Communication as Information Transfer within Organizations

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  • 0:03 Paul Revere's Communication
  • 0:53 Organization…
  • 2:55 Signals Must Be Understood
  • 3:59 Importance of the Signaler
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

At the most fundamental level, organizational communication can be thought of as the transfer of information from a signaler to a receiver via the use of a signal. This lesson explores that concept and details the important components of the process.

Paul Revere's Communication

''One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm,
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.''

Written in the 1800s, the poem ''Paul Revere's Ride'' was penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and many components of this classic anecdote unintentionally illustrate key parts of effective organizational communication. When we talk to each other, we are doing far more than simply exchanging words. Our choice of vocabulary, facial expressions, and intonation all play a role in helping us communicate the message we wish to convey. These concepts ring just as true in organizational communications as they do in person-to-person conversations.

Organizational Communication Signals

In the anecdote, Paul Revere intends to diminish the element of surprise by letting the militia know whether the British are coming by land or by sea. His intention, as stated in the poem, is to respond accordingly by lighting one lamp in the belltower if the British intend to attack by land and two lamps if they intend to attack from the water. In their most basic sense, the lamps function as signals. In communications, a signal can be thought of as an abbreviated message used to facilitate the rapid transfer of information. When organizational communication is considered to be a transfer of knowledge, signals can be thought of as the way to encode important information so that it can be quickly identified, understood, and acted upon.

Within an organization, leadership must maintain a careful balance between brevity and content. At the highest levels of a large organization, a dashboard, a method of tracking and displaying key performance indicators in order to monitor the health of a company, becomes one of the most important signaling devices an executive has available to them. Dashboards are the ultimate signals because they consolidate the most important information into the most concise format possible. Like the dashboard of a car, an organizational dashboard is designed to supply decision-makers with the most important information in the most brief, yet understandable, manner possible.

In the Paul Revere anecdote, the signals were designed to allow individuals to make rapid critical decisions that would change the outcome of the game. An organizational dashboard is no different. The content of a dashboard may vary based on an individual's role in the organization, but the function as a signaling device remains the same. For financial executives, important signals include things like days cash on hand, days in accounts receivable, or other information related to cash flow. For a human resources professional, a dashboard may use signals such as turnover rates, involuntary terminations, or information related to FTEs.

Signals Must Be Understood

In the Paul Revere antidote, the lamps in the belltower were important signals. However, the signals are of no value if they are not understood by those who are waiting for the important information that the signals will convey. In other words, the difference between one or two lamps in the belltower is of no value to an individual who does not know the meaning of the signal. The same is true in organizational communication.

In the context of organizational communications, signals are only valuable if the individual receiving them is able to properly interpret and act on them. A financial dashboard indicating that the days cash on hand has dropped to 0.5 is of no value unless the receiver is able to properly interpret the seriousness of the message.

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