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Communicating Strategically


      As a beginning MBA student, it is vital to understand that communication is the life-blood of effective management and leadership. Through it, an individual, group, or organization succeeds or fails in attaining goals. Therefore, by definition, communication is strategic in nature. Since this course is part of a program to develop the functional, theoretical, and practical knowledge and skills for managers, it begins with a strategic approach to communication.

Communication as Process

      Definitions of communication are about as abundant as the number of people who do research in the field. For the purposes of this course, communication is defined as the process of interaction through which meaning is shared, consciously or unconsciously, with another. Shared, in this context does not necessarily mean held in common, just that another person observes behavior and gives meaning to it. While communication involves both sender and receiver, it is crucial to understand effective communication does not occur until the receiver truly hears the message of the receiver. Organizations spend massive resources to educate their workforce on such topics as writing with clarity, making crisp presentations, resolving interpersonal and group conflicts, and more recently video conferencing and e-commerce. To paraphrase the famous line from the movie classic, Cool Hand Luke, one must then ask: “Why is the failure to communicate so pervasive?”

Communication as Strategy

One reason for widespread communication failure focuses on the stark reality that communication does just not happen. It is always embedded in a corporate culture. This culture is the manifestation of either an implicit or explicit strategy – a game plan of sorts about how organizational members will share information. For example, some organizations have implicit strategies such as strictly adhering to the chain of command; others choose informality where an individual simply communicates with the person who has the needed information. It is an axiom of organizational life that senior managers set the tone by how they communicate – and the credibility they bring to the process. But, executives do much more than that. They design communication strategies that act as systems to enhance the many objectives of the organization. Two examples illustrate how organizations can become imperiled when they have inadequate communication strategies. It took Exxon more than seven days to even have a spokesperson appear before the press after the massive oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. In 1986, the Challenger shuttle tragedy resulted in a finding that the dangers of infamous O-rings were well documented prior to the accident. Yet, word never reached the upper echelons. Sadly, a few years later NASA had another catastrophic shuttle disaster, again due in part to internal communication problems. In each of these incidents, organizations faltered because of ineffective communication strategies. In contrast to these failures, after criminal tampering with Tylenol occurred, Johnson & Johnson immediately shared all information with the public and took less than 72 hours to mount the worldwide recall of its highly profitable product. This happened because of a well-designed communication strategy implemented with great precision.


      Everything we say or do has meaning, if not given by us, then given by others. Successful leaders in business and other areas of endeavor know that communicating effectively is an on-going process that focuses on the messaged received. Effective organizations design and enact strategies that fit the needs of their internal members and are responsive to external stakeholders.