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Why do organizations often struggle with their communication?

Published on: Mar 22, 2021

An important part of everyday life within all organizations is communication with their stakeholders, which can take place both internally (e.g. with employees) and externally (e.g. with customers or partners). Effective communication forms the basis for the long-term success of an organization and is essential for ensuring competitiveness. In practice, however, it can be observed that many organizations find it difficult to communicate in a goal-oriented manner. This raises the question of whether organizations are aware of the importance of communication and what problems frequently arise in the context of communication. This post will look at the strategic importance of communication within the organizational structure, what problems exist in practice and how these can be solved or proactively prevented.

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If we look at the scientific literature dealing with the way organizations communicate, it is striking that the understanding of communication has changed continuously in recent years and decades. Whereas a few years ago communication was seen as a sub-area of various organizational units such as the marketing or PR department, the understanding has evolved in recent years to the effect that communication within the organization is seen as an independent area that has an impact on all other areas of the organization. These differences in understanding ensure that a suitable delineation of the term corporate communication must first be made at this point so that a more detailed consideration of actual communication can subsequently take place. Frandsen & Frandsen (2018) define the term in the International Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication as follows:

“Corporate communication can be defined as a strategic management function, that is, a function that not only takes a strategic approach to the communication activities of a private company as such (communication strategy), but also links this approach to the overall strategy of the company (as formulated in its mission, vision, and corporate strategy, and objectives).”¹

Various approaches can be assigned to this understanding of corporate communication as a strategic management function, which further specify the communication task. The central task of corporate communication to be emphasized here is integration. This involves linking the various communication efforts with the corporate activities of the organization. This form of strategic coordination enables the organization to use a uniform language and communicate in a goal-oriented manner. However, a caveat here is that the literature also points out that full integration or full coordination may be counterproductive.²

Another aspect that is often lost when considering how organizations communicate is that communication is not only used to coordinate strategic activities, but also plays a central role in strategy development. The task of corporate communication is thus not exclusively the communication of already formulated content and measures or the integration of the communicative and strategic approaches. Rather, communication also serves to gather information, which in turn is important in the development of appropriate strategies for individual subareas or for the entire organization.³

The strategic importance of communicating with one’s stakeholders is undisputed for organizations of all kinds. Nevertheless, it can often be observed that many find it difficult to communicate effectively and efficiently. In practice, this can often be seen in terms of content. Many organizations do not use their communication efforts strategically or only to a limited extent. This can result, for example, in contradictory statements or undermine efforts to unify the organization’s communications. One approach to avoid this could be to develop a comprehensive communications strategy. This could specify what content should be communicated, who is responsible for carrying out the communication, and how the communication should take place. At the same time, this approach could also be used to develop operational strategies by systematically gathering information from the various stakeholders, which can then be considered as part of the strategy development process.

In addition to difficulties with content, quantitative communication problems often arise in practice. For example, it can happen that organizations are aware of the importance of their own communication and they try to force a certain volume of communication. This focus on quantity is often accompanied by a loss of quality, since there are not necessarily new statements and/or content worth communicating at every point in time. Such quantitative problems can also occur when it comes to the selection of communication methods or communication platforms. In particular, the large number of social networks that are (or can be) used by organizations exacerbates this problem, as there is often a feeling that every platform available needs to be used. One conceivable approach to solving this problem could be to think carefully about the advantages of each use before deciding which methods and platforms to use. Only if it has a unique advantage that cannot also be generated by the use of an already existing medium will it be added to the communications mix. In this way, redundant efforts could be reduced and there are potentially fewer imposed communication measures that arise especially when the (unnecessary) use of new/additional platforms is specified. At the same time, it is also conceivable that exactly the opposite case exists, in that communication is not extensive enough. For large organizations in particular, it can be a challenge to ensure that all stakeholders also receive the information they need to carry out their respective activities. It is possible that over-communication is consciously accepted here, as a loss of information would lead to significant restrictions within the entire organization, which may not be sustainable.

One idea that fits only to a limited extent in terms of content at this point, but is nevertheless worth considering, is the position of the organizational members involved in the external communication process. The relevant employees form the interface between the organization and external stakeholders (e.g., customers). In order to increase the effectiveness of one’s own communication, it is conceivable that it may be advantageous for organizations to invest in the satisfaction of their own employees, since employee satisfaction may also have a positive effect on the satisfaction of the addressed stakeholders and, in particular, on the satisfaction of customers.

The goal-oriented use of appropriate communication strategies is of central importance for the competitiveness and long-term success of organizations. In practice, however, problems can often be observed in communications efforts. These can essentially be divided into strategic problems and quantitative problems. If organizations want to solve or proactively prevent these problems, it is important to communicate according to an appropriate and predefined strategy and to consider to what extent and with the help of which media to communicate. Many problems may not seem significant when considered on their own, but the integrative task of communication means that the respective problems also have an impact on a large part of the other areas within an organization.

¹ Frandsen, F., & Johansen, W. (2018). Corporate communication. The International Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication (eds R.L. Heath and W. Johansen), p.2.
https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119010722.iesc0048.

² Frandsen, F., & Johansen, W. (2018). Corporate communication. The International Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication (eds R.L. Heath and W. Johansen), 1-10.
https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119010722.iesc0048.

³ Steyn, B. (2003). From strategy to corporate communication strategy: A conceptualization. Journal of communication management.
https://doi.org/10.1108/13632540410807637.

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