By Cal Downs, University of Kansas
The communication that takes place in an organization is an important influence in the success of that organization. Therefore, a good book on organizational communication can be a valuable resource for all kinds of students-managers who want to be effective communicators, as well as academic students who want to understand how organizations work. Phil Clampitt has written such a book.
Over the years, I have evaluated a number of manuscripts offered to various publishers, and many of them have good coverage of rather standard materials that are commonly covered about organizational communication. What Phil Clampitt has done, however, is to write a book that is original and interesting.
What strikes me most about his work is its freshness. The quotations that begin each chapter are not typical organizational literature; they demonstrate how well read Phil Clampitt is and how this breadth of resources have led him to think about organizational life in some innovative ways. He also demonstrates great originality in the way that he uses metaphor to explain how communication works. For example, although I love to dance, I would never have thought of using dance as a metaphor for the way organizational communication works. Yet, Clampitt does so in a convincing way. Furthermore, he is able to coin new phrases that are rich in explanatory power.
I also like the way Clampitt makes this book a statement of his theory about organizational communication. It is not merely a report on the research about a topic. He includes basic propositions and clarifies some of his basic assumptions. He also makes a major addition by describing some common problem areas and then telling his reader “what to do” about them. Finally, he adds some important areas that are often overlooked. His work with communication audits has prompted him to add chapters on facilitating boundary spanning and cultivating an innovative spirit.
One of the great rewards of being a university professor is being able to watch exceptional graduate students become major contributors to one’s discipline. Phil Clampitt is doing this with his book. There are many gems in these chapters, and I am delighted to recommend it.
A new edition of a book provides opportunities to update material and fine-tune critical ideas. I seized these opportunities but I also wanted to do something more. My goals focused on making this edition more problem-focused, user-friendly, and enriching.
Problem-focused: This edition incorporates a new subtitle that underscores the unique orientation of Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness (CME4). Many authors have addressed important communicative skills such as speaking, writing, and conducting group discussions. I’ve assumed that the readers want to go beyond the basic communication skills and learn how to make an impact on their organizations by resolving some of the most vexing communication problems. While I cannot promise readers all the “right answers” to these problems, I can assure readers they will learn useful ways to think about the problems.
User-friendly: I focused on making this edition even more user-friendly in three specific ways. 1) Since the third edition of this book, I have consulted with numerous organizations about the communication issues discussed in the previous editions. I learned first-hand the difficulty many organizations experience translating seemingly simple and straightforward principles into action. For instance, after leading dozens of change efforts in the past few years, I have grown to appreciate the need for actionable tools based on sound theory and designed to assist with the change planning process. This edition includes examples of those tools. 2) I moved some of the background research to the book’s website to better organize supplemental material. For example, the citations for “By the Numbers” are on the book’s website (www.imetacomm.com/CME4). The CME4 website also includes a glossary of key terms, case studies, and self-tests. 3) I’ve added a number of tools to help students understand the principles and ideas at a deeper more personal level. For instance, each chapter concludes with a list of key terms for review. Readers will also find three “Drill Down Exercises.” I’ve used this title to emphasize that learning the principles goes beyond the mere memorization of a concept; it requires a deeper “drill down” beyond a cursory reading of the text. Students who desire to maximize their understanding will find these questions challenging and thought-provoking.
Enriching: Books have a capacity to enrich our lives in special ways. Some provide a needed perspective on a vexing problem. Others offer a catchy phrase that resonates as well as illuminates. Still others move us emotionally in some deeply personal way. My hope is that CME4 will enrich your life in one of these ways. I’ve made every effort to do so in this edition by tightening up the writing and relating incidents I’ve found deeply illuminating. And I’ve tried to do something else unique – highlighting critical thinking skills. In particular, I’ve had some success over the years focusing on seven questions used by critical thinkers:
- Have I made reasonable assumptions?
- Have I properly identified the implications of the facts, ideas or situation? (i.e., So what?)
- Have I properly identified the pattern(s)?
- Have I relied on reasonable evidence to reach my conclusions?
- Have I properly defined effectiveness?
- Have I considered all the logical alternatives and selected the proper course of action?
- Have I considered the ethical impact of my decisions?
In fact, my students have dubbed these “Phil’s 7 questions” (see www.Phils7questions.com). Throughout the manuscript, I have underscored these questions in one form or the other. Sometimes, readers will see the question addressed directly and at other times more obliquely. Either way, a singular desire motivated me. I sought to use the communication problems discussed in the book as a vehicle to help others think more critically about any challenge they face. Why? Because the demand for critical thinkers always exceeds the supply.
In short, every chapter has been revised in some major way. I have also been mindful of how the Internet continues to change the way organizations communicate. The “dot” is the most significant aspect of the dot.com evolution because dots can be easily connected. The ease of connecting employees, managers, and executives has not made organizational communication easier; it has made it more challenging. I hope the book and website provide the wisdom, insight, and counsel necessary to enhance your communication effectiveness.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself…and you are the easiest person to fool,” wrote the Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman. Physicists are not the only ones who must guard against self-delusion—managers must, as well. And the temptation of self-deception proves almost irresistible when it comes to the elusive business of communication. Most people overestimate their ability to communicate and underestimate the difficulty of the challenge. Therefore, the purpose of Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness is to enable managers to strategically resolve typical organizational communication problems.
This presents an unusual challenge for two reasons. First, our knowledge of the communication process continues to grow and change. New and exciting theories have recently appeared on the horizon which allow us to see communication in a light never before possible. Only in the past few years have we started to discern the implications of these ideas. For instance, some scholars have challenged the traditional assertion that “understanding” or “persuasion” should be the only goals of communication. Sometimes managers are purposefully ambiguous. What are the implications of this notion for managers? Can misunderstandings be useful in an organization? These are the types of questions entertained in these pages.
Second, there is what I call the “Everybody/Anybody Phenomena.” Translation: Because everybody communicates, anyone can become an expert on the subject. Hence, what often gets passed off as training for “communication excellence” consists of nothing more than warmed-over platitudes or rehashed pop psychology. That is unfortunate, not only because it misrepresents a rich field of scholarship but also because managers encounter a host of communication challenges that are not addressed by the “Everybody/Anybody” speakers. They treat ideas like they are cotton candy; something fluffy and sweet, but not the staples of organizational life. Nothing could be further from reality. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences. When the communication system breaks down, tragedy is often the result. A case in point: the space shuttle Columbia tragedy, discussed in the culture chapter (Chapter 4).
The impetus for this manuscript came from research I conducted in over fifty organizations and from concerns revealed in numerous consulting engagements (seewww.imetacomm.com/CME4). The methodology consisted of administering surveys and conducting interviews with employees. As I conducted communication assessments, often in conjunction with students, I discovered a group of concerns that emerged as common themes in these organizations. For instance, executives were often dismayed at the seeming impossibility of getting departments to communicate effectively with one another. Employees were often frustrated by the lack of useful feedback from their managers. Therefore, the manuscript took shape around these concerns. In subsequent years I’ve had the privilege of advising executives, managers, government officials, military leaders and union officials from a wide array of different organizations. These experiences have reinforced my view of the importance of effective communication and reaffirmed my commitment to finding actionable strategies to address the major communication challenges that every leader faces. I’ve integrated the insights gleaned from these experiences into the manuscript.
The illustration below provides the framework for the book. At the hub of managerial effectiveness lies communication, corporate culture, and ethics. The first two chapters are devoted to explaining the complex process of communication. Chapter 3 focuses on communication ethics. If managers are not deemed to be ethical communicators, then their lack of credibility undermines any attempt at effective communication. Chapter 4 concerns the core issue of corporate culture, which has a pervasive impact on the communication climate. The spokes of the wheel represent six critical communication challenges most managers face. In each case, I begin by analyzing the challenge and close with practical recommendations based on actual cases. These six chapters discuss:
- Selecting and using communication technologies (Chapter 5)
- Managing data, information, knowledge, and action (Chapter 6)
- Providing performance feedback (Chapter 7)
- Communicating across organizational boundaries (Chapter 8)
- Communicating about organizational changes (Chapter 9)
- Cultivating an innovative spirit (Chapter 10)
The final chapter (Chapter 11) focuses on the complex issue of measuring and judging communication effectiveness. It suggests a way to build a world class organizational communication system. It represents the rim of the wheel because it provides the macro-level viewpoint that holds the entire manuscript together. The wheel symbolizes wholeness as well as movement. I hope this book will provide a more complete picture of managerial communication effectiveness, while presenting an image of the ever-changing nature of that quest.
I use examples from the business world—many from my consulting experiences—as well as from a wide range of arenas including politics, history, science, and art. The rationale: Communication issues pervade every arena of life. Unless otherwise noted, I have changed the names and slightly altered the background in order to “protect the guilty.” When particularly illuminating, I discuss the findings of key scholarly studies. However, I focus on the practical implementation of the research. I hope that executives, managers, potential managers, training personnel, and students of organizational communication will find in these pages a way to abide by Professor Feynman’s “first principle.”