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Internal communication in South African companies and the role of the communicator.

--INTERNAL--COMMUNICATION in South African companies and the role of the Communicator

INTERNAL COMMUNICATION PROGRAMMES ARE ALIVE AND WELL AND FLOURISHING IN SOUTH AFRICAN COMPANIES--AND HAVE BEEN FOR MANY YEARS. Magazines, newspapers, corporate brochures, videos, teleconferences, newsletters, employee reports, attitude surveys, worker involvement groups--virtually every communicator worth his salt will tell you that he or she has had hands-on experience with most--if not all--of these communication tools.

However, a new element has crept into the communicator's role in recent times, making him an even more vital link between management and employees than ever before--and that element is the emergence of "the new South Africa."

As a matter of interest, some South African companies have been preparing for this "new world" for many years already--even when political tide was against them--a factor which has either remained unknown internationally or has simply remained unacknowledged.

Preparing for a New World of Communicating

I take my own company, Barlow Rand Limited, South Africa's largest diversified industrial group, as an example. I wonder how may IABC members know that it was the first company in South Africa to formulate its own Code of Employment Practice in 1978 based on the Reverend Leon Sullivan's principles for US companies operating in this country. How did this come about? Mainly because of the vision and foresight of top management, especially our chairman, Mike Rosholt, who met with Sullivan on several occasions and was instrumental in getting our code formulated. He went on to form a contact group of top South African companies which made a commitment to their own codes.

But that was some years ago. What about recent times? Writing as a professional communicator who has been with the group for seven years, perhaps I could illustrate my point by focusing on some of the projects I have been involved in. As editor of the Barlow Rand Journal, I have been exposed to management's enlightened thinking--and have been able to use the internal communication vehicles which I am responsible for to highlight this type of thinking--and in hope of adding a creative touch to it as well.

One of my early experiences--in 1986--which brought me head-on with events leading up to a changing order--was an article which I wrote for the magazine entitled "Getting to know you." To quote from my introduction:

"On a winter's day a few months ago 14 men from a number of Barlow Rand companies set out for the Golden Gate National Park. Their motive--not to get away from it all on a relaxing vacation--but to be the first participants in the People Interaction Enhancement Programme series organised by Barlow Rand's group training centre.

"The men who arrived were not the same men who said goodbye to each other at the end of the four-day course--not only had they got to know each other, but they had also found out a lot about themselves.

"The editor of Barlows '86 was there to diarise some of the events during those few days."

This intercultural programme was an eye-opener to me. Men of all race groups, ranging from store supervisors to divisional managers, were participants in an innovative programme which crossed all cultural barriers. The "think-tanks" and the outdoor activities forged bonds between people who started off as strangers--and left as friends.

Since then there have been articles and editorials that I have worked on with similar themes.

In an editorial on discrimination, written in 1987, we stated:

"Managers and supervisors who have no respect for their people have no place in Barlow Rand, for their attitudes are abhorrent to the group. Just as negotiation between all races is the key to ensuring the future of South Africa, so too can the manager of Barlow Rand's 232,000 employees encourage dialogue and put an end to discrimination in the work place.

"The Barlow Rand group is committed to the promotion and preservation of the dignity and self-esteem of all employees. In the light of this, the prime objective of the group in 1987 is the total eradication of discrimination. Only when this has been achieved can we rightfully claim that all of our employees, regardless of race, gender or creed, have made their contribution to meaningful change in our country."

In a more recent editorial, which we put together for our chief executive, the topic was, "Preparing for Change."

The following extract illustrates the fact that the historic changes which are taking place in this country are uppermost in our minds:

"Barlow Rand will not be untouched by the changes in South Africa. The challenges of managing in the '90s are going to be very different to those of the '80s. We are going to have to face those challenges together--and I trust that each one of you who works in the group is ready to join with me to make our contribution to a non-racial, democratic and economically secure future for all."

How to Cross Cultural Barriers

Our corporate videos, annual reports, employee reports and newsletters have all, in recent years, focused on the theme of respect for the individual and the fact that the work place is a vital area for all employees to accept and understand the country's changing value systems.

And we are not alone. Other South African IABC members such as Pixie Malherbe of the Electricity Supply Commission and Tom Ferreira and Nico Venter of Gencor--have worked on other major communication projects which forge links across cultural barriers.

In fact, Tom and Nico presented one of their programmes entitled, "The importance of a company's employees in the total communication and marketing process" to a Communication Management Council session at the 1990 IABC international conference in Vancouver.

Today, South African communicators have to interrelate with other disciplines such as industrial relations and human resources--perhaps even more so than their counterparts in other countries. We are being brought up against the forces of change--and there are times when keeping up with current events is a 24-hour-a-day task! The swiftly changing South African environment is necessitating quick thinking and adaptation on the part of communicators--we are working in a climate that, possibly, only our counterparts in Eastern Europe have experienced.

South African Management Style Is Universal

I have been asked to answer the following question: "Would a management style that prevails in your country export successfully to the US?" In my opinion, the answer is "Definitely, yes." Why? Because managements and communicators are facing changes in the country that inevitably affect the work place. We are being brought face-to-face with multiculturalism, the realities, the problems and the advantages--and we are evolving techniques and methods, which, if proved successful in this country, must surely be applicable and of value to multicultural societies the world over.

The South African professional communicator is at the cutting edge of the country's change and our help is being enlisted to construct, shape and mould that "new South Africa" that is now no longer a dream--but a reality for all of us.

Barbara Anne Palframan is a senior public relations executive for Barlow Rand Limited, Sandton, South Africa.
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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Author:Palframan, Barbara Anne
Publication:Communication World
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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