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Submitted by: Artur Victoria
The two most important communicators are the supervisor and the employee. Employee communications provides a backdrop for the natural, routine exchanges between employee and supervisor. It is a tool to help get the job done, and done well.
In the small organization, the chain of command serves as the communications channel. As the organization grows, it becomes harder for the chain of command to function effectively as a communications channel. Sooner or later, it is by-passed, especially with the development of staff departments. Inevitably, a staff unit will be singled out, formally or informally, to serve the organization communication needs.
In some organizations this unit is personnel. In others, it is public relations. Some organizations set up separate communication units. Other organizations put communication specialists in services or administrative units. Still others appear to have assigned portions of the communications work to several units.
The fact is employee communications can be carried out successfully in large organizations no matter where responsibility for it is located. The key to success is to identify the role the organization wishes communication to fill in employment, analyze communication needs, sort out the media which appear to be best suited, and assign the defined objectives and programs to the appropriate unit.
The specialists may be found in public relations or in advertising or in sales promotion. The foreman on the production line really will not care much who generates the bulletin board notice or the daily news as long as it aids him in helping the employee do his or her job.
While he may lack expertise in communications, the practitioner should be in a position to help management or supervision define any communication problems that may arise, identify needs, and locate and coordinate the proper resources to fill them. This may require placing a communications specialist on the personnel staff-a decision which should cause no problem as long as it is justified on an objective dollars-and-cents basis and does not duplicate functions performed better elsewhere.
When initiating a formal employee communications effort, several factors should be considered.
Installing a broad, sophisticated employee communications program from scratch is normally highly impractical. It is liable to be expensive in terms of supervisory time and to require that many changes be absorbed by supervisors and employees alike. In addition, if a substantial budget is proposed for the program, management may have trouble justifying program costs and projected but still intangible-results.
Starting with a small program and adding on in a building-block fashion, progressively proving and increasing effectiveness in the workplace, is more practical than rushing into a full-scale program.
For example, the first step might be training of supervisors to conduct small group meetings. After this effort is under way, a supervisory newsletter could be initiated to provide supervisors with appropriate information for employee meetings. Still later, after supervisor-employee communication meetings become a routine matter, a direct employee newsletter could be published to cover day-to-day information needs, leaving meatier subjects for the supervisor-employee conversations. Finally, employee feedback channels could be established.
Eventually, a full-scale, proven program would be operating, one that has been installed methodically, and that has allowed supervisors and employees to adjust to new factors at a reasonable pace. By building up a program gradually, leeway is provided for trial and error experimentation with each step before subsequent steps are taken.
Industrial or business communicators are invariably proud of their successes and willing to share experiences. Consequently, the budding communicator has a great opportunity to find out what others are doing and borrow their ideas for his own uses.
Other sources of information include publishing houses which offer reporting services dealing with various aspects of business and labor relations. Local personnel industrial relations groups can often provide leads to programs that have proved effective for members. Finally, the reference material and periodicals of local public and university libraries should not be neglected.
While many employee communications consultants are quite competent and offer tangible services, they often are also quite expensive. Programs developed by consultants tend to require quite a bit of research and analysis; to be accompanied by a bid for long-term, built-in consulting assistance; and to be broad and comprehensive in their implementation. A modest in-house effort may achieve the desired results just as well as a program developed by an outside consultant.
If, however, a decision is made to solicit outside help, it is important to be as specific as possible in outlining objectives. The type of help desired should be defined, at least in general terms, and the amount of resources-both in time and in dollars-to be committed should be considered. Before settling on one consultant, get proposals from several to see which looks most attractive and ask previous clients about the quality of his work.
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