Research Paper: Creating Effective Communications in a Global Organization

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Creating Effective Communications in a global organization

Global organizational communication: Barriers and challenges

In the modern international marketplace environment, organizations are more complex, diffuse and diverse than ever. And yet organizations must also be more responsive to the external environment and to consumer needs. "In today's global business environment, effective organizational communication -- internal and external -- has a significant impact on an organization's success" (Effective organizational communication: a competitive advantage, 2008, HR, p.1). It is also a critical factor in attracting top-level talent to the organization. "SHRM [Society of Human Resource Management]'s 2008 job satisfaction survey report notes that communication between employees and senior management is among the top five very important aspects of employee job satisfaction" (Effective organizational communication: a competitive advantage, 2008, HR, p.1).

What is effective organizational communication?

Organizational communication can be defined in two ways. Organizational communication to members outside of the organization includes "marketing, public relations, investor relations, corporate advertising and environmental communication[s]" disseminated to shareholders and investors (Effective organizational communication: a competitive advantage, 2008, HR, p.1). The second type of organizational communication takes place between organizational actors such as managers and subordinates. It is equally vital that the type of communication that takes place within the firm is effective and clear.

There are two predominant ways of seeing and defining internal communications. While the most common paradigm of organizational communication conceives of the organization as a container in which communication exchanges occur, a newer approach "sees internal communication as a way to describe and explain organizations" and communication as "the central process through which employees share information, create relationships, make meaning and 'construct' organizational culture and values. This process is a combination of people, messages, meaning, practices and purpose" (Berger 2008:1).

The way that organizational communication is viewed has thus undergone a substantial revision. In years past, the Shannon-Weaver Model, often called the S-M-C-R model, dominated. In this paradigm, "an information source [S] encoded a message [M] and delivered it through a selected channel [C] to a designated receiver [R], who decoded it" (Berger 2010:1). Feedback was then transmitted from receiver to sender. An obvious problem with the model of particular relevance to global organizations is that Shannon-Weaver Model assumed that the communication was disseminated accurately by the sender, and interpreted accurately by the recipient. It also assumed that there was little input on the part of the receiver in shaping the message (Berger 2008:1). There was little room for error in the processing of messages,

While later models "emphasized relationships between source and receiver and suggested that the more highly developed the communication knowledge and skills of sources and receivers, the more effectively the message would be encoded and decoded" the introduction of new media has further complicated organizational communication models, as new media can fundamentally impact how even a sophisticated communicator interprets the message (Berger 2008:1). For example, in some contexts email may be accepted as a very informal means of communication, and misspellings and faulty grammar are not frowned upon, while in other organizations even email and text messages may be viewed as formal. The modern etiquette regarding new modes of transmission is still evolving.

Different levels of formality within different business contexts have always been a problem of course. Even between entities of the same national origin, when an enterprise undergoes a merger, employees may be faced with the unpleasant surprise that the new partner has a profoundly different organizational culture. But miscommunications through new communication channels, combined with the obstacles of different cultures and work styles can be particularly difficult to handle. Said one Norwegian manager:

Four years ago, we acquired a German company and its more than 16,000 employees. As a global company with its base in Oslo, Hydro prides itself on taking the best from Norwegian culture -- including its management style. However, we uncovered an important gap in our communication quite quickly in the integration phase. At the time, e-mail was just starting to develop into the monster that it is today, and with an integration project of this size, it emerged as a highly valuable communication tool. However, our more informal Norwegian style of writing, exercised on German colleagues whose company had just been taken over by what was for many an unknown entity, produced many interesting comments (Describe a cultural miscommunication, 2007, Communication World, p.1).

"Interesting" of course, is a polite word for difficulties. The German employees were horrified at the lack of formal names and job titles in online communications. Norwegian business culture, even in comparison to the United States, is known for its lack of hierarchy and formalities. Superiors and subordinates are viewed as equals, effectively. Quality of ideas matters, not job titles. In contrast, in Germany, protocol is rather rigidly observed. As in the case of many organizations, the use of electronic mail has further emphasized a sense of informality and familiarity in Norway -- and the combination of adjusting to new communications technology and a new culture in the integrated organization made the adjustment period after the German merger even more difficult for both parties.

The impact of the new global environment on communications

In a global organization, where managers may be extending oversight over employees on different corners of the globe, there is an automatic barrier of distance that can make dialogue challenging. People are less likely to be responsive to a directive that is given to them from far away from someone they have not met (a phenomenon similar to how a worker is more likely to labor hard if the boss is in his office nearby, than when the boss is away on holiday or out to lunch) (Lount & Phillips 2008, p.213). "New technologies have spurred the use of electronic channels, e.g., email and voice mail, Intranets, blogs, podcasts, chat rooms, business TV, video conferencing, instant messaging systems, wikis and electronic town-hall meetings" but these methods, however ubiquitous, may not be as effective as establishing a connection between employees, particularly in the highly bureaucratic structure of a global organization (Berger 2008: 1).

Globalization can also mean that managers lack some of the core tools necessary to make employees feel included and united, hands-on interpersonal tools which facilitate communication. "Team briefings, workplace committees, problem-solving groups, focus groups, suggestion boxes and regular meetings with senior management," are often the most effective ways to create unit cohesion and "according to research, 86% of HR professionals who use some form of employee feedback rated the effectiveness of these interactions as 'good' or 'very good' (Effective organizational communication: a competitive advantage, "2008, HR, p.5). Virtual meetings often do not have the emotional resonance of such face-to-face encounters. Additionally, virtual communications, while they can be more constant and consistent than face-to-face meetings, may fail to satisfy another key requirement of inter-organizational communication in the form of disseminating information that is critical to employees' effective performance, namely the retention as well as the sharing of information (Effective organizational communication: a competitive advantage, "2008, HR, p.5). An email may be simply glanced over and it is far easier to 'tune out' of a virtual than a live meeting.

Additionally, cultural incomprehension of management decisions and assumptions can pose fundamental impediments to disseminating meaning, which cannot be clarified in a personal manner as easily in an international organization. While diversity can be an asset to a firm when communicating with the public, in terms of the ability of individuals from diverse cultural contexts to give input to the organization about operations and customer needs and aspirations in different nations, diversity is something that must be managed effectively, so it can be used to its maximum advantage. How to conduct diversity and sensitivity training at a distance? How to set a policy of such training that still keeps a coherent message for the larger organization, while adjusting to the needs of different locations and department?

Thus, the complexity of multinational global organizations can pose barriers to understanding. A final consideration is that beyond vertical, or top-down communications between subordinates and superiors, and horizontal communications between employees, "diagonal or omni-directional communication occurs among employees at different levels and in different functions, e.g., a quality control supervisor, accountant and systems analyst. Evolving organizational structures and technologies create opportunities for new and conflicting communication" flows but also conflicting organizational messages (Berger 2008:1). In modern organizations, it can be unclear who is in authority, when individuals do not work in the same department and are working on the same project -- or when corporate headquarters on different continents define the organizational mission in slightly (or extremely) different ways.

Ways to communicate more effectively

These warnings should not be seen as too dire, however. Communication between different cultural actors is possible, so long as employees are made aware to expect cultural differences and barriers. Even if a hands-on managerial style is not always feasible, communicating with new technology can at least establish an initial connection. Differences in approaching that new technology can be mitigated with sensitivity training. Even if people… [END OF PREVIEW]

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