Oxfam needs to communicate with a range of individuals and organizations, including their suppliers and their employees. Good communication within Oxfam is essential if that business is to operate effectively. What is communication? Oxfam needs to have good, clear paths of communication so that:
- Everyone is clear about their objectives and tasks
- There is smooth and accurate communication within Oxfam (internal communication) and between the organization and other individuals, bodies and groups (external communication), for example, the UN.
- Everyone in Oxfam is kept informed of developments and changes, usually through e-mails and memos.
- Ideas and views are heard
- New ideas can bubble up through Oxfam
- People do not feel frustrated – ‘nobody listens to me.’
- Oxfam and its members can respond quickly to new developments, etc., for example, if there is a second earthquake a day after Oxfam has been there, which destroys most of their equipment.
The communication process. The process of communication involves a transmitter (sender) sending messages to receivers. A transmitter should put information into a form the receivers can understand, involving verbal, written or visual messages. The process is known as encoding. The transmitter chooses a particular medium to send messages to the receivers – letter, report, fax, phone call, e-mail, website, etc. The receivers then interpret the messages through a process of decoding. Below is the communication process:
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The leaky bucket theory. The communication of information and ideas can be likened to transferring water by bucket from the tap in the house to thirsty plants in the garden. A ‘good’ bucket will not let any of the water escape so that you can carry out the job in an efficient way. However, many of us rely on leaky buckets. The more holes in the bucket and the further the distance from tap to a flower bed, the less efficient the system will be. The greater the need the plants have for water and the more holes there are in the bucket, the greater our frustration in the process.
Though a message flows from the sender to receivers, there is no guarantee the receivers will either receive the entire message or even understand it. This is because the process may involve communication problems known as ‘noise,’ which may weaken or destroy the message being sent. The following are a few examples of ‘noise’:
- Language problems- The language used may not be fully understood, particularly if a receiver comes from a different background from the sender or has considerably less knowledge (technical or otherwise). Still, usually, Oxfam can fix this problem by having an interpreter on hand.
- Jumping to conclusions- The receiver might read into the message what they expect to see rather than what is there.
- Lack of interest- The receiver may not be prepared to listen to the message. The message has to be designed to appeal to the receiver.
- Competing environment- Background sounds or interference from other activities in the work environment may influence the message, mainly if it is long or complicated and requires concentration by the receiver.
- Channels of communication- Effective communication will be hampered if the means chosen to pass on the message is poor.
- Cultural differences- Everybody will have different world perceptions according to people’s backgrounds and experiences, meaning that a message could be interpreted differently.
- Steps in the message- If the message is too complicated, the message may not be adequately understood.
Networking. This is another form of communication and is always internal; it involves linking two or more computers together to share facilities and information efficiently among people within Oxfam. There are two types of networking. One is called LAN (local area network). This is a network linking computers in a single room; these computers then will be linked with a file server that stores the network’s information, such as files and software. The other type of network is a WAN (vast area network). This is a network that links computers all other a building or company site. WAN can also be linked with the Internet through modems and ADSL lines, which can transfer information to other departments and companies worldwide. In addition, Oxfam has an internal network that links all its main offices across the world. The uses for networks include the following:
- Electronic mail- Here, computers linked through a LAN or WAN send mail between terminals. Usually, each user has a mailbox for storing messages. For example, Oxfam uses its e-mail system to contact its employees or sponsors very quickly.
- Teleconferencing- Meetings may take place with individuals widely dispersed, using several terminals. Oxfam uses this when board members from across the globe must meet to discuss important things to do with the running of Oxfam.
- Electronic data interchange (EDI) allows users to exchange business documents and information directly through the telephone network and other, more sophisticated, electronic communication systems. Oxfam has systems set up like this between their head offices in different countries.
Oxfam uses both LANs and WANs to communicate with itself and other companies. This is because they need good communication with the companies and people around them to fulfill their internal communications objectives. The three main ways of communicating information inside Oxfam are verbal, written and electronic. Verbal information is communicated in ‘face-to-face’ interactions, through telephone messages or recorded messages using answering machines and voice mail. Although verbal information can be obtained quickly, it often needs backing up in written form. For example, when you communicate an important message to a work colleague, he or she might say, ‘could you e-mail about that,’ or ‘please can I have that in writing?’
Written information will cover a range of paper documents exchanged within Oxfam, such as memos, letters, brochures, etc. Written information takes time to process and often requires extensive filling and distribution systems. Electronic information Is rapidly replacing other forms of communication. For example, a stock list can be transferred electronically from a supermarket to its head office. Most large organizations use an internal networking system. Nearly all networks have an email facility, and this is used to send documents in electronic form around a company. Oxfam’s e-mail facility is used in much the same way as a supermarket, transferring information and orders for provisions etc.
External communications. Oxfam needs to communicate with a range of stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, suppliers and the community. A range of different external communications media can be employed to communicate with these groups. Oxfam is continually communicating with groups outside the organization. These communications perform several functions:
- A public relations function- To present a good image of Oxfam to other organizations and customers.
- An informative function- To provide various groupings with essential information about Oxfam, e.g. tax records to the Inland Revenue, hours of opening for customers, detail of supply arrangements to suppliers.
- A day-to-day trading function- To transact Oxfam’s daily commercial relationships, e.g. making orders, buying goods, making enquiries about goods being offered.
- A transparency function- Today, it is often vital that outsiders see what is happening inside Oxfam. Hence, they know the company is carrying out its business properly and fairly, e.g., providing tools and food to poverty-stricken people.
Types of external communication. The Telephone. The most frequently used form of external verbal communication is the telephone. Its great benefit is that it is fast and allows people who would find it difficult to meet to converse. Oxfam uses telephones a lot, for example, to order new tools etc. A telephone call may be the first point of contact an outsider has with the organization. A problem with the phone call is that it may be tough to correct if a wrong impression is created through the first call. To stop this from happening, the organization needs to develop a telephone technique that makes the caller feel at ease and creates the impression that efficiency is always critical. If Oxfam staff have to make a telephone call, they make sure:
- They have all the necessary information to hand.
- They know whom to talk to.
- They are prepared to leave a message on an answering machine if necessary.
- They speak clearly.
Interviews. Another form of external verbal communication is an interview with someone or someone outside the organization; this could involve people interested in something Oxfam has done or going to do (e.g. the Media in the form of press, radio or television). Part of Oxfam’s public relations strategy is to build up a positive perception and image of Oxfam, which is not tricky because they do a lot of work that is considered suitable, for example, trying to prevent poverty. Business Letters. The business letter is still the most widely used form of external communication. Oxfam may use it to:
- Make arrangements without the need for parties to meet.
- Provide both parties with a permanent record of such arrangements.
- Confirm verbal arrangements.
A well-written business letter conveys its message while maintaining goodwill. Suppose a letter is sent promptly, is well set out and conveys the message accurately. In that case, the person who receives the letter will develop a good impression of Oxfam and is more likely to want to make further relations with Oxfam. Facsimiles (faxes). A form of external communication that has experienced massive expansion over recent years and can send both written and visual material.
Faxes use a telephone line, so it is cheap as well as efficient. Oxfam uses this to transfer plans and sometimes facts and figures. Electronic mail. As an alternative to writing letters, organizations (like Oxfam) widely use e-mail to convey what they need to say to another organization or a customer. The advantages of e-mail are:
- It is faster than ordinary mail.
- No need to print the message then put it in an envelope with a stamp.
- It is environmentally friendly.
The disadvantages of e-mail are:
- Some people do not check their e-mail inbox regularly.
- In addition, some people do not have access to e-mail facilities.
Videos and CDs. Corporate videotapes and corporate CDs have become increasingly popular over recent years as methods of providing various interested parties with visual information about Oxfam’s activities. Oxfam does not use many of these, but sometimes they make videos and CDs to send to potential sponsors or donors.
File transfers. When a file needs to be transferred to another external computer, an E-mail may not do the job because it can only carry around 1MB. At this size, it will take time to transfer the file if the organization is connected to the Internet is slow. A file transfer is needed when two computers share some of the duplicate files by becoming part of the system, so file transfers are fast and easy. Oxfam uses file transfers to transfer video clips and other information.
Video conferencing. Video conferencing makes possible face-to-face meetings with people who are geographically separated. The problem with video conferencing is that it is expensive. It requires a medium to high specification PC, a powerful sound and graphics card, a video camera and a very high-speed transfer rate to the Internet. Nevertheless, Oxfam uses video conferencing to talk to other organizations and employees in other countries to explain operations more effectively. The advantages of video conferencing are:
- Savings in time and travel expenses.
- Ready access to supplementary sources of information.
- We are enabling people who work at home to communicate with others.
Web sites. Web sites have allowed organizations to put a lot of information and are easy to obtain from people outside the organization. The Oxfam website is designed to be quick and easy to use; it also offers the viewer a lot of information about the company and its goals and objectives. On the website, people can e-mail Oxfam to gather information on specific projects and offer their assistance. Formal and informal communications.
Formal communications in an organization are communication that takes place through recognized channels; in the case of Oxfam, this would be official meetings, memos and newsletters. Informal communications in an organization occur through other non-recognized channels, such as when someone from the shop floor would find and talk to their boss without going through the proper channels, such as writing a letter or a memo. Informal communications can be very advantageous for Oxfam because it relies on a person’s initiative, which results in the workers becoming more motivated.
Upward and downward communication. In old-fashioned/traditional industries, the communication was always downward from the directors down. This has some advantages, such as; senior managers can set targets and objectives and then give the instructions to make sure they are carried out. However, in recent years communication also goes upward. The directors can listen to what the people on the work floor think about specific ideas, so if it is a bad idea, they can change it to suit the employee’s needs, or they might scrap the idea. Oxfam usually has communication that can go upwards as well as downwards.
Open or restricted channels. With any form of communication, it is essential to identify the purpose of the message and the people to whom the message is to be targeted. For example, suppose the message does not contain confidential materials, and it does not matter who sees it, in or out of the organization. In that case, it is regarded as an open channel. So a restricted channel message would be sent to one or two people within Oxfam, and only the people it was sent should see the message because it could contain confidential material.
Information and communications technology (ICT). ICT has transformed the way people worldwide communicate with each other; for example, most people do not use the phone or a letter to speak with people on the other side of the world. Instead, they use e-mail and web cameras. People use these forms of communication because they are cheap and swift. In organizations such as Oxfam, ICT is used all the time for many reasons such as:
- The use of networked databases to replace the paper system.
- The use of an Internet website to create a communications link between Oxfam and its global allies.
- The use of the Internet to research new ideas and find out how current operations in the field are doing.
- The use of a website an example of their front page is given overleaf.
ICT has already had an enormous impact on the global economy, for example, bringing businesses together from all over the world; ICT has transformed production systems on a worldwide scale. As the Internet expansion increases, so will the knowledge revolution- leading to knock-on affect that can potentially transform businesses in new and unforeseen ways. All companies advertising on the Internet, such as Oxfam, are trying to create user-friendly systems for their customers to use; these user-friendly systems should be transparent for people to use with noticeable buttons and be quick and understandable. Also, the websites should have things that will keep people coming back to the site, such as free offers, competitions etc. Oxfam manages to do this effectively by being transparent and easy to use, with a search bar to access information regarding your search.