Experts have described four factors that influence the effectiveness of organizational communication: the formal channels of communication, the organization’s authority structure, job specialization and what is called “information ownership”.
Formal Channels of communication: A formal channel of communication is a means of communication that is endorsed and probably controlled by managers. Examples include newsletters, regular memos and reports and staff meetings. The Noon News, Crown, and Directions publications at Hallmark are all formal channels of communication.
Formal channels of communication influence communication effectiveness in two ways. First, the formal channels cover an ever widening distance as organizations develop and grow. For example, effective communication is usually far more difficult to achieve in a large retail organization with widely dispersed branches than in a small department store. Second, the formal channels of communication can inhibit the free flow of information between organizational levels. An assembly line worker, for example, will often communicate problems to a supervisor rather than to the plant manager. While this accepted restriction in the channels of communication has its advantage such as keeping higher level managers from getting bogged down in information, it also has its disadvantages such as sometimes keeping higher level managers from receiving information they should have.
The Duke Power Company, based in Charlotte, North Carolina uses an electronic newspaper, Power News, as a formal channel of communication to keep employees informed on industry news and trends. As an electronic innovation, it cuts down on the paper flow and communicates messages about environmental issues in addition to industry updates, future developments, and employee concerns. The computer based information is presented in a variety of forms, including video taped interview, graphics, still pictures, text, and animation.
At Lantech Inc., a $50 million manufacturer of packaging machinery, a “group leader” report serves as a formal channel of communication. Each report, prepared by one of the company’s top six managers, helps to promote effective internal communications by offering a complete picture of company morale, climate, and communication. Founder Pat Lancaster credits this five minute form with improving company lines of communication and reducing departmental turf battles.
Authority Structure: The organization’s authority structure has a similar influence on communications effectiveness. Status and power differences in the organization help determine who will communicate comfortably with whom. The content and accuracy of the communication will also be affected by authority differences. For example, conversation between a company president and a clerical worker may well be characterized by somewhat strained politeness and formally.
Job specialization: Job specialization usually facilitates communication within differentiated groups. Members of the same work group are likely it share the same jargon, time horizons, goals, tasks, and personal styles. Communications between highly differentiated groups, however, is likely to be inhibited.
Information Ownership: The term information ownership means that individuals possess unique information and knowledge about their jobs. For example, a dark room employee may have found a particularly efficient way to develop photo prints. A department head may have a particularly effective way of handling conflict among employees. And a salesperson may know who the key decision makers are in his or her major account. Such information is a form of power for the individuals who possess it. They are able to function more effectively than their peers. Many individuals with such skills and knowledge are unwilling to share this information with others. As a result, completely open communication within the organization does not take place. Still, ownership can be shared. The Hallmark “B-line” service provides one opportunity for sharing within Hallmark.