The Myth Of Communications Artistry: Exploring The Value Of A Scientific Approach For Organisations
Within the rigidity of corporate structures, there is no function more ill-defined than that of communications. Conjuring images of public relations experts, human resources units, and customer management practitioners, no singular element truly unifies their operations, beyond a general uncertainty in the created value. Accordingly, said mix of people and activities have historically been cast to the sidelines - an eclectic support function at best.
Nevertheless, it is not the current state of affairs or past practices that cause concern, but the lack of direction for the future of corporate communications. As processes increase in complexity, the need for effective control in organisations has become evident. Whether it be in the form of evidence-based decision-making or advanced systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), taking ownership of the information flow is essential. Yet, communications fail to occupy said newfound role.
Functional changes do exist, such as introducing software for coordination between suppliers, employees, and customers, but those are neither initiated nor inherently governed by communication departments. It is a mere example of delayed technological adoption, as opposed to actual information ownership necessary at the organisational level. Thus, change must occur, abolishing the current communications framework in favour of a novel one, that aligns practice and research.
The foundation for said framework requires an understanding of corporations as meticulously crafted entities, serving the purpose of minimising transaction costs. By generating efficiencies within individual processes, operations are permitted to run more smoothly, ultimately enhancing the complete organisational network they form. Thus, the newfound role of communications is to be one of deliberate intent, as opposed to ad hoc reactions. Eliminating decision-making based on the mere subjective assessment of communication practitioners brings the function in line with departments such as procurement, finance, and logistics management. A shift from intuition to inference, from attitude to analysis.
It is a change that appears counterintuitive, incompatible with the chaotic and impromptu nature of communications of the past, yet a necessary one given the complexity of organisational structures. Thus, the transition from simply responding to the perceptions and attitudes of stakeholders to actively managing them is innately tied to the social sciences. Measuring latent constructs such as trust, belonging, and identification is a principal step in said process. Building on foundations in sociological and psychological research, communication practitioners are to use scales in order to quantify the impact of their work. By establishing a baseline on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the effectiveness of employed interventions can be continuously monitored - whether it be internal policy changes or external campaigns.
Equipped with the aforementioned knowledge and abilities, those working within communication departments would generate strategies that more accurately reflect the state of their respective oorganisations Internally, such an example would be the use of content analysis when screening written employee reports. Communication practitioners could use an initial database from past records to manually code expressed sentiments, by attaching meaning labels to individual units of text. Thereafter, supervised machine learning would allow for a model to be trained, such that reports are processed automatically, providing management with a complete information overview of implicit perceptions, attitudes, and behavioural intentions.
The value of said function lies within the ability to identify emerging issues and subsequently resolve them at earlier stages of development. Namely, the ability to diagnose decreases in employee job satisfaction or perceived organizational support would serve as an immediate warning system, prompting respective departments to take action, based on information that could otherwise not be extrapolated at such a scale.
Externally, a change in the communications framework would increase the depth of understanding and control when interacting with secondary stakeholders, those not engaged in a contractual relationship with an organisation. An example would be going beyond classification of individuals based on their influence and importance for a corporation to the adoption of comprehensive guidelines for managing the information flow. Communication practitioners could use a mixed methods approach, initially conducting qualitative research to establish organisation-specific theory, followed by quantitative data analysis in determining the accuracy of the identified groups and their relevant characteristics. By using unstructured interviews, those working within communication departments would recognise key touchpoints, based on which stakeholders form their perceptions and attitudes. Thereafter, survey instruments could be employed to assess the reliability of the created measures by gathering data from a larger sample, allowing for statistical tests to be used.
By adopting said mixed methods approach, factors that moderate communications relationships could be identified, such as the extent of organisational messaging and customer recall, or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) engagement and viewer trust. In such a way, stakeholder groups are to be individually targeted, increasing the effectiveness of communication interventions by quantifying their impact and adjusting strategies accordingly.
Thus, in the words of Stanford professor Matt Abrahams - communications are imperfect, but structure gives freedom., To occupy a principal function in the corporate value chain they must transition from providing reactionary solutions, to deliberate measurement, planning, and control. By having organisations utilise techniques from the social sciences the gap between research and practice can be reduced, achieving efficiencies both internally and externally. Whether it be through continuous employee monitoring and preventive action, or tailored customer messaging, communications can better the information flow – equipping management with the necessary tools for the future.