When someone mentions the word communication, one”s thoughts turn to a newspaper, the radio, television, or another more common means of mass-type communication. One does not usually make the connection between communication and other institutions such as business. Good business, however, goes hand in hand with good communication. Good managers and professionals realize that the ability to communicate is not a silly frill; it”s a necessity that helps all accomplish their work (Murphy 2). Therefore the question is often posed: Are these problems of poor communications that face managers and professionals becoming more and more critical?
The evidence suggests the answer to be yes- these problems are serious and are growing more and more serious everyday. John O. Morris, a Management Communications Consultant consolidates this problem into a single statement called the Morris Maxim. It states that “Communications problems grow much faster in any organization than the organization itself grows” (Morris 3). This maxim emphasizes the need for better communication in organizations such as big business through the implication of what would happen if that organization did not fix it”s structure to better handle increasing communication needs.
However, before dealing with a solution to the problem of communication in business, (frequently dubbed business speak) it is important to understand how big business operates. Big business was created in the mid-1800″s to organize corporations such as the railroad, oil and steel industries. At that time, the only other organizations that had a similar size and structure were the Roman Catholic Church and the United States Army. These organizations are extremely authoritative in nature, and use a system of hierarchical communication.
This translates into a business organization/communication style which is basically condescending in nature and is based primarily on status . Business speak is often straight, to the point, and beneficial to the individual speaking first, and to others second. This shows its hierarchical origins in that very often, the speaker is one who will use one or more power strategies, mostly the perception that someone can inflict negative consequences.
Other issues in business communications include lack of responsibility in the upper ranks of the hierarchy, lack of training in good communications for the majority of employees, and lack of honest, direct conversation between business and it”s customers. These problems need to be fixed for a business to truly succeed, and can be fixed if managers and high-ranking officials take the initiative and implement a few simple and straightforward techniques into their business styles. Current problems facing business communications deal mainly with the apparent lack of functional inter-level communication.
That is, communication employees as well as customers can understand. One of the main reasons behind this lack of understandable communication is that there are some many ways to avoid good communication and maintain the status quo for the short term. These mostly pertain to issues brought to a company from outside sources. These include letters of complaint, inquiries from government bodies such as the Federal Trade Commission, and published evaluations (i. e. editorials, product reviews).
Instead of addressing these issues head-on and dealing with them, companies are more likely to dodge responsibility. There are 2 main ways to dodge accountability: denial and evasion of responsibility (Benoit, 90). In using denial, a corporation or employee refuses any wrong-doing, and usually transfers blame to another company or employee, often one that is lower on the “corporate ladder”. This is similar to evasion of responsibility, which often names scapegoats. In addition to that, evasion tactics often claim that any wrong-doing was an accident, or that the intentions behind their actions were good.
These tactics allow for excuses to be made and for responsibility to be forgotten. Lastly, some companies will refuse to accept any wrongdoing, and simply fix the problem. This was the case when Tylenol was accused of allowing their merchandise to be tampered by not putting a safety seal on their product”s bottle. This prompted Tylenol”s executives to start sealing their bottles, but they never accepted responsibility for not sealing them in the first place (Benoit 92). This is just one example of a company distancing itself from blame.
In order for there to be good communication, corporations must begin accepting responsibility for their actions, and begin making sound business decisions based on what the customer wants and needs. This would be most advantageously served with clear communication between a company and it”s customers. On the whole, communications between companies and customers are based on a “need to know” basis. There are exceptions to this rule, however. One company has done an increasingly good job in maintaining good communications lines with it”s customers.
Intel, Inc. s a computer micro-processor firm that controls over 90% of the computer chip-set industry (Yahoo Tech Headlines). In their annual report, Intel”s top executives announced the creation of a “sort of R&D lab and strategic think tank to the industry” in which “we (will) work with PC makers, software developers and PC users to understand their future needs and wishes, and work intensely with industry leaders to develop products or specifications that meet those needs”. In doing so, Intel has opened a direct link to it”s customers, allowing for direct customer impact on some of Intel”s management and directional decisions.
However, even the most open and direct company is not without it”s business speak. The following was taken from the same annual report, under the heading “Taking responsibility for our own growth”: We know we can’t wait for growth to come to us. We are responsible for our own future and work to make it as successful as possible by removing roadblocks to PC platform growth, developing preference for the Intel Inside(R) brand among PC users and supporting emerging PC markets around the world. Together, these strategies build value for our stockholders, which is, after all, our most important goal.
While this may look like a positive, non-aggressive statement, one finds a different meaning when looking at it from a business speak point of view. The most obvious example of business speak is the phrase “removing roadblocks to PC platform growth”. Basically stated, Intel wants to buyout or take-over any companies that might stand in the way of allowing Intel to control the industry. If Intel were to come right out and say this, there would be massive investigations from government and consumer groups that would plague Intel for years.
Therefore, by tailoring what they tell their customers and stockholders, they are dodging a bullet and enforcing a hierarchical position over it”s customers and stockholders. However, customers are not the only one”s often left in the dark on business decisions. Sometimes, even high ranking officials are not consulted and are left to adapt to a change they had no say in. Such was the case with James Bennett, CEO of Picadilly Cafeterias, Inc. In 1986, then chief financial officer Bennett sat in a meeting and listened as Picadilly”s CEO announced plans to change the recipes of some of their most popular items.
These changes were to be unannounced and were never tested or approved internally. There was no communication between the CEO and the company. James Bennett quit later that week and Picadilly”s sales plummeted from $11 a share to $6 (Forbes, 63). In 1992, Bennett was back in action, this time as CEO. He began a comprehensive overhaul that brought back the “good home cooking” that was the Picadilly tradition. “I”m just going back to ways that have always worked” (Forbes, 63). Those ways included clear communication between customer and company, as well as between employer and employee.
That difference has translated into profit: shares in Picadilly are now worth $14 a piece (Forbes 64). He proved that a business can not be run on a spreadsheet alone. Knowledge in the area of communication, even if at the most elementary level is one of the key factors in a successful employment history. In a survey of 13,586 of its college graduates, General Electric Company found that the great majority of its employees cited written and verbal communication as the college training that had contributed most to their success in business (Zelko 7).
It for this reason that many colleges have reported an increase in enrollment in communications classes. In addition to college courses, companies are now beginning to take the initiative and teach their current employees communications skills. This in-service of sorts can be accomplished very efficiently if a few guidelines are met. These include the establishment of an informal and permissive climate, the establishment of the value and importance of the training, and general across-the-board participation- that is, contributions to the group from all of it”s members (Zelko, 8).
These guidelines ensure that the environment will be right to help educate the employee that is not versed in communication. This training can be a catalyst in the growth of a business, as well as helping to create a work-friendly environment that encourages productivity (Murphy 9). The American Management Association calls the ability to communicate a “vital skill of management”, and declare that “progressive companies now recognize (this ability)”. It is important to improve not only downward communication , but upward communication as well.
Values of good downward communication include the ability to help a manager”s authority to be accepted, an evocation of cooperation that helps to solve problems, and a general expression of a more friendly atmosphere that builds morale everywhere (Murphy 281). Values of enhanced upward communication include the ability to forewarn top management of employees” reaction to policies, clarification of directives, and ability to offer valuable ideas to supervisors (Murphy 281). These values can help improve business exponentially, mostly due to the combined efforts of employees and their supervisors.
When upward and downward communication has been established, the major problems dealing with communications in business will be eliminated. The hierarchy that is big business will become less prominent, and the business will function much better. A basic analogy that sums up hierarchical structure in business is this- when times are rough, a car that uses both the front and rear tires to move will make out better than a car that uses just the front wheels. Business should be considered a vehicle that has four-wheel drive, not a vehicle with front-wheel drive.
In conclusion, communicating in business is one of the leading restraints that a corporation has to deal with in it”s advancement up the ladder of success. However, if a business chooses to hone it”s ability to communicate and increase the level of productivity due to the sharing of ideas all across the corporate ladder, employee and consumer alike will share the increase in quality of a business products, be it computer microprocessors, or cafeteria food. In short, good communication makes good business.
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