For communication to be successful the message has to get from the sender to the recipient and be understood and acted upon. When communicating core values and mission, the five elements would typically be:
- information source: the board
- transmitter: encoding the message – deciding what needs to be said or what needs to be shown and designing the message
- the communication channel – eg internet, letters, meetings. These are listed more fully in the next section
- the receiver: decodes the message – eg a web-browser displaying a page
- destination – employees, customers, shareholders.
Noise can interfere with the message at any stage and this can be termed a barrier to communication. Noise can prevent or distort communication. Typical sources of noise are:
- language difficulties – ensuring that the message is properly translated into foreign languages and that any terminology used can be understood
- information overload – too much information so that recipients are overwhelmed and fail to see the most important information
- failure to receive – wrong email addresses, trying to display Flash animations on iPhones
- reluctance to receive the message – eg employees might be reluctant to change their behaviour and might ignore the communication
- status differences – eg management stays remote from employees and is reluctant to hear bad news about the organisation’s performance
- inappropriate communications channels – eg expecting employees to read and digest a long text on the organisation’s core values when a training course, video presentation or discussion might be much more effective.
Communications can break down very easily and the organisation’s management might not even be aware of this. A survey carried out by the Boston Consulting Group (1) found that although around 27% of bosses believe their employees are guided by a ‘set of core principles and values that inspire everyone to align around a company’s mission’ only 4% of employees agree. Similarly, 41% of bosses say their firm rewards performance based on values rather than merely on financial results. Only 14% of employees believe this. So, quite obviously there are serious communications failures relating to the core values of the organisations in the survey.
Communication methods (channels)
Mission and core values cannot guide behaviour or support performance and create a common understanding among the various stakeholders if they are not effectively communicated. There is no point in shareholders believing that they are investing in an innovative company if perceptions of customers and employees are quite different. Although messages and sentiments must be consistent, there is a wide choice as to which types of communication are likely to work best for each stakeholder group.
Methods of communication include:
- conversations and discussions
- publications, such as journals, newsletters and mail shots
- financial statements
- meetings, such as the AGM
- company stationery
- company merchandise
- training courses
- press releases and other public relations activities
- SMS (texting)
- internet (organisation’s web site) and intranet
- social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
This list is set out, very approximately, in the order in which the techniques became available over time: talking to one’s employees face-to-face came long before Tweeting to one’s valued employees. Generally, any communications campaign will use a mix of techniques and the methods chosen will depend on which audience is being targeted, the nature of the message and expense, both in terms of money, time and environmental impact. For example, instead of sending printed financial statements to every shareholder, many companies now email a web link to shareholders showing where the financial statements can be viewed online and downloaded if required.
Similarly, sending newsletters by email is faster, cheaper and causes less environmental impact than producing and despatching printed copies. This shift in communication methods is an example of a common organisational core value in action – the wish to minimise environmental impact and to promote sustainability.
Examples of organisations communicating mission and core values
Good communications requires a plan and typically this would have the following steps:
- Listing your communications stakeholder groups (here, shareholders, employees and customers)
- Defining what has to be communicated to each stakeholders group (here mission and core values)
- Identifying suitable communications methods and events
- Allocating resources
- Developing a communications event schedule
- Monitoring the effectiveness of the communications events
Facebook – Tesco
Let’s say that a company wanted to communicate some of its core values to its customers. Mission and core values are fundamental, serious and relatively permanent features of organisations and it would be difficult to communicate these as statements appropriately via Facebook or Twitter where information tends to be more ephemeral, if not trivial. However, social media can be used successfully to communicate examples of mission or core values in action.
Amongst Tesco’s many recipes and competitions posted by them on their Facebook wall (and therefore appearing in the Facebook pages of Tesco’s ‘friends’) are postings such as the following:
TESCO’S GREAT SCHOOL RUN is looking for five to 11 year olds to slip on the trainers for a 2 km fun run. Ask your school to sign up <http://....>
Exercise can be a fun part of everyday life and we hope to get one million children on the move. To be one in a million, find out more here <http://....> and
Hi, …I work at Tesco Express in Eastbourne. I’m doing a parachute jump to support Tesco’s current Charity of the Year, the Alzheimer's Society, as part of their ‘Leap Year Challenge’! Follow my nervous build up to the big day HERE! <http://....>
YOU can take a giant leap for people with dementia and sign up for a parachute jump or abseil! Find more details HERE <http://....>
Both of these are illustrative of Tesco’s wish to be valued within the communities in which they operate and the messages will automatically appear on the Facebook pages of anyone who ‘Liked’ Tesco. This will be an effective, almost subliminal way of communicating a core value of Tesco to its customers.
Facebook – ACCA
ACCA uses Facebook to post many routine messages about exam results, studying and membership fees. However, amongst those it also has, for example, information about recording practical experience requirements (PER), which is an integral part of the ACCA Qualification. The huge variety of people who ‘write on ACCA’s wall’ is evidence of ACCA’s success at being a global organisation and of welcoming diversity. This, of itself promotes ACCA’s mission and core values and will encourage people from a very wide range of backgrounds to participate.
Of course, not every organisation uses social media. HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks and financial services organisations, makes practically no use of Facebook or Twitter. There is, however, a lot of material on their website about sustainability, working with stakeholders, protecting the environment and investing in communities (see http://www.hsbc.com/citizenship/sustainability).
Television/video – The Cooperative Group
Television advertising is often used to promote values and mission. A 60-second advert will never contain a vast quantity of detailed information but a well-shot short film can be very effective indeed at getting across an organisation’s ethos, particularly to external stakeholders.
The Cooperative Group is a diverse UK organisation that includes
supermarkets, a bank, insurance, travel, legal services and funeral care. It is a mutual organisation, owned by its customers and has been very successful in differentiating itself by promoting a very ethical approach to business. The ad is quite long, but shows the care and expense that the organisation went to try to communicate its values (www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHzBltFKHAw).
Television/video – Etihad
This video example is too long for a television advert but was used for staff recruitment and training. No doubt it would be effective if viewed by customers also (www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTl0qM6swYc).
Listen to the words relating to mission and values that the film packs in: challenging the status quo, change, a belief that nothing is impossible, continual striving, embrace optimism and creativity, vision is to be a driving force of change in the industry, see things differently, hospitality, multinational crew, vision of a more elegant flight experience, innovative design, attempt to meet diverse needs, investment in customers, continual growth, challenge and creativity.
Television/video – ESB
The final ad to look at is by ESB, the Irish Electricity Supply Board. It is communicating the company’s ecological values: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAYFS-3hY_Y
Public relations/press releases – ACCA
Public relations (PR), as the term suggests, can play a very important role in communicating to external stakeholders: the public. PR is often promoted via press releases which are sent to newspapers and broadcasting organisations (who are always on the look-out for features and news items) in the hope that mention will be made of the organisations. For example, here are some press releases recently made by ACCA:
- 28 November 2011: Accountants have key role to play in fight against climate change, says ACCA. The profession [accountancy] has extensive experience of measuring, reporting, and validation mechanisms, all of which will be vital for any credible action on climate change. The profession must use its expertise to make a positive contribution to the formulation of credible policy frameworks and agreements.
- 17 November 2011: The challenge of diversity in the workplace: experts to offer solutions for the future. For ACCA and the ESRC [Economic and Social Research Council], we want to explore the link between diversity and innovation and in particular the benefits to organisations in encouraging diversity to achieve business benefits.
The ACCA and the ESRC are collaborating on this project and collaboration is likely to extend ACCA’s reach beyond its normal audience.
Public relations/press releases – GlaxoSmithKline
This is a multinational pharmaceutical company. Its mission is to: ‘Improve the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer.’
30 January 2012: GSK joins new global partnership to help defeat 10 neglected tropical diseases by 2020: …We are committed to playing our part in helping to achieve universal coverage of intervention programmes for diseases that can be controlled or eliminated by existing treatments, and to spur R&D into new treatments for diseases where none currently exist.
The company also emphasises its work with communities:
- 22 March 2011: GSK launches London 2012 initiative with King’s College London to inspire young people into science careers: …The programme comprises a series of free events running between now and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. These events offer local school children the opportunity to experience a day at a university and through a series of sports based lectures and interactive workshops aims to encourage 11–14 year old students to take their science studies further and consider a career in science.
Communicating an organisation’s mission and core values to shareholders, employees and customers is very important. However, as the communications model shows sending messages is not the same as successful receipt of those messages (in terms of changing or sustaining behaviour) by the intended audience. Just because large amounts of money are spent on communicating mission and core values does not mean that the messages are understood or acted upon.
Consider News Corporation. Their standards of business conduct (which includes the company’s core values) can be downloaded from the News Corporation website
It contains sections on commitment to the public, stockholders, employees and the global community. However, in the UK, the activities of News Corporation’s newspapers has caused public outrage and provoked a public enquiry into the behaviour of the press in hacking into mobile phone voice mails. Substantial damages have already been agreed with 37 victims (the 15 settlements made public total around $1m). Additionally, there is reputational damage to the organisation which will affect its relationship with shareholders, employees and customers for years to come.
Ken Garrett is a freelance lecturer and writer
(1) Boston Research Group, the ‘National Governance, Culture and Leadership Assessment’, The Economist, September 2011