Communication Management: A Critical Discussion
This discussion examines the possibilities of a topic change in communication management.
Despite the wide use of the word critical success factors there seems to be no consensus at all on the meaning of this concept.
We discovered at least three meanings of critical success factors concerning communication management.
1. Critical Success Factor as in: which Critical Success Factors are contributing to the performance of communication management?
2. Communication management is highly important in corporate strategy, so it’s a Critical Success Factor. And that’s it. End of discussion.
3. Communication management is under circumstances a crucial, decisive factor in corporate strategy. Of course it is, as we will illustrate in the discussion
In our view there is more to it than just these three meanings. We will argue that 1 is relevant, 2 is true as is number 3, but there is more to gain in combining several aspects of the different meanings.
Studies of the practice of communication management show that the majority of those working in communication management perform tasks which are associated with those of a technician rather than with those of a decision-maker dealing with organisational and communication policy. Consequently most practitioners have a limited degree of power or influence within their organisation, for top managers hire them to fulfil what is basically an output function.
Nevertheless there is a call for more professionalism in communication management
CEO’s are requiring more skills, more insight, more co-production from students graduated in communication management. More and more our clients are grasping the importance of communication management in their organisations for they are getting entangled in the interdependence of corporate strategy and communication strategy.
Concept of communication management is generally conceived in terms of the relationship between an organisation and its publics. Yet this focus is on relationships between an organisation and each target group, and underestimates the linkages between people from one target group to people in other ones (Zweekhorst, 2001). The relationship between the organisation and its publics is not to be seen as a wheel but as a network of relationships, shifting in time and space and in construction of meaning(s) (Van den Bosch & Zweekhorst, 2002).
To explain this to full extent we have to tell something about the difference between two points of view on communication management, communication as a social process and communication as a cultural process (Carey, 1979).
We will argue that the social process view on communication management is as necessary as limited. Necessary because it is relevant in the day-to-day practice of production, distribution and receiving of messages, and limited because it underestimates the fact that the reality of an organisation is a communicative reality. So the social process view, relevant as it is, has its severe shortcomings (Van den Bosch & Zweekhorst, 2004).
Enlightenment is to be found in the cultural process view. The communication manager of the future is forced to develop new knowledge and new skills, because he has to cope with the fact that people construct their own meanings, make their own reality, change groups, contribute in their own manner to the public sphere. In short, they are constantly escaping the messages of our organisation (Zweekhorst, 2001; Van den Bosch & Zweekhorst, 2002, 2004).
So is communication management a Critical Success Factor in its own? Yes it is, but it takes on different forms in different stages of the process. Sometimes communication management is decisive, crucial in organisation strategy. But communication management always is a Critical Success Factor in
the sense that it is reflecting in and on the communication process, that it is involving risk and insecurity, and permits changes in strategic planning.
Consequently a communication manager has to acquire new skills.
First of all he has to be (become) aware of his bipolar position: like the two-headed god Janus with each face poised in opposite directions, he knows the communicative reality is a cultural one but he has to manage the social process of communication as well. The communicationmanager has to be a Janus Head (Van den Bosch & Zweekhorst, 2004).
To cope with the flexibility and insecurity that is inherent in the cultural process view he has to be trained in strategic scenario thinking (Van den Bosch & Zweekhorst, 2002, 2004).
The process of strategic scenario thinking involves:
monitoring relevant issues, elaborating factors concerning the issues, developing realistic, consistent and elaborated scenarios, which generate all kinds of strategies,
assessing the strategies, and implement the chosen strategies, relevant in this situation, in this organisation for the time being.
Bosch, M. van den, & Zweekhorst, P. (2002). Strategische monitoring: wat je niet ziet bestaat toch. In: Scholten, O. (red.). Handboek Interne Communicatie (pp. C.4.2-3 – C.4.2-22). Deventer: Samsom
Bosch, M. van den, & Zweekhorst, P. (2004). Communicatiemanagement als kritische succesfactor: een kritieke discussie. Tijschrift voor Communicatiewetenschap, 3, 211-221
Carey, J.W. (1975). A cultural approach to communication. Communication 2, 1-22
Zweekhorst, P.A.M. (2001). Communicatiemanagers: Eerder Aäron dan His Master’s Voice. Visies van topmanagers. Dissertation. Amsterdam: Boom
Marianne van den Bosch & Paula Zweekhorst, 2005