Venture Knowledgist Quality Integration
EFFECTIVE QUALITY COMMUNICATION
Communication takes place everywhere. Everyone communicates all
the time. Communication also has a great effect on the realization
of quality management and quality assurance. However, the communication
of quality and the quality of communication have seldom been discussed
professionally. The quality of communication is an interdisciplinary
issue. On the basis of various sources, this paper deals with phenomena
connected to communication on a general level, and the practical
realization of communication as an information product and its relating
processes. Furthermore, an effort has been made to include some
interdisciplinary concepts connected to the issue. In addition,
quality perspectives included in communication will be discussed.
A special focus will be on communication within the sphere of quality
management and quality assurance.
Communication is dialogic
Communication is a central phenomenon in all business activities,
interaction between people, and also in nature. Communication is
a very natural activity. Communication is the basis of all human
interaction, and it is evident that it is the "conditio sine
qua non", in other words the necessary condition, of human
existence and social order. Especially in business, communication
pertains to all the business processes of an organization: relations
to customers and other interested parties, production, product development,
management and support processes.
Communication plays a significant role in connection with quality
issues. Communication is an important means of realizing quality.
At the same time, the actual quality of communication becomes an
Communication has a dual function:
- Integrating communication leads an organization towards order
- Dissipating communication leads the development of an organization
towards disorder, and through it creatively to a new path of development.
The challenge an organization faces is to benefit from these roles
simultaneously. Integrating communication is closely connected with
traditional quality thinking. Dissipating communication provides
possibilities especially when an organization is in crisis and solving
the problems requires innovation and creativity.
A central factor in bilateral communication is interaction between
two parties, in which the recipient of the message meets another
person (the sender of the message) directly or through a concrete
information device representing the sender of message, for example,
a publication, or the Internet. In communication, information is
transferred between the parties. The aim of communication is to
create action based on thinking, and very often to bring about a
change in action. Since a service is defined formally as a product
created by interaction between two parties, communication is significantly
a service act. Transferal and management of information can also
take place in or between machines. These functions also may play
an important part in communication between people. In modern communication
solutions, a person often communicates with a machine.
In professional communication, there is always some issue to be
accomplished. However, whenever a human being participates in communication,
the communication always begins and ends on an emotive human level.
Interaction always includes human, i.e. rational (reasonable), non-rational
(emotive) and irrational (unreasonable) features.
In several communication situations, communication is alternating
(message - question - reply). If these bi-directional effects advance
the matter at hand, then communication is matching. This kind of
dialogue is about mutual effort to understand and to see clearly.
In order for this to happen successfully, it is necessary to know
how to listen to the other party and to monitor one's own thoughts.
In addition to bilateral communication, also a so-called auto-communication
is very common. In auto-communication, persons communicate with
themselves through some media. When persons communicate with themselves,
a mechanism and a process producing transcendental information are
created. The aim of auto-communication is often achieved without
knowing, sub-consciously. This transcendental aspect is important
in all communication, when the aim is to bring about some effect
in people, for example, decisions and actions based on the decisions.
Actions sprout from emotions, not from logic. Logic is applied afterwards.
For example, company business plans are very often kinds of 'company
mantras' in auto-communication.
Communication and auto-communication may also be concurrent events.
For example, creating this paper and delivering it involves both
kinds of communication. Sometimes it is even difficult to decide
which type of communication is in question.
Communication as information product
Communication product is an information/knowledge product. Knowledge
can never exist as a separate product in itself but it rather always
leads back both conceptually and in practice to goods and a service
product. An information product always entails, as an essential
and irrefutable part, a bearer of information (or a carrier), which
can be some tool (an object), e.g. a publication or a person, e.g.
an expert; as well as the creator of information and the recipient.
Information is always a special feature or a characteristic of the
product, not a separate product.
A message contains two aspects: its meaningful content, the idea
(signified) and physical or other means (signifier) to bring out
that content, for example words, numbers and pictures. These aspects
create a meaningful effect in the recipient of the message. In effective
communication, these aspects interact forcefully and respond to
needs and expectations. For example, a kiss is a message. What kinds
of possibilities does it entail? Some time ago, a group of philosophy
students and IBM experts contemplated - in earnest and also surely
in fun - whether it would be possible to realize a kiss through
e-mail and how could this be done.
In principle, a communication product can be considered in the
same way as any other product. It can be consciously developed and
produced by professional means. Furthermore, normal quality management
tools, such as QFD, specification, design reviews, verifying, validating,
quality assurance, etc. can be applied to it.
The characteristics of a communication product can be considered
in terms of general principles of characteristics. Characteristics
can be grouped systematically in the following way: the content
and its physical presentation, ease of use, reliability, safety/security,
esthetic features, ethical features. All of these are also significant
aspects with view to the quality of communication.
The effect of communication
Communication (communication product) aims at affecting (directly
or indirectly) the recipient of the message. Quality of the message
means that its characteristics respond to the needs and expectations
of the recipient thereby benefiting the recipient. In auto-communication,
the sender of the message communicates with himself. In this case,
quality means that it is beneficial to the sender. On the 22nd of
October 1978, the Pope John Paul ll spoke the words "Do not
be afraid" to a large audience in the square of St. Peter's
Church. What did he say? What did he mean? How did the people hear
him? How did the people understand him? What did the message bring
about, and what has it brought about even after the event?
In communication - as in as in any other productive action - it
is important that it is aimed at the right target group (segmentation),
and that it really hits the target. Communication fails if the recipient
sees it as unnecessary or downright disturbing (the negative effect
of communication). Nowadays people very often receive much more
information than they can properly take in. Quality issues of a
more technical nature are the faultlessness and reliability of realization
of the message.
Messages and perceptions are realized through different human senses.
Different people are differently sensitized at different areas of
senses. For communication, the three most important sense perceptions
are: seeing and visual sensations (visual), hearing and auditory
sensations (auditory), and movement and sense of touch (kinesthetic).
In practice, different sense perceptions intermingle. Sensations
may also represent external experiences even if the effects may
not necessarily have come from the senses in question. For example,
printed recipes may taste good.
The recipient of the message always recreates the message in his/her
mind and 'makes it concrete' according to his/her mental foundation
and situation. When a message reaches the recipient, it activates
his/her inner 'mental process' in which - at least in principle
- different phases can be distinguished
- the mere reception and being conscious of the message (pure mindfulness)
- understanding the information, i.e. combining it with previously
familiar models (association)
- action based on the received information
Communication can fail, if pure mindfulness does not have a change
to happen but the already existent thoughts (misassociations, prejudices)
color or even spoil the content of the message.
The effects of communication are based on learning, and are always
culture-specific. Sexy pictures and tasty recipes spread all over.
The learning result is best transferred from individual to individual
by means of imitating and copying. The task of language skills is
to make gossiping possible. In the internal mental process, the
massive processing machinery of human brains is specialized in imitating.
Human (individuals') mental development is the prerequisite for
the development of an organization. Cultural evolution is described
with the concept of 'memes'. Memes are ideas, skills, habits, stories,
songs, and inventions, which are passed on from one human being
to another through imitation. How do we control our company memes?
Communication is concrete, if it has 'fixing points' familiar to
the recipient. Thus, concreteness does not necessarily have anything
to do with whether the issue at hand is theoretical or practical.
Communication is created out of process
In a company, the quality of communication is realized according
to the general principles of quality management in the company,
the most important means of which are targets, process management,
performance assessment, and actions (PDCA).
Communication product is created - especially when thought of professionally
- as a product of a process. Normally, communication process is
one of the significant support processes of a company. Communication
process and its performance can be considered with the help of normal
process management approaches, which include planning, management,
improvement, and quality assurance.
In a company environment, part of the communication process takes
place in purposefully systematic way (mechanistically), and a part
within a complex communication network consisting of various agents
(which may also take place in a controlled way). However, a significant
part of communication process will always work in a dynamically
chaotic way, or virtually ('communication pinball machine'). In
communication, chaos, randomness, is not only due to messages entailing
random interferences (according to Shannon's classic communication
theory) but especially to the fact that communication always entails
a human being. Human actions always include an element of chaos
because a human beings are free to act (whether they know this or
not). All these different facets of a process must be taken into
account when striving for managing the communication process according
Communication opportunities having to do with crucial business
processes have a significant role. These are realized, for example,
in extensive action and information systems, to which organizations
nowadays are investing significantly. These kinds of systems are:
- CRM - Customer Relationship Management
- SCM - Supplier Chain Management
- ERP - Enterprise Resource Planning
- EIS - Executive Information System
New e-communication (ICT) solutions (especially the Internet and
wireless mobile solutions) pertaining to these open up even more
opportunities especially between the business and stakeholders,
including especially global dimension and action, irrespective of
time or place, as well as economical mass communication.
Communication is very closely linked to currently interesting special
field of knowledge, knowledge management, in which knowledge and
intellectual capital control systems connected to, for example,
knowledge acquisition, maintenance, utilization, and improvement,
are studied. Accordingly, in communication we have to deal with
both explicit and tacit knowledge. Most is tacit knowledge and consequently
it holds the greatest importance in the actions of human beings
The normal assumption in communication is that operational system,
in which communication takes place is open. The aim of a closed
system is precisely to prevent communication with the outside world,
i.e. within such a system communication cannot succeed. Downright
dangerous are various fuzzy systems (for example 'horse trading',
corruption, fascism, etc.).
Who is responsible for communication in a company? In a company,
everyone communicates all the time. There is no way of preventing
it. The responsibility for the attitude towards communication and
the direction of communication (communication policy) rests only
with the management. With regard to certain special aspects, an
important role in achieving professional and correct content of
communication is played by the company's experts, for example in
the area of quality, the quality manager or equivalent. Communication
professionals are experts who aid in the realization of company's
internal and external communication. Also external factors, even
legislation, put demands on an organizational communication (for
example, insider trading, and confidentiality of information).
Communication of quality management
and quality assurance
The two interlinked forms of management expertise, quality management
and communication management, have common aims at enhancing business
performance of the organization. Internal quality communication
entails a support of change in organizational behavior including
the change of attitudes and beliefs.
Practical problems in quality communication can be traced to three
- The message does not originate in business priorities; management
does not strike the first blow in quality communication.
- Leaving it to the responsibility of quality or communication experts
- There is widespread unclearness and prejudices concerning the
notion and practical importance of quality among many business people.
These problems can be best dealt with by integrating the quality
approach into corporate business strategies and letting quality
and communication experts jointly realize the quality communication
practices. These same principles are applicable in other specialized
areas of communication, e.g. in communication for environmental
and security management.
In the realizing an organization's quality approach, communication
has a major part both in the quality management, in which management
means are used in achieving business excellence, and quality assurance,
which aims at creating and reinforcing the customer's confidence
in the company's ability to supply products meeting the agreed upon
Quality of the communication product implies that it fulfils the
stated and implied requirements, expectations and needs of the recipient,
i.e. quality means recipient's satisfaction. Management satisfaction
is achieved by the fulfilment of business needs. Target audience
satisfaction is reached when the recipients do get the information
they need at the right time and in a form that is easy to understand
and use as a means for their own activities and benefits. Quality
of the communication processes is achieved through the effectiveness
and efficiency of the activities resulting in the intended outcome.
For quality communication, the communication process gets its inputs
when the management defines the needs and targets for it. The process
includes the delivery of the communication product, the reception
of the message, and its processing in the minds of the target audience.
In quality management, communication about, for example, targets
and means (incl. quality policy and quality management tools) is
internal to the organization. It is very closely linked with the
organization's values and business objectives. In practice, it is
often difficult - and even unnecessary - to distinguish between
quality communication and normal business communication.
Quality assurance is largely based on external communication. Certificates
are in this case a means of achieving this. However, their significance
is overstressed. ISO TC 176, the committee responsible for ISO 9000
standards, has also expressed its concern about how quality system
certificates are abused in marketing communication. You cannot distinguish
yourself as superior or competitive by certificates. When using
certificates, the discussion about quality issues usually stops.
Sometimes, the intention might even be to prevent outsiders, for
example customers, from butting in to discuss the details - after
all, that wastes time and resources. However, these are cases where
communication opportunities have not been fully utilized. Modern
quality communication should be such as to especially interest the
recipient and to inspire further questions. Of course, the aim must
also be that communication is relevant and based on true factual
One essential difficulty in quality communication is the obscurity
and ambiguity of the concepts. For example, the most central terms
in ISO 9000 standards, such as 'quality', 'quality management system',
' quality policy, 'effectiveness and efficiency', and 'ensure and
assure' are unclear to even many experts. The situation gets even
more difficult when translations in various languages are used.
So it is not uncommon for people to talk quite fluently past each
other, even while they are pretending to understand each other
Communication is among the most central and natural human phenomena,
and thus also an essential prerequisite for high quality functioning
in the society and business world. Despite this, quality aspects
of communication have been professionally discussed only seldom
and superficially. Communication is a true challenge to excellent
performance in quality management and quality assurance.
1. J. Anttila, L. Ilmola: Experience of effective quality communications.
How to avoid gaps in company-dedicated TQM model?, EQQ'95 Congress,
2. J. Anttila: Managing and assuring information security in integration
with the business management of a company, Information security,
Small systems security & information security management, Volume
2 , Edited by Jan HP Eloff and Rossow von Solms, IFIP TC 11, Vienna
- Budapest 1998
3. H. Broms: Alkukuvien äärellä, WSOY Juva 1984 (in
4. P. Cobley: Semiotics, Icon Books 1997
5. P. Aula: Organisaation kaaos vai kaaoksen organisaatio, Lohi-kirjat,
Helsinki 1999 (in Finnish)
6. M. Shapiro: Understanding neuro-linguistic programming, Hodler
& Stoughton, London 1998
7. E. Dyson: Release 2.0, Broadway Books, New York 1997
8. E. Schein: Process consultation, Addison-Wesley, USA, 1987
9. J. Anttila and J. Vakkuri: Good Better Best, Sonera Corporation,
10. J. Anttila and J. Vakkuri: ISO 9000 for the creative leader,
Sonera Corporation, Helsinki 2001
[This text was presented as a conference paper at the 6th World
Congress for Total Quality Management in St. Petersburg, Russia
in June 2001]