levels of tolerance for deflecting sensitive conversations, however, others have found themselves either retreating or sparring in the face of these behaviorally volatile moments. Some human resources departments have approached this with sensitivity training and coaching for their personnel while urging employees to be mindful in choosing their words and expressions in discussions with colleagues.
Past experiences. Another variable that can influence the quality of communication between a sender and a receiver is based upon the experience shared in a prior conversation. This history—whether negative or positive—can unintentionally or purposefully alter the effectiveness of future dialogue between these parties; especially if either attributed a negative or acrimonious experience in the past, subsequent conversations will most likely be futile—or avoided altogether (Kangal, 2019).
Educational differences. The scholastic investment that everyone makes and retains is not always parallel to each other—people manifest cognitive and communicative skills at different levels of aptitude. To this point, such educational disparities can impact not only one’s vocabulary but a person’s ability to evaluate communication and respond appropriately (Hynes, 2016). However, when scholastic competencies are similar, this works toward harmonizing effective communications with the basis of comparable intellect, comprehension, perception, and thought processes; which helps with team-building efforts and collaborative project work.
Social affiliations. When senders and receivers are associated with different group connections, this can impede a conversation with subjective biases that can have a prejudiced effect on communication. Additionally, employees that belong to different social groups—formal and informal—could create a source of tension resulting from differences in attitudes, opinions, and interpersonal perceptions; usually precipitated with predispositions. Other types of group affiliations that can impact the effectiveness of business communications include but are not limited to religion, gender, and age (Kangal, 2019). Social affiliations have the potential for hindering not only effective communications but cooperative project initiatives.
Positional inequality. Similar to social affiliations, the positional inequality of senders and receivers—based upon the hierarchy of corporate roles in an organization—can create a degree of jaded behaviors in which some supervisors may pay less attention to a communication from a subordinate than a superior (Hynes, 2016). The potential for the opposite can occur when a subordinate may ignore instructions from a manager as a means of avoiding additional work responsibilities. Although this is not always the case, positional inequality can also add to ineffective communications by perforating what would be a channel of smooth discourse between parties.
Sender-receiver relationship. Following the theme of the above-mentioned variables that influence effective communications, the functional relationship between a sender and a receiver can dramatically impact business communications either positively or negatively. When a sender and a receiver belong to different operational areas of an organization, this can inadvertently create confusion in language interchange resulting from a deficiency in knowledge of each person’s operative area of responsibility. An example of this could be illustrated by the dysfunctionality of dialogue between a finance manager and a systems engineer or a sales manager and a forklift operator; although experts within their own practice areas seldom are employees cross-trained across corporate departments with a depth of skill that makes the erudite. Some organizations have worked around this with the introduction of department ambassadors that, in effect, remove the language barriers between unrelated corporate areas with skills in translating jargon specific to those different departments.
And although business communications are constructed from different facets of expression, directing, sharing and exchanging information, the previously described variables can markedly influence either positive or negative outcomes. But, beyond these variables spawned from intrapersonal, interpersonal, group association, organizational hierarchy, and intercultural differences, fundamental strategies can be incorporated into designing an effective communication system that will allay the negative impact of these prompting variables.
Strategic Components for Building a Communication System
Trying to find confidence in ascertaining if every interchange of communication is sent and received internally and externally with both clarity and positive resonance is the underlying objective in every discourse. To make sure that communication experiences are consistently delivered with the expectation of achieving a successful outcome requires the development of an integrated communications framework that is capable of performing this effort (Everse, 2012). Attaining this level of communication capability in business will optimize the conversation experience both internally and externally while, in parallel, affecting a positive impact on a corporate brand, identity, and influence outside the organization. Creating the groundwork for strategic communications involves incorporating the following steps in harnessing that capacity.
Constructing a strong foundation. Unfortunately, it has been observed that many corporations consider their communication departments, teams, and personnel as cost-centers—driving a necessary service or enabling a process (Everse, 2012). However, it would behoove these organizations to adopt the precedence that communications should be considered as strategically crucial in facilitating, supporting, and nurturing performance, productivity, and growth. To this point, executive leadership—business owners and stakeholders—need to establish the critical requirement of integrating the framework of communication procedures and policies into the ubiquitous business model of that organization. By authoring a plan that tunes a mission statement, defines a statement of purpose, and outlines objectives that demonstrate the integral benefits of a communication structure, that organization is one step closer to building the architecture of an effective system.
Obvious advantages of building a strong foundation for developing a corporate-wide communication system are measured in saving time and money as well as ensuring coherence, creating transparency, and embedding efficiency into dialogues for all audiences (Everse, 2012). And more importantly, the facility of structured communications governed by a defined strategy consistently leads organizations to improve their decision-making for all facets of an organization while mitigating failure resulting from miscommunicated procedures. However, to attain this degree of benefit, the requirement exists to modify cultural behaviors throughout each facet of an organization. Aided by both policy and training, embracing new communication standards requires both self-discipline and corporate guidance to modify old approaches and replace them with new strategies and tactics. A strong strategic foundation will pave the way for executive endorsement and community adoption while serving the effort of establishing an effective communication system.
Developing the right tools. After laying the foundation for the strategy, the next step is to design the tools that will be instrumental in designing a system to satisfy both internal and external parties. This approach is performed by mapping out a communications model that can offer answers to the what, how, and who as it pertains to the desired framework (Everse, 2012).
To being with, the what focuses on identifying the category plans—summarizing the spirit of the corporate brand, identity, product, and program messages being used (Everse, 2012). More specifically, this defines why a customer would procure goods or services from a company and how the business and its practices are characterized. By applying category plans, communications and marketing teams can encapsulate the profile of an organization through identifying its lines of business.
The how is involved with creating channel plans used in assessing all available mechanisms for delivering communications (Everse, 2012). In particular, channel plans help identify the best media, digital, and other forms of communication best suited for sending and receiving messages, both internally and externally, across all dimensions of an organization. This can include everything from e-mail to social media, websites, blogs, forums, conference calling, video calls, onsite meetings, webinars, and content management systems which promote collaboration between parties. The selection of one channel over another is influenced by a number of factors such as the audience being targeted to the message type, content, and gravitas of the overall communication.
And the who focuses on developing the audience plans used to identify and target which internal and external parties are desired and needed for communications (Everse, 2012). This can be outlined further by reviewing organizational charts from human resources to considering different stakeholders, such as investors, and customers defined by either industry vertical or demographics. This is essential for creating tailored messaging that will ensure comprehension and resonance while encouraging the receiver to fulfill any embedded call-to-action within the communication.
Lastly, and sometimes an overlooked tool, is the value of linking the above-mentioned communication plans to methods of time management such as calendaring and scheduling—which maintains the integrity and cohesiveness of each plan while ensuring communication harmony through an organization. By interconnecting these plans with a calendaring mechanism, governing the process is well supported for increasing the capacity for effectively remedying conflicts, leveraging opportunities, supporting positive collaborative impact, and driving increased revenue (Everse, 2012).
Establishing a governed process. In order to affect the most desirable outcomes, using defined planning and tailored tools are not enough for achieving success and reducing exposure to failure. By engineering a process that is not only a vital component for an organization but one that can be embraced by everyone within a company systematically safeguards adherence and compliance (Everse, 2012). The effort of process-engineering involves a disciplined approach and methodology that utilizes project initiation and planning through approval, concept development, production, validation, and launch. Additionally, other areas that need to be interwoven in this effort include budgeting, project-scoping, and capturing key performance indicators to measure project health and success. These practices help with prioritization while reducing costs by efficiently managing time, money, and resources. Establishing a governed process will ultimately guarantee organizational success by shepherding cross-functional collaboration while optimizing communication effectiveness.
Assembling the right team. Typically forgotten or undervalued, assembling the right team of participants that share a coalesced positive spirit and knowledge for affecting fruitful outcomes is, above all else, the most important ingredient in ensuring the delivery of a qualified strategy for corporate communications (Everse, 2012). When a communications team is comprised of resources that are either deficient in skill or lack the motivation to accomplish a collaborative effort, the expectation of delivering strategic components for a company-wide communication system is doomed from the start. To make certain that the right team is in place for this task, assigning a person with both leadership prowess and experience in guiding teams is paramount—having the knowledge to deliver results with likability is the insurance needed for assuring success. Remarkable leaders learned first how to follow and later acquired skills for both direction and mentoring resources through education. But more importantly, the proven success of a leader is measured in his or her ability to motivate a team comprised of dissimilar people representing a gamut of skill sets and talents across a terrain of dissimilar cultures and behaviors. The ability to harmonize all of these elements is the making of great leadership.
Essential Skills for Effective Communications
With the above-mentioned review of the variables that can impact messaging in concert with the investigation into strategic components, identifying the key factors for establishing an effective communication system can now be arranged with both logic and reason. Using the tactic of conducting due diligence to yield qualified results allows an organization to elevate its communication apparatus to a well-provisioned system that exhibits efficiency and efficacy while supporting all facets of operational cadence for an organization. And, as it was important in understanding both the environmental influencers and strategic planning, the validation of a communication system can only be measured in how the people apply it within their roles inside the organization. With this said, specifying the following essential skills required by a communication system—to be learned and adopted by the corporate community—will determine the extent of its value and effectiveness throughout the entire organization across all dimensions of communications.
Listening. Regarded as one of the more important qualities of effective communications, training oneself to offer undivided attention through purposeful listening manifests respect for the sender while helping the receiver absorb the subject matter of the message. For effective communications to exist, a receiver must demonstrate active listening that is intended to learn, understand, and allow for responsiveness (Seery, 2016).
Non-verbal communication. Interestingly, it has been researched that the words we use in conversations only account for approximately 7% of the total message being sent (Seery, 2016). The other components of communication involve non-verbal communication cues such as body language, facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact. Conducting oneself with comportment—being relaxed and approachable—will encourage the other person to speak more freely, liberally, and with supporting detail. Communications thrive on healthy bidirectional non-verbal communications exampled by an open stance position, relaxed limbs, and maintaining interested eye contact. All of these cues will signal to the sender the true feelings of the listener and will impact the quality of the subsequent messages being sent to the receiver.
Clear and concise. Without being noticeably parsimonious in the delivery of messages, it remains important to exercise efficiency by conveying a message that is focused, not extraneously wordy, and is clear in its meaning. By using excess words—sometimes unintentionally—a listener can become muddled in the conversation, lose focus, and even confused when trying to interpret the message purpose. It is highly recommended to take the time to gather thoughts and draft a conversation to reduce exposure to confusing the receiver with endless discursive communications (Seery, 2016).
Be personable. This skill is usually more apparent when conducting a conversation in a face-to-face environment and is effectuated by offering an amicable disposition, sometimes with the preamble of a personal question such as inquiring about the receiver’s family or weekend (Seery, 2016). This establishes an atmosphere for genuine openness and partnership to whatever degree the communication will take it. Creating an atmosphere that manifests sincerity, trust, and cooperation nurtures business relationship building and rewarding communications.
Confidence and composure. When a speaker delivers a message with poise and self-confidence, it reinforces the genuine authenticity and belief for the communication content which underlies its effectiveness. This can be demonstrated by maintaining eye contact with the receiver while emitting a tone of friendliness. Along with modulating the discourse based on nonverbal cues from the receiver, this factors into affecting the rhythm of quality communication (Seery, 2016).
Empathy. This skill set speaks directly to understanding the feelings of another person and is important to express especially when a speaker is not in complete agreement with a listener (Seery, 2016). This demonstrates true concern and can be managed with a simple acknowledgment of the party’s views and feelings by communicating as much. Sometimes succinctly saying “I understand how you feel,” will confirm to a listener that the speaker is compassionate and listening to them too.
Open-mindedness. Demonstrating one’s ability to entertain and accept differing or opposing views helps cultivate effective communications through the skill set of open-mindedness. This indicates to a listener that the speaker is approachable for either pushback or discussion of other opinions that may be contrary to the original message. This is achieved through active listening and empathy while welcoming the audience to expand upon thoughts that may deviate from those of the speaker. Adopting such an approach will project honesty, professionalism, and humbleness while encouraging a constructive discussion (Seery, 2016).
Exude respect. Similar to open-mindedness, respect is conveyed for a listener when the speaker considers the opinions of the receiving audience. Sometimes, this is as simple as addressing the other person by their name or repeating back a response from the listener. Of course, different channels for communication require different methods for expressing respect—whether it be in a room, on the phone, or exchanged through e-mail—some will be verbal while others will be written (Seery, 2016).
Give and receive feedback. This bilateral approach to communications validates the active demonstration of most of the skills discussed herein. Appropriate feedback is also beneficial in coaching staff and building stronger working relationships with direct reports (Seery, 2016). For team-building efforts, feedback can help promote morale and motivate employees to be more productive and dedicated to their roles.
Identify the best medium or channel. Deciding on the best channel for facilitating communication is usually determined by a number of variables including but not limited to who the audience is, how many people are being addressed, where is everyone physically located, and the time scheduled for the event. Being cognizant of the needs of all participants in communication also demonstrates respect for everyone’s needs.
An effective and efficient communication system cannot be holistic without strategies in managing conflicts that bring about favorable resolutions. Typically, when a conflict does flare up at the office, the tendency of those involved is to lean towards the action of attempting to correct the other party’s beliefs by lecturing as to why they are incorrect regarding a matter. However, those using this tactic as a means of remedying a conflict usually know that this is slanted and has a propensity for augmenting the original disagreement. With this said, and to optimize an effective communication system, it is valuable to incorporate the following strategies which provide safeguards for times when conflicts will arise.
Avoiding. A common strategy used in the workplace, avoiding represents maintaining a degree of neutrality by either ignoring or withdrawing from a conflict (Hynes, 2016). People will gravitate to this approach when the awkwardness or disquiet of a situation is greater than the projected reward from its resolution. Although this is a strategy that many will practice, when conflicts are avoided, a matter is not resolved.
Accommodating. In this second strategy for conflict resolution, a manager embraces a more adaptive style—one that tries to find a solution that yields an agreeable resolution for all parties. When this plan is adopted, the manager will stress the importance of sustaining working relationships between individuals over the importance of accomplishing tasks and objectives (Hynes, 2016). The rationale for employing this strategy is for the manager to secure approval from all parties involved, regardless if the desires of others conflict with his or her own.
Forcing. Usually demonstrated with an uncompromising technique, this strategy is driven with the objective of winning a dispute at all costs through assertive efforts, prioritizing production needs above those of other parties irrespective of their advocacy (Hynes, 2016). Managers that embrace this method believe that yielding to opposing views is perceived as a weakness of leadership and authority, eventually losing respect from both staff and supervisors. To these points, forcing tends to be the strategy of choice implemented by managers when resolving conflicts—big and small—to sustain reputation in an organization.
Compromising. This strategy, which is diplomatic in nature, involves finding an equilibrium in which parties will concede certain desires in the hopes of achieving others—and usually results in reaching a consensual resolution for all involved (Hynes, 2016). Negotiating is the tool that is utilized in this strategy and is frequently adopted when neither party feels that their stance is strong enough to force the other to concede. Additionally, such things as time and investment of effort and resources could make reaching a compromise as a more feasible alternative to forcing a resolution. This strategy is best performed by participants who exhibit both assertiveness and cooperation.
Problem-solving. The last strategy for conflict resolution, known as problem-solving, is designed as the win-win policy for delivering a successful outcome for all parties involved while focusing on the overlying goals of the organization (Hynes, 2016). With more effort, discipline, and commitment, problem-solving examines all views from all participants through an objective assessment—while any emotional grievances or concerns are addressed and worked through parallel pacification and solution. To attain success in the implementation of this strategy, the following steps need to be performed:
· Name and describe the issue of concern.
· Recognize the conflict factors and interdependencies.
· Find common interests and goals for cultivating cooperation.
· Conceptualize potential solutions that meet reciprocal needs.
· Evaluate proposals by validating their effectiveness to satisfy all needs.
· Reach an agreement on a selected solution that is copacetic with all parties.
· Facilitate an action plan to execute and bring the solution to fruition.
Furthermore, to nurture the successful performance of conflict management and resolution, organizations and their employees need to master competencies from the core of an effective communication system. Some of these proficiencies include controlling emotions, establishing goals, demonstrating creativity and purpose, maintaining healthy working relationships, and harvesting social skills that are professional, productive, and sensitive to others. In the absence of an established and governed communication system, conflict management success will be a more challenging and daunting road that can be costly in both time, emotions, finances, and productivity.
While the scope of a comprehensive communications system is extensive, in order to achieve both effectiveness and efficiency, depth of thorough detail needs to be explored, researched, and properly aligned with a business model to ensure strategic purpose. And regardless of the targeted audience, whether it be an internal resource or external client, the basis for consistency requires adherence to policies, procedures, and above all else compliance with parameters—governance ensures conformity to the system. With this said, when an organization is disciplined to adopt a communication system that has been engineered to capture the brand identity of the organization, the consistency of benefits and rewards finds itself in constructive outcomes for human capital, sales, marketing, public relations, operations, and much more. Moreover, an effective communication system will cascade through every segment of an organization by not only facilitating the cadence of effective messaging but will also have a noticeable impact on cultivating the global culture and leadership at every level.
By journeying through the concerted effort of discovery through conducting a gap analysis, resources can apply a methodical approach to determining a communications framework for every priority identified in the organization (Kambil, 2018). Additionally, the delivery of a proposed system that has undergone the efforts of project management through validation and quality assurance is not only ready to be deployed into an organization but is one that can be quickly endorsed by critical stakeholders for widespread adoption. When management owns and advocates the usage of such a communication system, the general community of employees in an organization will readily accept it as the new culture.
With the application of the key factors discussed as paramount to engineering an effective and efficient communication system, a host of benefits can be enjoyed, rewarded, and affect organizational longevity and growth. The fluidity of a communication system nurtures team-building, creates message clarity, manages cultural diversity, mitigates challenges, resolves conflicts, and can survive crises. Constructing a foundation that accounts for variables that impact effective communications allows for integrating select components into a system that leverages strategy while harboring governance. Along with proper training, discipline, and mastery of essential skills, all members of an organization will contribute to the evolving behavior of the overall system as well as the cultural development of the internal community. Together, with the right impassioned team collaborating with purpose and defined goals, the application of the prescribed key factors will secure the delivery and proven functionality of an effective communication system, longstanding sustenance, and destined growth for an entire corporate environment.
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Everse, G. (2018, June 22). Four Steps to Building a Strategic Communications Capability. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://hbr.org/2012/03/four-steps-to-building-a-strat.
Hynes, G. (2016). Managerial communication strategies and applications. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Kambil, A. (2018, August 2). Creating an Effective Communications Program. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/finance/articles/cfo-insights-creating-effective-communications-program.html.
Kangal, S. (2019, October 23). 8 Factors Influencing the Business Communication. Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://iedunote.com/factors-influencing-business-communication.
Seery, L. (2016). Top 10 Essential Skills for Effective Communication. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://skillsology.com/wc/top-10-essential-skills-for-effective-communication/.