Juhani Anttila
Venture Knowledgist Quality Integration
Helsinki, Finland




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 interesting issue.

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 to needs.

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.

Open 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 and organizations.

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 causes:
- 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 only.
- 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 requirements.

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 knowledge.

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.


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[This text was presented as a conference paper at the 6th World Congress for Total Quality Management in St. Petersburg, Russia in June 2001]