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Business communication in millennium III.

Every national economy is becoming a more intimate part of an integrated global economy. The consequence for American businesspeople is that the traditional isolation, parochialism, and chauvinism, which have characterized post-war business America, are not merely inappropriate, they are suicidal. No American business-even one dedicated to serving domestic markets exclusively-is free from the challenges of globalization. American business is now being attacked, confronted, and competed with and for, in international and domestic markets, as each foreign competitor expands to the global arena. The United States is the world's largest market for almost everything, hence it is the one sought by all foreign competitors. By no means is that competition limited to the two emerging superpowers-Germany, the most successful nation in the world; and Japan, the most widely publicized of our competitors. Each of the European countries, the Pacific Rim, and, to a surprising extent, Third World countries, are emerging as highly effective business competitors.

The primary challenge to American business is for better design, higher quality, more sure and speedy service, durable performance, and general reliability in schedules, claims, and effectiveness. Americans see that challenge most clearly and frequently as consumers. But that same competition is affecting purchases and procurements by business itself. For example, the precipitous decline of the American machine tool industry is almost totally attributable to Japanese competitors who bested American firms at every turn, not in the performance of their equipment, but in the speed and reliability of scheduling, delivery and in the full and immediate support services which they routinely offered. Information Technology Information technology is the second universal driver shaping the future. As America becomes laced together with fiber optics, microwave, cable, and communication satellites, the bottom will drop out of the cost of communication.

There will be an expansion, not merely in traditional telephone and current cable, but fiber optics will make low-cost audio, video, and data communication a universal expectation. Since 1962, capital investment in white-collar workers has quadrupled, and the largest portion of that investment is in

Information technology.

Today, more (and tomorrow all) white-collar workers will have a screen at their desk, and the more advanced companies will be providing portables to take home and to use on the road. just picture the fact that with two minor alterations the American automobile or van is capable of performing most of the jobs done in the office. Those alterations being just two more cigarette lighter receptacles to plug in the word processor, the fax machine, and whatever else will come along in the next decade. Information technology, by the end of the century, will put every worker in the global corporation in easy communication with any other worker in that global corporation as well as with any customer, constituent, client, vendor or regulator.

Diversity of the Work Force

The massive unfolding of the diversity of the work force is a third factor shaping our society. Of the 25 percent new recruits into the work force in the next decade, 80 percent to 85 percent will be women, minorities, or foreign-born. That heavy injection of new workers is so overwhelming that any hope of managing the work force by pushing, forcing or cajoling these people into a model of the native-born Caucasian male is an operation worthy only of a King Canute.

Unprecedented flexibility will characterize the management of the work place. Achieving that flexibility in schedules, location, rewards and training will be a monumental stress on management since today's ideal work force is made up of competent, skilled, smiling robots who do what they are told, do it well, and demonstrate a one percent quarterly improvement of performance. Every procedure and custom of the large and small corporation will be reshaped by the diversity.

Changing social values will accompany demographic change, continuing education and rising family prosperity. Those changing social values will reflect themselves in consumer, business and work attitudes: a commitment to higher quality, service, performance and reliability is now a shibboleth of American business, a shibboleth yet to be reduced to effective universal practice. Accompanying that will be the demands for more and better information, in-depth, ad lib, on demand, and in terms that the consumer and the customer, whether personal or corporate, will insist upon.

The new social values will include an agenda for environmental enhancement on a new scale-the globe-while closer attention to health, safety and reliability in everything that Americans encounter, use or ingest will be universal and routine. To paraphrase Daniel Bell, "What is a social matter today becomes a political issue tomorrow and an economic reality the next day." While the sad state of American education does not give anyone great comfort about the future, the reality is that education has altered the value set of Americans. Education accompanied by continuing prosperity, constantly raises expectations for higher levels of social and corporate performance. One could sum it up by noting that America has moved on an unprecedented scale to a society overwhelmingly middle class in its values and aspirations. Those values will dominate our future.

The New Business Communication

The world of business communication will have as a centerpiece the equivalent of the US magazine, Consumer Reports, blown up to gigantic proportions and totally electronic on-line. Customers, citizens, regulators and reporters will not be satisfied with canned material but will want specific details and access to unlimited back-up data. Customers will push for more clear and well-packaged details about such matters as side effects, costs and reliability.

Imagine a customer wishing to buy a vacuum cleaner from a major department store, keying in, asking to see the several models and the characteristics. Then he or she asks for models offered by three competitors. Then, moving on, questions about new things like mean-time to failure, the six most frequent repairs, their average cost, and so on. The company with the best, most readily available, and most in-depth story will win in the competitive communication game. Quality will not necessarily mean highest quality, but quality most appropriate to the task at hand.

The requested details will be pushed as far as the customer wants. One might even expect wise customers to ask for the names of three people who have owned the vacuum for more than a year and who live within a mile of their home, who they may telephone.

More Constituents

Whoever the corporation now deals with, multiply them by a factor of two to 10. Constituents for information are not only stockholders, regulators, and customers, but will include suppliers, public interest groups, labor unions, individual workers, students, anyone who just happens to have an interest in a product, a process, a company, its practices, or its behavior. Add to that the dimension of operations overseas, and one sees a massive expansion in those with whom corporate communicators must interact. One quickly reaches the limits of the prefabricated and the canned: the detailed and authoritative will be the order of the day. New communications, whether internal or international, will be in the language and dialect choice of the audience. For example, in the United States there are no Hispanics, there are people of Cuban, Honduran, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Peruvian, Puerto Rican and other origins. Each of these people can reasonably expect to be spoken to in her or his own language and dialect. To do otherwise would insult the customer, the legislator, the public interest person, or the would-be employee.

Interactive and On-Line

The growth of the fiber optic networks will put corporations on-line within their organization and with those with whom they repeatedly and frequently communicate. Networking therefore has to be responsive and implies upgrading in the sophistication of skills, unlimited in depth of internal information access by those who will be responding to the system.

Many organizations, because of the pressures created by interactive networks, will augment the human worker with artificial intelligence systems. Also, newly in vogue will be the honest, straightforward, and old-fashioned statement: "I don't know-but I'll find out. Let me video you back," rather than some superficial attempt to patch over the respondent's ignorance.

The interactive elements are not limited to present behavior and practices but will intrude on plans, programs and strategies. That interaction will be at every level of operations, and in many cases it will be quantitative. An organization planning to build a facility will be wide open for anyone affected to ask for any degree of detailed information. If you cannot respond to them, you ultimately will respond to the regulator or legislator, or to a hostile association in court.

The New Graphics

The invention of the printing press and low-cost paper drastically changed the nature of script. It went from esoteric, elaborate and difficult-to-read manuscripts of the Medieval period to the clean-line design of daily newspapers. A transition is occurring in the use of graphic materials in computers. We are moving to an era in which the sophisticated new constituent will be fully quantitative and graphics literate. Multi-dimensional graphics, presented with increasing degrees of sophistication and skill, will be the order of the day and the challenge to the voice of the company. The new graphics important to corporate communication will not be the frivolous, artsy-crafty kind of trash so common on television and in glossy magazines.

The new graphics will be used as sophisticated devices for packaging and delivering complex information to sophisticated users. As has often affected corporate communication, the artsy-crafty advertising model of communication will be increasingly unsatisfactory to the corporations' and the business associations' sophisticated constituents.

Decision-Related Interactions

The most striking innovation that the corporation and its business groups must learn to love is to go earlier and more specifically to its constituents with lots of decision-related information, The era is past in which the large corporations can rely upon proceduralism, legal processes and dilatory techniques to fend off its constituents. The new skill will be to seek early decision-related information and inputs from the organization's constituents. And this does not apply merely to traditional areas such as marketing but will apply to more unusual areas such as R&D planning, product development, and facilities and plant siting. Constituents will fall into advisory and judgmental roles with regard to almost all business decisions. The advisors and those rendering judgments will come from unusual quarters: the boards; the senior executives of your customer companies, of foreign governments, of state and local agencies, public interest groups and numerous other groups yet to make themselves known. The crucial problem is to embrace them positively and early in decision-related advisory functions.

The Telescoping of Information

Proper terminology is difficult, but fixed packages of information will not satisfy many of the new clients. Information must be nested or telescoped; it must be available in cascades so that one can dig deeper, and others can dig even deeper, and others can go all the way to the depths of your knowledge. Corporate information must be available in the future on a menu which allows for that kind of probing.

Pseudo-Personal Information

While the intention in no way is to suggest faking it, the reality is more information will have to be tailored to an individual, and more "Dear Mr. Smith" or "Dear Ms. Smith" rather than "Dear Customer" material will be routine. Microdemographics will allow you to talk with more specific information to individuals. Data processing will allow you to identify the characteristics of customers in greater detail than is now practical. Personal material-personally tailored, personally framed-will be available and usual. The new personal touch will not be the cheap shot stuff that is pumped out by the automated machines at the US Congress, our national magazines or mail order catalogues, but tailored information showing that you know about and care about that individual constituent, customer or client.


It would be difficult in the face of globalization to overstate the importance of international communication. That in turn implies close attention to language, both to the formal and subtle, to the misplaced word, to the faulty pronunciation that individually sounds like an obscenity, to the use of a phrase, the meaning of which is unclear. A class example is "Ich Bin Ein Berliner." While a great political statement to the American ear, to the German ear, it was humorous. What it meant, as a slang term is "I am a donut," although John Kennedy's audience obviously understood what he meant.

International communication will be at a level deeper that mere language. It must also reflect cultural expertise. The applied anthropologist will be a high premium communicator for many organizations.

Applied Visual Communication

Research shows that people in work and business communications are not interested in seeing other people at the end of their telephone or their cable-unless it is frank entertainment. There are, however, the visual greetings and exchanges before one moves to the data exchange. In many cases one will deal with a formal message from a formal organization representative. This puts a high premium on rhetorical and theatrical skills. Coming in out of left field as a great shock to the corporation will be applied psychological tools, which will expose deceit and lying. Voice scanning of television messages and specialists coming on to critique and interpret the facial movements, gestures and body language of the speaker will become routine challenges to corporate integrity.

The Role of Paper, Periodicals, Print

There is no reason to believe that the traditional media will go out of style yet. As we become more information intense, there will be less displacement of paper and more augmentation and interaction of paper and electronic information. The concept of the electronic office is not likely to be a satisfactory reality for all uses and users. With a population in which a large percent are over 40, paper will not be displaced, because it is the preferred tool for that generation.

New interaction between paper and electronics will become the order of business. For example, the Sunday newspaper colored ads may provide a video toll-free number in which one is able to interact in detail about the product and its performance.

Similarly, the car dealership will not only show you the vehicles but perhaps invite you to an audiovisual tour of the car by dialing up the proper number on your home cable or your home slow-scan telephone.

Auto manufacturers are now providing this option on a disk for the home computer.

Who Will Be Communicating?

Everyone will be communicating. For the healthy company, in consumer markets the goal will be for every customer to be a salesman communicating the message of your quality service and performance. In a more narrow sense, every employee will be a communicator, whether to friends, relatives, work associates or directly to customers and suppliers. A broader range of communication skills will need to be taught and made available to the whole work force.

Within the company, there will be communication among and between people who may never have met. Those communication skills must also be enhanced on behalf of the individual and that individual's working unit, division, sector, branch, or facility. With the broad range of communication to public, customers, constituents, regulators, and public interest groups, a high premium will be put on the reality and the image of integrity, reliability and soundness. While one may not be able to order up the avuncular personality and skills of a Walter Cronkite, the alternative is not less attention to these images of integrity. The answer will be new approaches to the image of integrity. Women will have an advantage over men since women carry more of an aura of reliability, soundness and integrity than men. In the melange of communications with all kinds of people, the woman communicator may be less hard-edged, more sympathetic and more flexible in the response to an endless round of inquiries from an endless range of people reflecting attitudes from hostility and anger to bright enthusiasm.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:International Association of Business Communicators: 1970 - 1990: Section 3: An Era Ended; includes related articles on business communication
Author:Coates, Joseph F.
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:A single Europe: so far and yet so near?
Next Article:Goodbye to the golden era of mass communication.

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