"Organizational Communication Strategies"

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November 2001

A Panel Discussion

On November 16, twenty-three people gathered on the 4th floor of Old Main for morning coffee and bagels and a discussion about what makes effective communication in an organization.

Communication Can Diagnose the Health of an Organization

presentation material [PDF]

Gerry Browder, managing director of the Smeal MBA program, began the discussion with the premise that ineffective communication within an organization can be an indicator of the poor health of the organization, as well as affect its viability and growth. A “sick” organization is one that displays the following symptoms: low energy, stifled creativity, high frustration, interpersonal conflicts, loss of market position, high turnover, lack of goals and missed targets.

Measuring the effectiveness of the communication among employees can be a critical first step in diagnosing how well an organization is run. Desired behaviors must be determined and goals established. Baseline data on the current behaviors must be evaluated and rated. If activities are rated on a 1 - 5 scale, the goal is always to achieve a one-to-one ratio between the goal and the actual behavior. In picking the behaviors to monitor, it is important to remember that intangibles, such as relationships in an office, are as important as tangibles such as market share.

Assessing Communication Among Administrators

presentation material “Commonwealth College Example[PDF]

Gene Melander, associate vice provost emeritus and professor emeritus of quantitative business analysis, continued the discussion with a description of a project he led to evaluate communication between the campuses within the Commonwealth College and the college administration. Dr. Melander examined the organizational structure of the college and evaluated the efficiencies and complexities of its communication networks, focusing on the CEOs and the dean’s staff.

The effectiveness of four communication modes-forums, broadcasts, conversations, and dialogues-was measured by asking the college leadership (communication networks) four questions about each mode. In other words, how well do the CEOs and dean’s staff communicate when using forums to provide leadership (reports, progress monitoring, governance, etc.), broadcasts to disseminate information (announcements, minutes, manuals, news releases, etc.), conversations to facilitate operations (individual actions, identifying issues, problem/solution interactions between individuals, etc.) and dialogues (group collaborations).

Dr. Melander asked:

  • How well is this communications network working?

  • What issues relative to this communication network need attention?

  • Are there “good practices” already deployed in this communication network that should be recognized?

  • What are suggested initiatives that would improve communications in this network?

When the answers were scaled it was found that the mean values for the CEOs and dean’s staff for each mode were very similar, and that the ranges around the mean (degree of variation) were also very similar for both the CEOs and the dean’s staff. Dr. Melander hypothesizes that the large ranges across all modes of communication for both populations is based on whether the respondent has a collegial (low scores) or hierarchical (high scores) view.

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Communications and the Web

presentation material [PDF]

Ann Dodd, senior consultant in the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, summarized the goal of the Web Strategies Implementation Team as improving access, quality and service through innovative use of Web technology and enhancing the collaborative culture of Penn State.

Using an Appreciative Inquiry approach, Ms. Dodd and other members of the team conducted interviews of budget executives this fall to determine stakeholder needs and objectives. The following questions were asked in the interviews:

  1. Think of a time when your organization was most innovative in response to emerging needs of stakeholders (students, faculty, staff, alumni, partners, etc.) What happened? What was noteworthy? Why did this happen?

  2. How do you define departmental effectiveness on an informal, day-to-day basis? How do you operationalize your definition?

  3. If Penn State three years from now had capitalized on the possibilities that Internet technology gives us to enhance effectiveness, what would we look like? What would we be doing more of…less of…completely new?

  4. What are the three top things that you think should be done to turn these possibilities into everyday reality?

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The Web team used the results of the interviews to complement the team’s recommendations for project proposals and to develop the University’s Web strategic plan. The team will be presenting these proposals to the provost before the end of the year and asking for his endorsement and a commitment of resources. Ms. Dodd believes the proposals developed by the team have a high probability of success because stakeholders’ input was substantial.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.