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The communication gap.

The most recent and painful example has been our love affair with the computer, which has allowed us to become even more craft oriented than we formerly were. That, despite all of the communication research which says so clearly that people infinitely prefer face-to-face communication with their supervisors and their executives over any media, including print and video.

We in the communication profession have contributed to a communication gap that threatens our very existence.

How? By refusing to see communication as an unending process. By not challenging the simple belief that the production of a newsletter means that the organization's leadership is fulfilling its responsibility. By declining to learn how to become communication strategists who orchestrate clear issues and messages into and through effective channels.

The result is that the leaders who pay the bills see us for what we have chosen to become - writers, editors and producers - and they leave us out when the really important communication need presents itself.

Move from technicians to strategists

Too few of us are perceived in our own companies as key players when the leadership needs to formulate a quality strategy, or when a major change of disruptive proportions is in the works, or when the organization is struggling to become more competitive in its marketplace.

The November issue of Communication World, I thought, expressed it well. In an interview, IABC Chairman Les Potter, ABC, was asked what changes he would most like to see happen in the profession. His answer was emphatic. (Correctly, I think) he said he'd like to see more organizations use communication as the strategic management resource it is. He then added his belief that that would depend on our ability to rethink the role of communication and develop the strategic management counseling and research expertise we need.

In that same issue, Mark Westaby, a consultant in the U.K., reported a study of 1,000 British companies. His main conclusion was: "Although companies increasingly recognize the value of an integrated and consistent approach to communication, it is clear that few have managed to put this into practice in any measurable fashion." The reasons he cites are that communication is seldom represented at the most senior management level and thus is not considered during the strategic planning process, as well as the fragmentation of the function across several different departments or divisions, making strategic communication virtually impossible."

To put it mildly, I think that both Potter and Westaby see a gap of major proportions.

That very same communication gap was cited in a recent study designed by William M. Mercer, Inc. to determine the thinking of a blue ribbon panel of U.S. communication and human resource experts. Representing 40 leading U.S. companies, they were startlingly consistent in their identification of the critical qualities that would characterize companies attuned to the communication needs of their diverse employee audiences.

Here's their prescription for communication's best practices:

* Company communication will be driven by well-planned strategies;

* Communicating will be a top priority for company leaders;

* Communication content will emphasize vision, values and business strategy;

* Managerial success at all levels will require strong people skills;

* Employee media cannot be ends in themselves. They are merely channels;

* Employee diversity will require intensified listening and two-way communication;

* The ability to keep a diverse employee audience focused in a rapidly changing world will separate the successful from the unsuccessful organizations.

The obvious challenge is how we close the gap that nearly everyone in our profession sees between these best practices and typical practice.

Competition moves communicators to produce

For some time I have believed that the need of all organizations to be competitively effective, to produce quality products and services and to be attuned to customer needs offers our best hope. Competitive organizations that understand how to produce quality and that are committed to continuous improvement cannot escape their dependence on well-informed, motivated employees.

I suspect that many leaders wish that dependence were not so, that somehow technology or financial manipulation or some answer other than people would give them competitiveness and quality. Leading people well is time consuming and messy, not to mention demanding and stressful. But the problems of competitiveness and quality leave us with no other alternative. Strategic communication is not just a nice-to-do activity; it has finally been validated by our need to satisfy demanding customers, produce quality and create competitiveness.

In more than two decades of its existence, IABC and its predecessors have been an important force in helping us understand this powerful truth. The tough job that lies ahead, obviously, is to close the communication gap, to take the difficult personal and organizational actions we have thus far declined to take and to transform ourselves from craft-oriented people to people with a command of the total communication process and all of its ramifications.

If we don't, there are other organizational specialists who understand the problem as merely a matter of technology and of the correct marriage of hardware and software. Their solutions" will be a sad response to the communication gap and to the human needs of the work force.

Roger D'Aprix, ABC, and IABC Fellow, is principal, Wm. M. Mercer, Inc., Rochester, N. Y.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
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Title Annotation:Section 2: Dealing with Today; Looking Back from the Future; business communication
Author:D'Aprix, Roger
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:The invasion of public relations' domain by lawyers and marketers.
Next Article:Getting managers off their butts and into the communication game.

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