The Public Relations Strategist

Organizational Clarity: The New Engagement for Internal Communications

July 25, 2016

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Employee engagement and how it impacts organizational performance is a topic most commonly discussed in the academic and practitioner world.Theories and hypotheses posit that there is a connection between employee engagement and organizational success, and the necessary content to effectively engage an organization’s global workforce. Employee engagement is often theorized and proved to be vital to organizational performance, innovation, productivity and business success.

But how can organizations manage today’s social reality, where there is more content than attention, in addition to more content than the context that an organization provides its employees? In companies throughout the world, employees are inundated with information and rely on organizational behavior and action to connect the dots on vision, strategy and direction.

Given the market’s ever-changing digital realities, organizations must maintain relevance to sustain success.

To uphold such relevance, providing organizational clarity or a “line-of-sight” to employees is key, as these strategies may undergo frequent changes due to evolving opportunities in the market.

Prioritizing and communicating internal strategy

To develop and test the concept of organizational clarity as a significant factor in workforce alignment, business relevance and performance, the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Commission on Organizational Communication conducted a global study. The research project examined:

  • How, and to what degree, does an employee look inside his company to understand its strategy and how it is applicable to his job?
  • To what degree does an employee also look outside the organization to learn if her role, and the organization’s role in the larger marketplace, are properly aligned?


The study defines organizational clarity as the comprehension an employee has about the organization’s vision, purpose, mission, strategy, opportunities, challenges, priorities and competitive reality. More than 1,500 employees in five countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Brazil and China — as well as six sectors — automotive/transportation, energy, financial services, food and beverage, health care and technology — were surveyed about how well they think their organization connects to three dimensions of employee alignment — job, strategy and market.

Each country received a grade ranging from A to F, based on the mean responses from their employees. The best to worst-performing countries in terms of organizational clarity were India, the U.S., China, Brazil and the U.K. The results indicate that overall employees are confident that they understand the core purpose of their organization and find meaning in their work, but believe organizations have much work to do in prioritizing and communicating strategy internally.

Among the findings:

  • Grades for the job dimension ranged from a B for India to a C for the U.K. Most employees gave high marks for their understanding of the organization’s core purpose and said they found meaning in their jobs. Employees in the U.K. were less likely than their counterparts to say they were rewarded fairly.
  • India fared better than other countries, earning a B in the strategy dimension, while the U.K. scored the lowest with a C. Employees in the U.S. and India were more confident in their organization’s strategy over the next three years than other countries. Except for India, employees said organizations need to better use technology to communicate strategy and to ensure that when initiatives are completed, the results get reported to employees.
  • All countries earned Fs for the market dimension, with the exception of India, which scored a D. Employees in the U.S. and the U.K. said there are too many initiatives in their organization going on at the same time, their work priorities often conflict and they feel more connected to the profession than to their organization.


Using these three key dimensions as a starting point, the “Organizational Clarity Clock” — a new measurement model emerging from the research — shows organizational clarity is increased when employees understand the market as seen through the lens of the company’s strategy. But the disconcerting reality is that some organizations do not have a solid understanding or real-time knowledge of the workforce as it exists today.

To make this research most useful for leaders, an organizational clarity scale was constructed to measure the three dimensions, according to country and sector. This resource allows organizations to see which specific levers need to be pulled to improve organizational clarity and drive performance.

The study makes the case for stronger internal alignment around business strategy and individual performance. The results will enable business leaders to envision the ways and means of achieving clarity in their respective organizations. The findings highlight that strategy and clarity connect when employees calibrate thinking, action and behavior. Strategy alignment and clarity start at the top, and employee disconnect must be eliminated.

The data indicate that organizational clarity must start with leaders who align and agree on the strategy, and then communicate via a consistent and iterative narrative. The study also includes specifics for improving clarity and engagement within companies. In addition to the research findings, the study offers takeaways and suggested actions to improve organizational clarity and drive performance:

  1. The understanding of employee interests and perceptions is the foundation for organizational clarity. ?
  2. Internal communications should not be treated as a one-size-fits-all proposition.
  3. Strategy and content must connect to employees and expectations.
  4. Ongoing conversations with employees are important.
  5. Strategy alignment and organizational clarity start at the top.
  6. Listening and encouraging discussion help to instill trust and confidence.
  7. Strategy and organizational clarity come together when employees can align with the organization’s behavior.
  8. The organizational “voice” should evolve from one of “telling” to “facilitating,” where employees learn, engage and query.
  9. Employees, often inundated with information, rely on the organization’s behavior to connect the dots for them on vision, strategy and direction.
  10. To be heard, the organization’s “voice” must evolve with consumer reality.


    For insight as to why organizational clarity is important to organizations, how it is currently being addressed, and what does and does not work to drive organizational success for a specific country and sector, you may find the full study at: instituteforpr.org.

 

Sarab Kochhar, Ph.D.
Sarab Kochhar, Ph.D., is director of research at the Institute for Public Relations. She works with APCO Worldwide as associate director of measurement and analytics. Email: sarab@instituteforpr.org. Twitter: @sarabkochhar.

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