Have you ever felt that communication between departments in your organization is not so good? Did you feel an atmosphere of unease in the meetings when the participants are from different departments and administrations? Do you think that you are not sufficiently aware of the work of other business units? Do you find it difficult to access the information required within your organization? If your answer to one of the questions above is “Yes”, this article will help you understand the challenges of communication within the organizations in a better way.
There have been numerous studies in the field of organizational communication and a lot of research increased on how to improve the internal communication, in addition to ways of using communication tools and how to choose the appropriate communication channels. In spite of this whole momentum, there is still a real challenge facing the organizations, which is the internal communication between the business units in their various forms and the effectiveness of this communication. So why is this problem still present?
There are many definitions of the internal communication. All of them share the idea that the ultimate goal of the internal communication is to help the organization achieve its goals efficiently and effectively through increasing trust among the staff and preparing them to accept the new changes. It is supposed to be achieved in several ways, such as the oral and written communication, the formal and informal communication, and the direct and indirect communication, in addition to other divisions such as the personal, collective or organizational communication, or even the content-based communication.
There are four strategies for internal communication, which are followed by the organizations to build organizational knowledge. These strategies are: the internal communication strategy supported by the official documents, the internal communication strategy based on technological networks, the internal communication strategy based on community involvement, and finally the internal communication strategy producing knowledge. The organization chooses the internal communication strategy best suited for the application according to its size and nature of its activity. In some cases, it combines more than one strategy at the same time.
The organizations noticed the importance of internal communication. Most large organizations develop a communication policy and some of them devote a strategy for that. Some governments have also started to publish standardized guidelines for the organizational communication and entrusted the government agencies to apply and act accordingly. In addition, many awards for internal communication in a number of countries have appeared around the world, such as the National Award of the Institute of Internal Communication in the United Kingdom and the European Association of Internal Communication Award. Some of them are local in the Arab region, such as Sharjah Government Communication Award. In addition, several Business Excellence Awards have produced sub-awards for outstanding performance in the internal communication.
In spite of the efforts made to improve the internal communication, there are many difficulties which hinder achieving the desired success. The communication process itself is a challenge as it cannot be canceled. Once communication is launched, it cannot be undone. The best thing to do is to deal with the negative effects which it created. In addition, communication is a complex process with a social dimension related to the employees’ ideas, experiences and culture.
To improve the results of the internal communication process, there are works can be done. Organizations should always pay attention to what is called the law of supply and demand in communication, as the information presented should be organized and consistent with the objectives and priorities of the organization. This is different from the information required and characterized by irregularity. In this regard, the internal communication team should meet these requirements appropriately and achieve balance between supply and demand.
The challenges of internal communication that have emerged in recent years as well are known as (abundance), which is reflected in the number of communication channels used and unreasonably excessive. This makes the messages sent exposed to confusion, and thus not achieving the desired goal. This challenge is growing with the rapid development of technology and the availability of modern communication technologies and their low cost steadily. The problem of abundance is not limited only in the number of communication channels, but it can also appear in the amount of unnecessary information that is collected and passed on to the employees. This adversely affects the employee’s ability to access information at the proper time, or even his ability to identify the required information when needed.
Companies are constantly seeking to improve their internal communication capabilities and innovate different ways on that. Known Bayer Health Care Pharmaceutical has established an internal communication team. One of his first tasks was to communicate directly with a wide range of company employees and to conduct a series of dialogues with them in order to come up with the best way to improve the quality of internal communication within the company. Coca-Cola has also launched an initiative to prepare ambassadors for its brand, as a group of employees are trained to communicate inside and outside the organization about hot topics that can affect work. This practice will improve the internal communication process as a result of providing the staff, ambassadors, with the communication skills that they need, as well as up-to-date information on the challenges facing the company.
At the level of the Arab region, we have started to see excellent practices in the field of internal communication within the organizations. For example, Dubai Municipality won Sharjah Government Communication Award in 2017 for the best practice in the field of internal communication. That was for its excellence in developing an integrated communications plan and their ability to effectively implement it through involving all employees. But this does not negate that we still need a quantum leap in improving internal communication practices in general.
Interestingly, the preferences of internal communication vary depending on the nature of the organization’s activity, as well as the geographic region or the market. In a search recently published, the internal communication preferences of the employees working in large retail companies in Asia were studied. Research has shown that face-to-face communication is the preferred way for the employees. That shows a different path from the western countries in general.
The previous example leads us to a vital topic which cannot be ignored on talking about the internal communication, namely, the organizational culture. Organizational culture is one of the most profound topics in the study of organizations. Several definitions of more than 60 definitions have been developed. Perhaps the most famous of these definitions is what Edgar Schein said that it was a group of common beliefs and values that affect the employees’ behavior, feelings and way of thinking in the organization. It is natural that the employees’ reaction and responsiveness toward the internal communication activities will be affected by the prevailing organizational culture. Organizational culture can be viewed from several perspectives. One of them is that it is distinct. That is, each administration within the organization has its own cultural structure, which results in a different way through which work units receive the internal communication messages. Therefore, it is important to consolidate the culture within the organization in order to increase the effectiveness of internal communication activities and reach the desired goal. The other solution is to allocate different channels and communication tools for each business unit which depend on their preferences and suit their culture. This is impractical and very difficult to apply.
Finally, a closer look at the internal communication can reveal several enablers behind the success of its application inside the organizations. Some of them are direct such as the use of appropriate tools and content. Some others need a great focus and awareness such as creating an organizational culture that helps the communication efforts to succeed and developing a methodology that achieves balance within the organization between the supply and demand of information.
* I wrote and published this article in Harvard Business Review Arabic.