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Managing communication successfully in your management system.

Communication is overlooked and underrated in terms of its impact and importance in organizations. Barnard instructed that "providing a system of communication is one of three executive functions essential to the survival of an organization." Bennis and Nannus stated "providing meaning through communication is one of four key leadership strategies." Nevertheless, we generally approach communication passively and reactively; we assume by the lines in our organizational charts and by the arrows on our flow diagrams that communicate is truly linking the organization and our processes. We are often perplexed when breakdowns in communication occur. In many organizations, communication problems have become a cliche. It is often cited as the root cause of a problem with no effort directed at correcting the problem. What we need is a systematic way to understand communication in the management system, a way to assess its effectiveness and methods for continuous performance improvement.

The management system

Every manager has a domain in which he/she operates. This domain is characterized by a management system that includes people, tools, technology, information, etc. Most managers do not consciously think about their management system. This lack of recognition can lead to a gap between what you do as a manager and what you should do as a manager.

Kurstedt identified a management system as containing three components--"who manages," "what is used to manage" and "what is managed," as illustrated in Figure 1. What is used to manage refers to management tools and what is managed focuses on the organizational system. There are also three interfaces: the measurement-to-data interface between what is being managed and management tools; the information portrayal to information perception interface between tools and who is managing (management tools portray information while the manager perceives the information from the management tools), and the decision-to-action interface between who is managing, and what is being managed. In this interface, the manager yields decisions while the organizational system requires actions. The organizational system yields measures while management tools require data.

A communications management model

Communication has an important role in your managmenet system, as illustrated in Figure 2. The communication process is a glue that holds the management system and its components together and helps achieve balance. You, the manager, are the sender of information (in the form of decisions and actions) to the organizational system, which is the receiver. The message (decision) must be encoded in a way it can be udnerstood by both sender and receiver. It must be transmitted over a channel that links you with the organizational system. The organizational system must be ready for the message so it can be decoded and understood. Noise, including physical noise or other hindrances to communication (e.g. crises, prejudice, etc.), can hinder the process. From this point, the organizational system then becomes the sender of information back to you, because you need feedback on the implementation of the action taken.

At this juncture, your role is to be a receiver, and communication tools should enable this. The communication process facilitates the interfaces as well. First, as manager, your decisions must be converted into actions. You will successfully communicate decisions into actions if you use appropriate communication principles and techniques. There also needs to be a match between the measurement of the organizational system and the data fed into management tools that convert the data to information. Improvement interventions and managemnet team decisions require information abou thow well the organization is performing. Techniques to collect, process and communicate data are important. Design of management tools will consider the data required, and if designed concurrently, the organizational system management techniques and the measures themselves will be compatible with the requirements of the user-centered tools. As a manager, you want to internalize the information portrayed from your managemnet tools through information perception. In this regard, you are acting as a receiver of communication and a user of a management tool. User-centered design principles should consider the communication process. In addition, your learning preferences should be considered when selecting or designing management communication tools. Research has shown different people prefer different modes of communication. This preference coupled with situational considerations and design principles will yield an effective information portrayal to information perception interface. In addition to the communication porocess, there are principles applicable to continuous performance improvement of the three major components of the management system.

Who manages?

As a sender and receiver, you should be concerned with your personal communication skills. These skills help maximize the effectiveness of the "who manages" component of the system. Effective communication requires both the sender and the receiver to agree on the intent as well as the content of the message. First, you should decide on the best mode of communication for a given situation. Written communication promotes uniformity and provides records for legal and administrative purposes. The masses can be reached through this vehicle as well. The disadvantages of written communication include the lack of immediate feedback and the tendency to create a paper factor. Oral communication is fast and allows immediate feedback. However, oral communication does not necessarily save time and therefore reduce cost. Ineffective meetings are an example of this. Finally, oral communication can be helped or hindered by non-verbal communication. It is the job of management to know the right type of communication given a particular situation and to skillfully execute the communication. Various management tools can help you communicate effectively.

What is used to manage?

Communication tools can be both hard and soft. Hard communication tools include computers, fax machines and telephones, while soft tools include active listening techniques. Active listening techniques assure you both of the intent and content of your messages are being received by the receiver. _Paraphrasign validates expectations by you stating in your own way what the sender in the organizational system is trying to say. Perception checking is describing to the sender what you perceive their inner state to be at the time of communication. For example, the statement "This decision seems to be troubling you" can lead to further explanation and clarification. Describing the sender's behavior allows you to share with the sender their overt behavior. For example, the statement "you are pacing" allows the sender to share whether they are nervous or angry, giving more context and definition to the communication. Describing your feelings relative to the communication allows the sender to clarify the message. "You really hurt me" or "this new information will change everything I'm working on" can lead to an appropriate modification or recantation of the message. Finally, the Johari Window is an analytical tool that identifies information available for the use in communication. By representing information along two dimensions, information known and unknown by yourself and information known and unknown by others, you can set the goal of "open self" and focus on communicating in an arena where information is known by both parties.

What is managed?

As described by Zaremba (from a management standpoint), managers should create, cultivate and nourish communication networks in the organizational system. Just as the FAA approves certain traffic routes for articraft travel, certain communication networks should be created and managed. It is instructive to understand the difference between what is used to manage (management tools) and what is managed (the organizational system). The airplanes themselves, wheter state-of-the-art technology or not, are the ools that rely on the approved routes for passage. The routes or passages are the networks or channels that need to be managed. The memo is the communication tool, and the path it takes to its destination is the network. There are three basic communication network systems that operate within organizations: external/internal; formal/informal; and upward/downward/horizontal. External networks, such as public relations, carry information from inside the organization to outside and vice versa. Internal networks are both inter and intradepartmental in nature and channel information inside the organization. From a management perspective, poor internal networks can affec tthe external network. Formal networks correspond to the organization chart and represent the prescribed channels for communication. Informal networks correspond to the informal organization structure and carry information on routes not prescribed by the organization.

Back to our air traffic metaphor, to hte naked eye, any position in the sky should do for travel. However, there are formal, prescribed channels for air travel. The penalty for using the unofficial air traffic netwroks can be significant, as evidenced by the Korean airliner Flight 007 disaster or the 1987 small plane landing in Red Square. In addition, your job as manager is to ensure the viability of formal routes and to adapt a proactive position with respect to the informal network. You need upward information in order to manage effectively. This helps employees feel like a part of the organization and boosts morale.

You can receive feedback on messages sent and decisions implemented. Problems that may be uncomfortable to deal with are, nevertheless, brought to the surface where you can act upon them. As manager, you need to know about drug use, proceses out of control, dysfunctional equipment or sexual harassment at lower levels in your organization. Finally, as evidenced at such firms as Toyota, employee suggestions are valuable. The problem in the U.S. is we have tended to focus more on evaluating suggestions rather than soliciting suggestions. Of course, you may resist upward communication as many managers have in the past. Though the potential for criticism and bad news do exist, proper management of the organizational system cannot be effective without bottom-up information.

Downward communication is much more likely to be formalized, especially in functionally organized hierarchies. These networks tend not to involve feedback, and therefore, you, as the sender, never know the quality of the received message.

As Zaremba indicates, horizontal communication, or the movement of information along the same strata of the organization, is rarely formalized below the top-most levels of the organization. In managing the organizational system, you should consider creating formal networks for horizontal information. Without such networks, information is likely to get lost, distorted or arrive late.

Communication managment systems

Communication is also a process and a function that can and should be assessed in your organization. Communication is a vital part of your management system and can help you continuously improve your system. Part of this improvement process is knowing how you are doing. Many organizations have a communication function or department, but even if not formalized as a department, the process of communication and the success of communication networks should be evaluated and continuously improved. As Sink points out, the criteria used in the measurement process should focus on efficiency, effectiveness, quality, productivity, profitabilty/budgetability, quality of worklife and innovation.

Survey instruments are effective tools to elicit feedback from customers. Since customers can be internal or external, customer satisfaction instruments can be applied to all types of communication networks. An organization's benchmarking process (or procedure for comparing its own performance against the best in the industry or best at a particular function), can be assessed to measure how well the external network allows such important information to enter and be used by the organization. An input output analysis is a procedure whereby your system or subsystem is defined by its upstream and downstream systems, customers, suppliers, stakeholders and transformation processes. The efficiency and effectiveness of communication can be evaluated for internal, external, formal, informal and horizontal networks using this method. The transformation process itself can be assessed in detail using a flow diagram of the formal communication process. It is also beneficial to flowchart the informal process and to address the gap between the two. Observational analysis can be used for all communication networks. Effective communication networks are frequently transparent, but ineffective networks can be most conspicuous. For example, an unattended, persistently ringing telephone, arguments in the hallway and customer complaints are all indicators of potentially ineffective communication networks and can be documented through observational techniques. Actively walking around, statistically thinking about what you observe as being either special-cause or common-cause related will help you to devise appropriate intervention strategies.

Protocol analysis is a technique that allows the systematic investigation of verbal reports or transcripts. This approach can be useful in analyzing the differences between the informal and formal networks and the underlying causes of those differnces. A vertical slice analysis is where an internal, neutral party or an outside consultant conducts structured interviews at each level in the organizational hierarchy. This allows a systematic evaluation of communication at each level of management and reveals if there is a breakdown or barrier at a particular level. This is a most effective method for evaluating upward and downward communication and reveals much about the internal and formal networks.

A scatter plot can be used to analyze the relationship between the internal and external networks. A given variable in the internal network such as efficiency of design-to-manufacture communication can be plotted against an external network variable such as number of new customer inquiries to see whether internal management is affecting the external network.

An Ishikawa or wishbone diagram can be used to document the potential causes of a communication problem. This tool can be applied to most types of netowrks. A Pareto Diagram is a tool that allows the identification of most significant communication problems or factors.

Quality Function-Development (QFD) is a technique used for converting customer requirements into design specifications. As such, it can be used to assess the extent to which the external customer's voice is being heard in the network and whether it is being translated appropriately in the internal network.

Though taken for granted, communication is a vital process and function in your management system. By having a systematic way to understand communication, a way to assess its effectiveness and methods for contiuous movement, your organizational system and you will be more successful.

For further reading

Barnard, The Functions of the Executive, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Bennis and Nannus, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, New York: Harper & Row.

Mallak, L.A. and Kurstedt, H.A., "MIS success in a federal government organization," Fall Industrial Engineering Conference Proceedings.

Sink, D.S. and Tuttle, T.C., Planning and Measurement in Your Organization of the Future, Norcross, Georgia: Industrial Engineering and Managemnet Press.

Zaremba, A. "Management in a new key: Communication Networks," Industrial Management, Semptember/October 1989.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
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Author:Kleiner, Brian M.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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