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Integrated Communication: From Theory to Performance

As business processes and management styles are changing, there is a need to change the traditional models of practice in organizational communication. A new model for integrated communication management is proposed, based on concepts of market-based strategic communication, human performance technology, business process reengineering, and a systematic method for analysis and development of communication interventions.

This article presents the theoretical basis for the model, several examples of how organizations are applying this concept, and recommendations for the development of new skills and orientations for organizational communication and training professionals. As organizations of all types are rapidly transforming their business processes and management styles, the traditional roles of internal communication professionals may well become obsolete.

Landes (1992) described the conventional roles of organizational communicators as “reporters, promoters, and corporate apologists”, and numerous researchers and practitioners have critiqued typical practice models as being reactive, not strategically aligned with management, and oriented towards narrow, technical, production-centered solutions such as producing newsletters and videos (c. f. D’Aprix, 1977).

As communication has developed in terms of both theory and practice, separate specialties and departments within organizations were created: employee communication, public relations and public affairs, advertising and marketing, audiovisual media, training and development, event and meeting planning, and information systems. These separate “islands of communication” (Gayeski, 1993b) have grown and moved further apart, often resulting in fragmented, redundant, or even contradictory communication programs and messages.

This can lead to information overload, a loss of credibility, and wasted resources. However, a new model for organizational communication is emerging: Gayeski (1993b) calls this more integrated and strategic archetype the “Renaissance Communicator” and defines corporate communication quite broadly as the professional practice of developing and implementing communication “rules and tools” to enhance the dissemination, comprehension, acceptance, and application of information in ways which help to achieve an organization’s goals.

Grates (1995) states that the lines between communication disciplines as well as those between communication and other related types of consulting are blurring. “In this new era, communication professionals in public relations and advertising will be asked less frequently for specific advice as it relates to their individual disciplines and more frequently for solutions” (p. 17). Similarly, Freeland (1994) maintains that the successful communicator will become identified with cost control and performance improvement and that perhaps titles like “communication director” will be dropped in favor of “director of change management”.

Finally, Kreps (1989) expands on the traditional theoretical perspective of PR as being external communication-oriented to include the role of internal communication as change agents who promote increased organizational reflexivity and who are involved in organizational development. Although few practitioners would reject a more strategic and integrated role , there are not yet many real-life examples of “Renaissance Communicators”.

Many forward-looking professionals in public relations, training and development, marketing, employee communications, and information systems are attempting to break out of their narrow specialties, but find it to be a long and difficult process to work outside of institutional “silos”, to learn new cross-functional skills, and to gain credibility with management. For example, Smalley, et. al. (1995) report that it took three years for Amway’s training department to become involved in their first real project employing the more holistic approach of “performance technology” .

However, given the current business climate, it may not be feasible for communicators to wait for three years to redirect their efforts; case studies and models for practice need to be shared and adopted rapidly so that professional communicators retain positions of value in their organizations. A new model for organizational communication management is needed to encompass emerging theories of management, learning, and communication — as well as new realities of an increasingly competitive marketplace and rapidly merging and emerging technologies.

One such model is “integrated communications”. Although this term has been used to describe combined advertising / marketing / public relations campaigns (Schultz, 1993b), we define integrated communications more broadly as the application of analysis, communication, and evaluation techniques to create and manage integrated, multi-faceted interventions combining information, instruction, collaboration, business process design, feedback, and incentive systems to improve human performance in the workplace in order to achieve organizations’ desired missions and visions.

Traditional models of communication practice (including public relations, instructional design, and employee communications) are based on a number of assumptions that are no longer valid:  Although they generally include audience and message analysis, traditional models of communication practice assume that one type of well-designed intervention will solve the problem — be it training, promotion, or information-retrieval.

They do not help practitioners determine what types of problems are potentially not solvable by these interventions, nor do they incorporate the other types of support that are generally necessary for any long-term change to occur. For example, employee communication and training systems may promote safe work practices, but if the work design and performance appraisal systems do not reinforce these messages, they are likely to be ineffective. The traditional linear models of communication analysis and message design reflect early linear models of communication: assume the “sender” crafts a well-designed message, the “receiver” will “get it”.

They do not reflect the complex interplay of interpretation and negotiation among all parties in a communicative situation, nor the impact of environmental and social influences. Conventional models assume that the client or requester has correctly identified the problem and the appropriate intervention — for example, that a performance gap is due to poor morale or that a two-day training course is needed. Traditional practice is reactive rather than proactive.

Moreover, there is evidence that clients and sponsors often “do not ask us to deliver what they need; they ask us to deliver what they believe we can provide … We do not do what we are not asked to do — improve human performance in the workplace” (Regalbuto, 1991, p. 31). Finally, traditional communication practice measures the outcomes of communication projects by satisfaction indicators — how much the audience “liked” a meeting, newsletter, or course, or by readership or attendance. These statements of satisfaction are assumed to relate to the effectiveness of an intervention in terms of organizational goals.

Few models for evaluation actually link interventions to the “bottom line” (Kirkpatrick, 1994). The model we propose for integrated communication is based upon several new approaches:  Market-based strategic communication — This term, coined by D’Aprix (1996) in his recent book Communicating for Change, represents the approach of designing proactive communication programs that candidly inform employees about the requirements of their customers and the realities of the marketplace, and focus on organizational strategy.

Performance technology or performance engineering — These terms describe systematic processes for solving organizational problems by analyzing and improving selection, communication, instruction, work design, feedback, and incentive systems. The theoretical foundation for this approach is found in behavioral theories of psychology, including motivation and learning. This approach centers around identifying and solving “performance gaps” which are defined as “discrepancies between an organization’s expectations and its actual performance” (Rogers and Agarwala-Rogers, 1976, p. 70).

Performance technology and the practice of “performance consulting” is documented in Stolovitch and Keeps (1992) and Robinson and Robinson (1995). Business process reengineering — This phrase, popularized by Hammer and Champy (1993), represents the approach of radical reinvention of business processes rather than merely “tweaking” current, obsolete systems. Although this has been used as a euphemism for downsizing, the original intent of this model is to carefully scrutinize and re-design basic business systems around work processes rather than bureaucratic “silos” and departments.

ComADD model — The communication analysis, design, and development model (Gayeski, 1993b) is a system for identifying and operationalizing performance gaps and for selecting and assessing communication-based solutions. It consists of 5 phases: initiating, descriptive, conceptual, prototypic, actual, and continuous improvement. This model is iterative rather than linear, and emphasizes the development of a number of alternative solutions that are selected by a process of rapid prototyping and determining optimum potential return-on-investment of time and money.

The integrated communication model proposed here reflects the theories and perspectives described above: an examination of customer and market needs, an identification of performance goals and gaps, an examination and possible re-design of basic business processes to meet those goals, and the systematic identification, implementation, and evaluation of a coordinated set of communication solutions. Communication resources and perspectives required

In order to offer integrated communication interventions, a team or a multidisciplinary communication professional with competencies in message design, training, persuasion, incentive systems, business process reengineering, media / information technology, marketing, employee selection and performance assessment is needed. This team or person works with the client and a representative constituency of the target audience to analyze the situation and to prototype and evaluate interventions. The team may exist within one department, or may be an interdepartmental work group.

Although most organizations’ communication systems and interventions are not yet “integrated” as we define them, there are a number of examples that demonstrate that this model of organizational communication can be applied creatively in a number of diverse settings. In some cases, integrated communication models are used on an ad hoc basis by a communication professional or team when faced with a particularly significant or difficult problem. A particular project may provide the opportunity to employ broader, more strategic methods.

For example, Smalley et. al. 995) report the results of an integrated performance-based approach to improving the performance of a telephone order-taking department: the intervention gained approximately $1 million in “saved sales” each year, and the time it took new clerks to become comfortable with their jobs was reduced from 90 days to 30 days. The intervention was designed by the training department as one step in their strategic plan to becoming a “performance improvement” department. The training, advertising, public relations, and documentation groups at Apple Computer are now coordinating their efforts to provide information to the company’s 20,000 salespeople.

One specific outcome has been the creation of an on-line database on new products called Apple’s Reference Performance and Learning Expert (ARPLE). “The PR, advertising, documentation, and training departments pool their information to eliminate redundancies before sending the information out to salespeople. It wastes less time and money on the corporate end, and saves the salespeople from wading through useless information” (Geber, 1994). ISVOR Fiat, the subsidiary that provides training to the international conglomerate Fiat, has recently found a decline in interest for traditional classroom training among its internal clients.

Not only has it embraced new forms of media production, such as multimedia and video, but it has also worked with one of the authors to expand upon its services to include knowledge capture and engineering and design and documentation of corporate meetings. The training department at a utility also transformed its mission, changing its name to “professional development resources”, and adding to its repertoire the creation of sales aids, a database of company expertise, and the facilitation of “brown bag” information lunch seminars given by company employees (Gayeski, 1993a).

Other organizations are re-structuring key roles and departmental teams related to communications and learning. Among the clients of one of the authors, one national restaurant chain charged a cross-functional team called FutureCom with investigating and designing a plan for the future of internal communication. The results of the initial study not only recommended new technologies, but made clear that more coordination of communication was necessary to attempt to control “information overload”.

A prototype daily e-mail update integrating information across various departments, is now being developed. A new job description for their manager of corporate communication was developed and a new individual hired into that position who has a background in both mass media and new training technologies. The authors have also worked with a large regional healthcare organization whose leadership team was interested in the concept of the “learning organization”.

The CEO established a strategic planning committee to investigate organizational development and performance technology, to identify gaps and barriers to learning, and to recommend a new organizational structure and policy. The work of this committee is still in progress, but the proposal currently being drafted integrates the human resources, staff development, and media production departments into one team which will be self-managed with a group of advisors including representatives from information systems, finance, and corporate communications.

Entirely new job titles and descriptions are being crafted. For example, Millbrook Distribution Services has recently created a position of Chief Learning Officer with a small staff of communication, graphic arts, media production, and instructional design specialists. The responsibilities and structure of this position were designed, in part, based on Gayeski’s (1993b) concept of the “Renaissance Communicator”.

The Chief Learning Officer at Millbrook has stated, “Management of the formal communication processes of the organization as part of the Chief Learning Officer’s responsibilities is believed to be a leading edge innovation… In times of non-stop change, it is essential to bridge the traditional ‘islands of corporate communication’ such as training and development, employee communications, public affairs, corporate media, documentation, library systems, policies and procedures, and advertising and marketing to create integrated, consistent, and coherent messages to stakeholders”.

Coca-Cola has also created a similar position of “CLO” (Willis and May, 1996). Despite the documented interest in and success of an integrated communication model, this approach is still not yet widely accepted. In our research and practice, we have found that there are significant barriers that organizational communication professionals face when they attempt to employ models of integrated communication and performance technology:  Current jobs and departments related to organizational communication often pigeonhole professionals into narrow roles.

Professionals in training often assume that their job is to “produce courses”, just as employee communication professionals believe that their job is to organize newsletters and meetings, and perhaps to somehow increase morale. In order to provide what they feel is “good service”, they produce what they are asked for: videotapes, meetings, courses, electronic bulletin boards, and so forth.

Because these separate “islands of communication” (Gayeski, 1993b) actually are often engaged in internal competition for resources and credibility, there are few incentives to work together and more incentives to protect “turf”. External suppliers, such as ad agencies, also tend to specialize in advertising or PR or direct marketing or media production — generally not truly an integrated approach (Schultz, 1993c). Organizational communicators often suffer from a lack of credibility, especially when they attempt to recommend some intervention that is outside their usual specialty.

They often have little access to management, and are not a part of the executive decision-making team. Integrated communication models require new approaches that often require significant change and resources — often more than the typical employee communication specialist, PR agent, or trainer can martial. As Schultz (1993c, p. 5) points out, “Some of the difficulty in integration is a result of many organizations never viewing communication as important to their overall success.

Because integrated communication interventions are often “high risk, high gain”, there is a necessity for rigorous evaluation in terms of bottom-line return on investment. Dozier (1990) argues that program research, the use of quantitative and qualitative research techniques to plan and evaluate communication programs, is still considered something new to most practitioners. Although such “hard” measures may still be considered innovative and are not well-established in traditional practice, he insists that they are essential to the progress of the field.

However, communicators often lack the skills to develop business plans and conduct formal program evaluation, and such rigorous evaluation carries the risk of pointing out failure. An even more important consideration is how communicators themselves are evaluated and compensated. Now, professional communicators are often evaluated and rewarded on the quantity rather than quality of their output — how many brochures and newsletters they produced, how many hours of training they designed, or how many ads they placed.

Clients and managers need to alter the current system. “Agencies must move to media neutrality. That simply means they must move away from being driven by media commissions and find a new method of compensation” (Schultz, 1993a, p. 12). As organizations are attempting to “re-engineer” and strive to become “learning organizations”, communication professionals should look for opportunities to employ new integrated communication approaches. Some specific approaches we recommend are:

Focus communication strategies on teaching the audience how to better learn about and respond to the needs of their customers. Meeting marketplace expectations can be a differentiating factor and a competitive edge. An analysis of customer needs can be done through business processing mapping. Then, all communication to the audience can be integrated and aligned (training, incentive plans, marketing materials, etc. ), so that people don’t have to put fragments of uncoordinated messages together for themselves.

When confronted with a potential communication-related project, explore all the factors that can impact the performance of the target audience. For example, in our work and research in sales training, we have often found that performance gaps that initially look like training problems are actually a result of incentive programs that are not aligned with the business objectives, or or caused by suboptimal business process design.

In one situation, a time analysis of sales representatives’ work was performed and it was found that reps were spending almost half of their time doing technical service instead of selling. Their frustration was high because they could not meet their customers’ expectations and because they were not trained to be technicians. In this case, technical reps were added to the sales team, freeing up sales reps’ time to sell. Neither typical motivational nor sales training programs would have truly addressed this performance gap.

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