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The changing role of today's communicator.

Most communicators wouldn't argue with the statement that communication continues to play an increasingly integral role in organizations. The 1991 Wyatt Communication and Training Survey found that to be the case. Issues formerly the concern of senior management are becoming the communicator's to explain and translate for employees.

The survey was designed to give insight into the direction of the communication and training professions.

We wanted to find out how employee communication and training programs are used to help meet corporate goals and to facilitate change, and to compare this information to where the communication profession was in 1986 and 1989 when we conducted similar surveys. Sol we asked a large number of CEOs and professionals in human resources, compensation, benefits, communication, and training what they think -- and more than 2,200 gave us their answers.

The survey itself asked for information regarding the role of communication in the respondents' organizations, as well as what respondents see as the primary issues and objectives for communication.

Issues for the '90s

Listed in order of priority, here are the top five organizational communication issues:

* Changes in performance management;

* Quality improvement;

* Corporate values and mission;

* Employee involvement; and

* Controlling health care costs.

As communicators, our role in addressing these issues within our own organizations has become more strategic, more analytical and more important. Senior executives are having to inspire, motivate, and challenge convention -- and we play a significant role as communicators in helping them attain these objectives.

Of the five priorities, 72.9 percent of those surveyed saw the need to communicate changes in performance management -- specifically, the expansion of performance management programs to measure more than individual performance. Today, performance management must provide methods for measuring individual accountability, teamwork, quality and effective communication. As employees become more empowered and are asked to take responsibility and accountability for the bottom line, it's clear that present performance management systems are slowly becoming obsolete.

Moving down the list of priorities, 69.2 percent of survey participants recognize quality improvement as an important business objective to be communicated. Although many of us are just beginning to understand what quality is all about, we must take the initiative and share this newly found expertise with those who can make the difference -- employees. We'll need to act as mediators, disseminating ideas from above and translating them into actions for employees, and providing employees with the power and tools to pass ideas up the organization.

Almost equally important (according to 68 percent of survey respondents) is the need to communicate the corporate mission and values. Traditionally, top management has been responsible for instilling the corporate mission and values into the organization's strategies. Yet, as communicators assume more responsibility within the organization, it becomes even more important for their efforts to also reflect the corporate mission and values, translating them into day-to-day initiatives to which employees can relate.

Next in the priority line is employee involvement, which 57 percent of participants agreed was an important issue for communicators today. This was followed by 48.6 percent who found controlling health care costs a priority in our communication efforts.

At first glance these may seem like disparate issues, but, in fact, they are closely linked. Successful quality initiatives require employee awareness of corporate mission, values and objectives; employee involvement in translating these ideas into actions; and employee commitment to them as demonstrated in their individual and combined performance. As communicators, our responsibility is to provide "voice" to these priorities and to encourage discussion of them across levels of the organization.

What exactly is our role?

Both CEOs and professionals in various communication and human resource areas responded to the survey. And though the data show consensus among senior management and professionals on the top five priorities, CEOs and professionals do not seem to agree on the role of the communicator in an organization. Only about one-third (36.7 percent) of communication practitioners see their role as strategic, whereas more than one-half (54.6 percent) of the CEOs see communicators as strategists within their organizations. This is even more surprising given the fact that 42 percent of those communicators see themselves as senior executives.

If they are not strategists, then what do these communicators see as their primary functions within their organizations? Here are some of their written responses:

* "To empower employees to make decisions for customer satisfaction at all levels."

* To meet "the need for focused, centralized, and standardized information about the company."

* "To maintain competitive posture organizationally and provide sophisticated consideration of image/assured reputation."

* To continue "influencing policies and taking a more prominent role, particularly in consulting with top management."

Reading through these comments, it would seem that many professionals recognize the evolution of their profession to a more strategic and less service-oriented role. In fact, 58 percent of the respondents see the link between communication and business issues. The question is, are we as professionals actually seizing upon our new-found respect of senior management and taking greater responsibility and exerting increasing influence in planning our organization's future? Or, are we waiting until our CEOs come to us and say, "Where were you when we needed you most?"

Adapting to a more strategic role

For the communication professional to succeed in a more strategic role within an organization, he or she needs to address the two areas in which many communicators fail: planning and measuring results. Survey results showed that fewer than one-third (only 31 percent) of survey participants have a formal communication plan in their organization. And, even if a formal communication plan exists, 83 percent of all respondents do not measure the results of their communication efforts.

So how can 36 percent of these participants judge their corporate-wide communication as very effective" or "effective," and 46 percent as "somewhat effective?" Unless we can provide measured results, that may be a question we'll be hearing from senior management.

The fact is that the majority of any executive's performance in an organization is measured by his or her contribution to the bottom line. So far, however, communicators haven't had to meet a quota. But, as senior management sees the communication function more and more as a strategic tool, communicators will have to prove the value of their efforts and expenditures. And value often equals return on investment. Especially when we're spending (as 35 percent of respondents indicated) over U.S. 100,000 on communication each year.

Communication will no longer be effective simply because it looks good and reads well. It will be effective when it influences actions of employees to meet the organization's business objectives and we can demonstrate this influence. To prove the worth of our organization's investment, we'll have to define the purpose of our communication and set objectives and strategies. We'll have to document our goals and collect data proving that we have met those goals. In short, we will have the same bottom-line accountabilities as other organizational functions.

The Wyatt Company is an international human resources consulting firm. Communication, training, and employee research are among its services. To purchase copies of complete survey results or for information, contact Bill Westwood, Organization Research & Development, 303 W. Madison, Suite 2400. Chicago, IL 60606-3308, (312) 704-0600.

Where IABC ranks

How did IABC members responding to the survey fare compared with nonmembers? Here's what we found.

Generally, survey data show that respondents who are IABC members are in larger organizations than other respondents. They also have larger communication and training budgets and staffs. IABC respondents are more likely to be part of a separate corporate communication, public relations/marketing communication, or training department than part of human resources/personnel or in an operating unit.

Overall, IABC members and nonmembers seem to have the same five key issues today (see main story). However, there are subtle differences in how we view our roles within our organizations: Category best describing communication professionals in your organization
 IABC members Nonmembers All Respondents
Strategists 32.2% 37.6% 36.5%
Craftspersons 66.8% 62.4% 63.5%

Are your communication objectives linked to business objectives?
 IABC members Nonmembers All Respondents
Yes 69% 54.4% 58.1%
No 31% 45.6% 41.9%

As you can see, IABC members are less likely to view themselves as strategists and more likely to link their communication programs to business objectives. IABC members are also more likely to measure the return of their communication investments. Measure communication return on investment
 IABC members Nonmembers All Respondents
Once a year 16.4% 7.1% 9.4%
Every two years 10.1% 4.3% 5.8%
Every five years 3.0% 1.0% 1.5%
No formal review 70.5% 87.6% 83.3%

And in measuring the ROI of communication efforts, IABC members are much more likely to employ every method of measurement, including communication audits, readership surveys, focus groups, and management judgment.

Because IABC members are more likely to measure results than non-IABC members, it's not surprising that their effectiveness ratings are higher. Effectiveness of formal corporate-wide employee communication program
 IABC members Nonmembers All Respondents
Very effective 5.6% 3.6% 4.1%
Effective 39.4% 28.9% 31.5%
Somewhat effective 41.8% 47.2% 45.9%
Not very effective 13.2% 20.3% 18.5%

Although these data give evidence to the fact that IABC members may be ahead of the game in some ways, all communication professionals have some serious strides to take.
 Communication Priorities
Changes in performance management 72.9%
Quality improvement 69.2%
Corporate values and mission (leadership) 68.0%
Employee involvement 57.0%
Controlling health care costs 48.6%
 Communication Professionals Viewed As Strategists By
CEOs 54.6%
Senior Officers 36.7%
Other Executives 42.3%
Managers 33.0%
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:highlights of the 1991 Wyatt Communication Training Survey
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Breaking out of the frame?
Next Article:Validating the code of ethics.

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