Internal Communication and Organizational Changes

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Internal Communications and Organizational Changes

  • Budi Santoso


Institutional changes are unavoidable. It happens to any kinds of organizations; no matter how stiff the structure is (we can take military institution as a sample). One significant factor that holds important role in the process of change is communication. Change, however, requires communication supports, not only formal but also informal. When interaction and social doings among leaders and staffs within organizations has to be established according to the needs of change, communication about this is necessary (Vos and Schoemaker, 2001, p. 101). Therefore, internal communications holds a vital role to make a desired change successful. The basic idea of this is that internal communication’s role ranges from communicating to stimulating the process of change (Vos and Schoemaker, 2001, p. 100).

In this paper, writer should focus on one of internal communications functions, namely, communicating the facts of the intended change to the inside stakeholders. The reason for this is that changes can possibly create a lack of clarity and uncertainty amongst inside stakeholders (Vos and Schoemaker, 2001), hence the need for information is relatively large. More importantly, to communicate the change to staff and employees is a significant initial phase within the whole process of change.

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Organizations, as stated by Vos and Schoemaker (2001), are basically based on collaboration (p. 81). All sections are interconnected, and by that, are interdependent. All parts are directed to involve in mutual cooperation to realize or achieve organizations’ goals which are usually manifested in their missions. The output of mutual cooperation among all segments is based on the quality of internal communication which takes place.

Organizational structure cannot obviously be separated from internal communication as it, essentially, is resulted from communication process that happened continuously within an organization. Structures save us time and trouble, while they help us build on past experience (Cheney et al, 2004, p. 20). However, the climate of internal communication of an organization should actually be developed from symmetrical systems of communication.

In this paper, I try to explain how the organizational structure regulates internal communication climate in organizations, as the way in which people communicate depends strongly on the nature of organization (Vos and Schoemaker, 2001), by giving reasonable arguments which I elaborated from several sources.

Organizational Structure

Cheney et al (2004) symbolized structure of organization as a skyscraper: a tall building with many rooms and main parts, such as pillars or roofs, which are used to hold the whole divisions to stand up. The main part of organizations, then, is the communication atmosphere which colors the works spirit of all manpower to give their ideas, energy and services for the sake of their organizations.

Online business dictionary (2007) defined organizational structure as formal and informal Framework of policies and rules, within which an organization arranges its lines of authority and communications, and allocates rights and duties. Organizational structure shapes the manner and degree to which roles, power, and responsibilities are delegated, controlled, and coordinated, and how information flows between levels of management.

Structure is aimed to give shape and direction to internal communication activities that take place, whether it is vertical or horizontal. On the other hand, type of structure determines coordination and cooperation process within organizations. Internal communication is vital if an organization is to function properly (Vos and Schoemaker, 2001).

Internal communication climate and structure of organization

Grunig, in his writing Systems of Internal Communication (1992), quoted Schneider (1985), wrote that the concept of communication climate came from organizational psychology. It refers to a psychological atmosphere in organization like warm, tolerant, and participative. The values of communication climate can cover some features such as consistency, credibility, trust, openness, accuracy and frequent communication. However, there are also negative senses such as intolerant, rigid or imbalanced communication atmosphere that could result in ineffectiveness in organizations.

Effendy (1983, in Ruslan, 2007) internal communication which exists in organization can be categorized in three. First is vertical communication. This kind of communication is centered on two ways aspect. Downward and upward communications principally are manifestation of vertical communication. Nonetheless, in downward style, management stands the instruction, information, explanation, or delegation to person in charge in the units or their subordinates. In upward, subordinates give reports, suggestions, or even complaints to their direct managers. Second is horizontal communication. This sort of communication takes place amongst ordinary employees or staffs, or managers in the same level. Cross communication can also be come about in horizontal communication.

Presently, structure of organizations has massively been developed. The most common and traditional type, bureaucracy where most decisions are centralized, has no longer been the one and only, even though some big business and governmental offices still use it. The terminologies such as boundaryless or virtual organizations have been popular amidst organizational scholars and adopted by many organizations. Some high-tech firms in Silicon Valley, USA, for instance, have been organizing themselves to implement a relatively flat structure (Cheney et al, 2004), where the decision making power is distributed and the divisions have varying degrees of autonomy.

Flat structure is often used by organizations where their works are fundamentally about new ideas (Cheney et al, 2004). This happens as a result to cut off the stagnation in communication flows within the organizations and to drive a favorable work atmosphere. Vos and Schoemaker (2001) confirm this by saying that structure offers a framework for the processes occurring in organizations. The differentiation and specialization in organizations as described in units, or departments may probably be potential to induce unclear communication processes, particularly in big organizations or corporations who applies rigid bureaucratic model. Specialization, in other words, may mystify and exclude other departments’ staffs since each has its own language or jargon.

Organizations with many divisions or levels will be likely to have more basic problems in their internal communication compared to organizations who adopt simple structure, if procedures and guidelines are not established in good order. This means that inconsistency in performing the guidelines, for instance, may emerge unclear job responsibilities and, in turn, can lead to significant communication problems. More divisions, levels or employees, of course, will cause extra managerial efforts to reach mutual relationships to get common sense in reaching organizations’ ends. Vos and Schoemaker described this condition by stating that communication problems about who is doing what can originate in problems of the structure (2001, p. 96).

Simply saying, flat and fluid organizational structure may give leaders more chances to interact informally with their subordinates to get feedback or to give constructive motivation. Motivation, as one important factor to achieve work quality, can be improved by the way leaders communicate. Leaders may increase their credibility before the employees by, perhaps, showing them their trustworthiness, openness and appreciation. In some extent, these characters can raise employee’s motivation to improve their job performance as well as to experience job satisfaction.

Writer tried not to say that flexible or simple structures are better than conventional ones, as they have their own strength and weakness. However, the type or size of organization which can be drawn up from its structure undeniably also affects the way internal communications carried out and determines the quantity and quality of it. Military institutions, for example, may not have fluid and informal structure since their philosophy is based on chain of commands and thus, centralized. If an army adopts fluid structure, it can even jeopardize its internal communication since there is a solid system in rank stratification.

Communicating the Change

Internal communications is required not only to let members of organization know about the change which is going to take place but also to keep the process of it running properly. Cheney, Christensen, Zorn, Ganesh (2004) stated that communication is the means by which change is implemented, as implementers negotiate plans, announce changes… (p. 339).

To communicate the facts about the desired change to inside stakeholders, in this case shareholders, staff and workforce calls for good strategies. Excellent internal communications plans and actions are needed to result in less-turbulent reaction of the insiders. It is a common thing that not everyone in organization becomes aware or even expects changes. And yet, as told by Cheney et al (2004), change is considered successful if it is accepted by key stakeholders rather than rejected; is compatible between the intended use of designer and the actual use of user; and give benefit to the organizations as well.

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The prominent key of announcing the intended change is based on how to handle the flows of information regarding the change itself. Vos and Schoemaker underlined that Information about change should be managed well and provided timely to prevent rumours (Vos and Schoemaker, 2001, p. 110). This entails the need that inside stakeholders would better receive the information from the management directly and at the first place, not from external parties such as media or their counterparts from other organizations. The facts should be communicated as clear and concise as possible to reduce uncertainty and anxiety among them. Furthermore, management should consider the possibility of messages may not be heard or be met with cynicism of the stakeholders. Mental noise may stop people from receiving messages.

Practical ways to support the change

It is crucial that management classifies and selects message delivery methods which suit the circumstances and the need of the receivers by conveying the information constantly and frequently as well as using selective channels that fit to types of target stakeholders. For instance, if the change is large-scale and will relatively give profound impact to most frontline employees, like downsizing or outsourcing, it is much better that the top executives not to directly communicate this to them. It will be more appropriate to delegate this task to frontline supervisors as frontline employees usually do not trust top executives (Cheney et al, 2004, p. 331). Frontline supervisors may have closer and more emotional relationship with frontline employees than those at middle or top management. Trust is usually built on intense, direct interaction.

Basically, management can communicate the change through multiple channels, including speaking, writing, video, training, focus groups, bulletin boards, Intranets, and more. Again, it always depends on the kinds of changes. For example, management can apply internal media like bulletin boards or intranet as well to introduce a new design for corporate newsletter. Using generally accessible internal media to announce a small-scale change seems to be better than personal ones as this can save money and energy. This means that organization treats all stakeholders (staff and workforce) equally to give everyone fair notice of the change (Cheney et al, 2004, 332). Especially to shareholders, personal approach or media like individual calls or special meeting may be more effective as they own the organization and their claim on organizational resources is often considered superior to the claims of other inside stakeholders (Jones, 2004, p. 32).

Persuading those who do not accept (opponents) or are still floating (potential promoters and hidden opponents) concerning the change is included in communicating stage. It is very possible that management will get resistance from shareholders, staff and employees who feel uneasy. They may think that the change will bring uncertainty to their future and may threaten their positions (some kinds of changes like downsizing or restructuring will, indeed, threaten some people). Basically, rejection and uncertainty could also be possible as a result of lack of information about the change itself. To cope with it, management can arrange a kind of meeting, for instance, small group gathering, and invite this group or its representatives to talk over about the change by giving clear and comprehensive understanding about it. On the other hand, in persuading the resistance, negotiation may appear to be a wise way to compromise with the existing interests. At this stage, the planner should stimulate the process of change by providing transparency.

Communicating the change also includes facilitating the process of change by giving appropriate trainings or exercises to keep the change in line with the programmed procedures. Facilitating the change is directed to provide more information through education for the involved stakeholders to strengthen their knowledge and skills related to the change. In this stage, getting and providing regular feedback and updates will be useful. It is important for executives and managers to know what sorts of responds emerge, such as acceptance, commitment, and productivity (Cheney et al, 2004, p 330). Taking feedback is not a linear process which is conducted only at the end of the intended change. It is actually a circular process that covers the whole phase of the change. For instance, an input from employee about the new-adopted administration filing system may force a reconsideration of the original formulation. By getting feedback, management can measure the ongoing process and do improvements if needed.


As a summary, writer finds out that in order to achieve successful desired change, organization should be able to constitute applicable communication plan to announce the change to their inside stakeholders. Well-planned strategy mitigates chances that the change will be rejected by inside stakeholders. Proper action will ultimately increase the organisation’s ability to get and take feedback effectively.

Writer also comes to a conclusion that structure of organization really affects the climate of internal communication. On my perspective, today’s organizations need to have more fluid and flexible structure in order to have clearer and transparent communication flows. But, I believe that organizational structure is not the only thing involved as there are some other significant factors like culture or economic reasons which also have to be taken into account.

However, we should remember that based on the fact, 90 per cent of intended change were not suitable with the expectation (Becht, 2008). This implicates that actually the successful change is not merely determined by the methods it is communicated. The current internal communications climate in the organization may possibly affect the successful of the change.


Becht, Agaath. 2008. Presentation on Change management, presented on January, 17 2008. The Hague: The Hague University.

Cheney, George. Christensen, LT. Zorn, JR, TE. Ganesh, Shiv. 2004. Organizational Communication in Age of Globalization: Issues, Reflection, Practices. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.

Jones, Gareth R. 2004. Organizational Theory, Design, and Change (4th Edition). NJ: Prentice Hall

Vos, Marieta. Schoemaker, Henny. 2001. Integrated Communication: Concern, Internal and Marketing Communication (2nd Edition). Utrecht: LEMMA Publishers

Organizational Structure. (2008, January 10)., The free online business dictionary. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from Business Dictionary Website:

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