Formal Organizational Communication

Most beginning organizational communication textbooks (e.g., Cheney 2011) talk about how formal organizational communication follows an organization's structure. Message content, which is largely management controlled, flows in distinct directions: downward, upward, and horizontal. Downward messages generally involve goals, strategies, and objectives; job instructions and rationales; procedures and practices; performance feedback; and socialization. Upward messages routinely focus on problems and exceptions; suggestions for improvement; performance reports; grievances and disputes; and financial and accounting information. Horizontal messages focus on intradepartmental problem solving and interdepartmental coordination. Although actual organizational communication is far more complex than this, beginning sustainability communicators will find such introductory-level concepts and lists useful. Best Practice: Professional associations (e.g., the International Association of Business Communicators, the Public Relations Society of America) provide resources to help manage issues including structuring a communication department (e.g., Nicholson and Aiello 2008), creating a communication plan, crafting, and disseminating internal and external messages, designing internal communication campaigns, and managing change. This section focuses on channels of internal formal communication, then formal communication documents (e.g., mission and vision statements), and finally communication-related measurement systems. Strandberg Consulting (n.d.) provides a list of questions organizations can use when focusing on designing their new vision, strategy, goals, key performance measures, and measurement indices.

Formal Communication Channels

In Chap. 3, I discussed formal communication channels and settings including CEO speeches, annual meetings, sustainability reports and websites, signage within buildings, and checklists associated with certification. Authors (e.g., Bortree 2011; Craig and Allen 2013; Linnenluecke et al. 2009; Maharaj and Herremans 2008) have identified a wide range of channels used to communicate with internal and external stakeholders about sustainability. Practitioners charged with communicating about sustainability should find information about planning internal communication (Whitworth 2011), integrating employee communication media (Crescenzo 2011), and internal branding (Grady 2011) useful.

I asked Brian Sheehan, former Sustainability Manager at Sam's Club, to

describe the channels he routinely used to communicate with employees. He said he sent emails to employees around Earth Day as a reminder of the organization's aspirational goals and to congratulate them on past efforts. He wrote a sustainability feature for the monthly magazine and another for the monthly memo which went out to the Sam's Club and Walmart CEOs. He blogged. Bimonthly he brought in a supply chain partner to speak at the Sam's Club Sustainability Speaker Series. He provided content for Walmart's major meetings.

I asked Brian to describe any challenges he faced when trying to communicate company goals and objectives regarding sustainability throughout the company. He said:

I think it is a resource-based challenge for me. It is certainly not a leadership challenge, because any time we have asked our leaders for the support and the visibility that we think we need to get on the platform to address a large audience, or leverage a channel that we have, we have gotten their support. It is more of a challenge in evaluating the right channels and understanding the world of limited resources. Where are my efforts best focused? The opportunities I have had for one-on-one communication with associates, I have found to be valuable but have the least impact. I think where we get the most impact is with the biggest scale. And for us the biggest scale happens at the big meetings on the big stage in front of a room of five thousand people.

Sustainability communicators face challenges associated with selecting channels, managing relationships, and supporting networks. It is not surprising that they also face challenges communicating about complex scientific information (Bortree 2011).

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