Systems Approaches to Organizational Communication

by Leigh Richards; Updated September 26, 2017

Systems approaches to organizational communication consider communication as a fundamental element of the entire business -- inside and out. Rather than separate communication processes into silos, communication is managed at the system level to ensure that messaging is consistent and aligned. It is an important philosophy for organizations that wish to ensure that their audiences receive the same messages, at the right time and through the appropriate communication channels. Some key concepts of systems approaches include interdependence of objectives and their attributes, holism, goal-seeking and inputs/outputs.

Interdependence

Systems approaches to communication recognize that the many forms of organizational communication that exist both inside and outside of organizations are integrally intertwined and, consequently, interdependent. For instance, a communication from the CEO at a company-wide meeting may result in an item in the organizational newsletter, a post on the company intranet and perhaps even an interview by the local media. Recognizing this interdependence, organizations can better plan and structure their communications to take all potential channels into consideration. So, for example, a company may wish to schedule its communications to communicate first with internal audiences, then with key customer audiences and ultimately with consumer audiences in general. Careful timing and distribution of messages will ensure that the right audiences receive the right messages at the right times.

Holism

Holism is an approach that looks at the sum of various activities in total, rather than the individual contributions of the approach's individual elements. This is quite common in the advertising world where marketers recognize that the messages sent through multiple channels have a multiplicative impact greater than the sum of the parts. The same is true as organizations consider a systems approach to their corporate communications. A single message sent through multiple channels will have an impact greater than the sum of each of the individual message impacts.

Goal Seeking

Systems approaches to communication recognize that there is some desired, intended outcome that will result in communication success. The purpose of organizational communication should be targeted toward a desired outcome that might include such things as improving employee engagement, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing awareness of specific organizational initiatives, and the like. As communication audiences are identified, messages are created and channels are selected, the goals drive the formulation of the strategies that are ultimately intended to achieve desired results. So, for example, the company may wish to increase preference for its services compared to competitors, closing a gap between these preferences by a certain amount. Communication activities would be designed to close the gap and future measurements would indicate whether the results were achieved.

Inputs and Outputs

Importantly, effective systems are open, not closed. Systems approaches to organizational communication recognize that communication will involve both inputs and outputs. Organizations that communicate effectively recognize that they are not only sending messages to key audiences, but need to be ready to receive messages as well. The inputs received from various audiences can be used to provide direction for future activities and can serve as indications of how effectively goals are being met. Today's social media channels provide a wide range of opportunity for this type of two-way communication.

About the Author

Leigh Richards has been a writer since 1980. Her work has been published in "Entrepreneur," "Complete Woman" and "Toastmaster," among many other trade and professional publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Arts in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.