The analysis cited above continues to describe the ways in which corporate "life" (in the sense of how many different individuals and entities are vital to the running of a corporation in the current climate):
Businesses today must be consumer, profit, and publicly oriented. Only a few years ago, the first two would have sufficed. But, in support of our dualistic argument regarding the marketing concept, that is -- creating exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives more effectively and efficiently than the competition -- Philip Kotler (2000) has labelled marketing as inappropriate in a world of environmental deterioration, population expansion, world hunger and poverty, and neglected, under-funded, and business-like social services. Thus, marketing as exchange has been augmented by the need to preserve or enhance consumer and societal well being, too. Increasingly, this extends beyond 'seeming' to the needed 'substance' of corporate social responsibility.
The above touches on both dynamics of communications strategies as well as the larger (but fundamentally connected) issue of social responsibility in a company. This latter point will be discussed later, especially in the context of the very different perspectives on this issue pursued by the New York Times and Coca-Cola.
So far we have touched on the importance of technological changes in communication as well as the globalization of corporate organization, reach, sales, and branding. There is one more key element that has contributed to the push of companies towards integrated corporate communication. This element has been generally overlooked but is, I argue, a fundamentally important aspect of this shift in communication strategy.
The factors described so far have to do with the relationship of the company to the outside world, either to the general state of technology in the twenty-first century, or to the general state of corporate globalization in the twenty-first century. The last major dynamic that will be examined in this paper has to do with the relationship of a company to itself, and specifically to its employees. One of the major shifts that has occurred in the last generation in terms of corporate structure and strategy (although it had been building before this for at least another generation) is that large corporations have become increasingly less loyal to their employees.
Stephen Gill, in his blog on the dynamics of the corporate workplace, describes the ways in which the relationship between employer and employee has unraveled. He suggests that the current relationship between most large companies and most of their employees has become less and less based on commitment and loyalty and more one of temporary convenience at best, and something like guarded antagonism much of the time.
He notes that until the most recent generations of workers, "loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship" between workers and employers. And while employers now tend to criticize workers for their lack of loyalty, historically employers have been (in general) the first to break the implied contract between themselves and their workers. While previous generations of workers could count on lifetime employment at a company if they chose this option, that is no longer true.
While turnover was once seen as "dysfunctional," it is now the absolute norm, so much so that many workers (and their managers) probably could not imagine a workplace culture in which workers (and sometimes even fairly high-level managers) can be at their desks one day, deeply immersed in the business of the company, and the next day their desks have been cleared out.
High turnover is one of the most significant causes of low morale, which in turn tends to accelerate the amount of turnover.
If a company has a high turnover rate, finding and eliminating the cause might reduce that turnover rate. Low morale rates and high turnover rates indicate problems within a company…. Morale is the driving force behind a company. High morale pushes the company forward and keeps employee turnover low. Low morale slows things down, reduces productivity, and accelerates employee turnover.
While there are many causes of turnover and there is no single solution to the problem of high turnover (in no small part because often the causes of high turnover arise from macro-economic conditions over which an individual company has no power), one possible way of addressing the problem of low morale is to improve internal corporate communication.
There are different ways in which to improve communication (a point that will be developed further in the next section), but a case can be made that increasing the degree of integration in communication style and strategy is one of them. This shift from previous intra-company dynamics, as described below. By creating an integrated system of communication, managers can help to create a sense of shared culture and shared goals.
What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need -- skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
Without the traditional (albeit slightly noblesse-oblige) traditions of employer loyalty, employees have begun to feel more and more like outsiders to their own firms. This is a significant shift from a company style that endured for generations after the onset of the Industrial Revolution, in which a quasi-familial dynamic ruled in companies.
In a corporate culture in which employees were seen as (almost) a part of the family, the communication between the managers or owners of a company and the employees was marked by a different tone, even a different dialect than that which was used for communications with the external world. Now, with the ties that hold workers to their companies growing even more tenuous, managers have begun to communicate with their employees more and more as if they were stakeholders as temporary as customers.
Thus the model outlined above -- in which this dynamic was set up as different from the other two in that it referred to an internal dynamic -- must actually be modified. Companies once promised that they would be there for their employees, as well as their customers and communities. Those loyalties are now all too often seen as quaintly anachronistic. This is likely to be all-the-more so in the absence of an integrated communication system. (Although, as will be developed below, it is also possible that in some situations an inept implementation of an integrated communication system can actually damage a sense of cohesion and shared goals.)
When communication systems create a sense of shared goals between workers and managers, the company is likely to perform better.
In 1996, when Walnut Creek, California, personnel expert Ethan Winning surveyed 742 employees in six different industries, from high-tech to insurance, a staggering 67% told him their loyalty had decreased. "There's no doubt that loyalty is in trouble…. Managers could scarcely expect other results…. It should come as no surprise to management that employees feel unconnected to companies that have seemingly shown little regard for their well-being.
This article actually goes on to argue that employee loyalty is not so much dead as simply transformed, and this is a point that has some validity. However, while certainly many employees do feel some loyalty to their employers, this is far less true in general of employees in larger corporations than in smaller companies. Moreover, the degree of loyalty felt by employees is diminished (and is only likely to be further diminished) by a corporate communication strategy that increasingly treats (that is, talks to) employees as if they were outside stakeholders.
This research examines the relative strength and importance of these different forces vis-a-vis the shift in corporate communications strategies and style, describing in brief the historical precedents, examining the future state of the field, and making some predictions about the (near) future of corporate communications and the consequences of each of these for both the nature of the corporation itself and its relationship with all of its varied stakeholders.
The Technological Cart Before the Horse
In this section, I will examine the work that has been done in the area of integrated corporate communication, focusing on the three areas of this discipline that were examined in the previous section. The first of these is what can be referred to with the shorthand of technical innovations, which I am using to refer to the entire range of electronic communication forms that are at the center of our world in the twenty-first century. As noted above, while this technically includes the range of all computer hardware and software applications, certain forms of electronic communication are the most important in having shifted the dynamic of company communication. These include the social media (including LinkedIn, Facebook, and…