Strategies for Improving Organizational Communication

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  • 0:03 Organizational Mishap Examples
  • 2:36 Improving Communications
  • 3:27 Importance of Transparency
  • 4:02 Owning Mistakes
  • 4:59 Importance of Listening
  • 5:38 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.

Virtually all business activities require carefully thought out organizational communication. This lesson will explore strategies to improve and maximize the benefits of good organizational communications.

Organizational Mishap Examples

See if you can identify the mishap by the following facts:

  • Its explosion and ensuing fire took the lives of 11 and injured 17 more
  • Initial cost estimates came in at $37.2 billion, but the final tally was actually nearly $62 billion
  • The event impacted nearly 70,000 square miles and well over 1,000 miles of coastline in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Tens of thousands of people working in the fisheries industry lost some or all of their livelihood
  • When lashed out at by the public, the CEO of the company responsible uttered the now-infamous words, ''There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.''

If you guessed that the event described is the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, you are right. The accident set many new records for amounts paid in fines, penalties, and restitution, and it impacted the lives of tens of thousands who lived along the coast. Then BP CEO Tony Hayward will be forever remembered for capping off his personal apology by publicly saying how much ''he'' would like ''his'' life back.

Saying this while standing in front of hundreds who have just lost their livelihoods because of your company's negligence is the very definition of a communications failure. To be fair, the former BP CEO was not likely attempting to publicly insult the victims of his company's accident, but this fact is entirely irrelevant. Perception is reality, and the burden for effective organizational communication rests more on the shoulders of the individual conveying the message rather than the one listening to it.

In a different kind of organizational communication faux pas, Big Tobacco company Phillip Morris outraged millions when a confidential internal memo was leaked to the public. The memos and associated documents were communications between executives who were reviewing the results of an internal market research study. The memo won itself a place in the museum of communication blunders when the memo concluded that: ''Based on up-to-date reliable data and consideration of all relevant contributing factors, the effect of smoking on the public finance balance in the Czech Republic in 1999 was positive''. Needless to say, concluding that your deadly product actually helps the public by killing people before they consume too many healthcare dollars didn't go over so well.

Improving Communications

Organizational communications can be divided into two major categories of internal communications and external communications. BP's scenario is an example of an external communication failure because the communication was intended for an outside audience. Conversely, internal communications are primarily of an employee-to-employee nature. Although leaked, the Philip Morris memo represented an internal communication. After suffering an adverse event, many organizations facilitate an after-action review in order to find the causes and solutions to the problem. This debriefing is, in and of itself, a strategy for improving organizational communication. It is also true that a lack of communication is almost always a primary contributing factor to the event.

Importance of Transparency

One of the best crisis communication strategies is to be transparent and accountable. In 2009, two employees posted a video of themselves tampering with a customer's pizza by intentionally contaminating it with their own body fluids. The workers were promptly fired and subsequently charged with felony crimes relating to food tampering, but instead of addressing the issues head-on, Domino's went incognito and hoped that the outrage would blow over. It didn't. Domino's was forced to embark on a late and very expensive PR campaign to rehabilitate their image.

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