Linjuan Rita Men, PhD, APR, Marlene Neill, PhD, APR, and Cen April Yue, PhD
Researchers often attribute unsuccessful organizational change initiatives to poor internal communication.1 Our research focuses on analyzing the importance of symmetrical internal communication during the organization change process. Specifically, we examine how two-way, open, and responsive communication between managers and their employees can have an impact on employee engagement, their commitment to change, and their behavioral support for proposed change. In real estate, it is important to integrate employee-centered, symmetrical communication into change management in order to yield employees who are engaged in the change process. Brokers and team leaders should initiate dialogue and listen to their employees to reach mutual agreements and build relationships2 that can, in turn, facilitate the change process.
Leveraging Symmetrical Communication
As stated previously, poor internal communication is a leading factor causing organizational change to fail.1 Defining effective internal communication, especially in the context of organizational change, is vitally important for the success of an organization. Our research explores the strategic importance of symmetrical communication throughout the change process.
Effective symmetrical communication is a strategy that organizations can leverage to implement successful change management. Symmetrical communication occurs when managers and employees engage in meaningful two-way communication. Managers and employees interact and listen to one another in a manner that builds understanding and relationships.2 In order for symmetrical communication to be successful there must be trust, openness, reciprocity, feedback, and negotiation delivered in an employee-centered style by managers.3 Organizations that utilize symmetrical communication in their day-to-day interactions create channels of effective communication, which can, in turn, greatly benefit change implementation.
During the change management process, organizations should foster two-way, open, and responsive communication that makes employees feel as if their interests and concerns are being addressed. Examples of such communication between managers and employees include using both formal channels, such as committee meetings and town halls, as well as informal channels, such as breakfasts, coffee, and lunch meetings.4 When utilized effectively, these channels can mutually benefit employees and managers. Employees can ask questions to reduce uncertainty regarding the change process, and managers can address concerns in a timely manner to reach a mutual understanding.4 Overall, symmetrical internal communication between managers and employees leads to employees who facilitate and champion successful organizational change implementation.
Numerous studies have found that employee engagement has a substantial impact on organizational success.5 Our research digs deeper into the relationship between employee engagement and organizational success to include the impact employee engagement has on organizational change implementation.
Engaged employees have been characterized as people who have high levels of energy, are willing to invest effort into their work, and are persistent in overcoming difficult situations.6 Engaged employees are attentive and immersed in their work environment. Our research showed that when employees are engaged with their organization physically, cognitively, and emotionally, they tend to not only commit to change but display behaviors that support the change throughout the change management process. Employees who are engaged are more likely to appreciate and see the additional value the change can add than less engaged employees. Particularly, engaged employees are more willing to champion the change both inside and outside of the organization.
Increasing employee engagement can occur during the change management process via symmetrical communication between managers and employees. Specifically, during the change management process, employee concerns should be legitimized, and employees should be encouraged to participate in organizational processes. Engaged employees have a greater willingness to become facilitators for change implementation and overall move an organization toward its change goals.
Real Estate Implications
The impact of symmetrical communication on employee engagement and organizational change outcomes can be applied to real estate professionals. Firms often have to go through change in order to stay current. Therefore, real estate brokers and team leaders can use two-way communication, such as agent meetings over coffee, lunch with employees, or initiating a town hall meeting with agents and support staff, to increase the success of the organization’s change management process. The change management process is one that often requires vast amounts of effort; yet symmetrical internal communication between managers and employees that emphasizes openness, responsiveness, participation and relationships can provide practical ways to increase employee engagement regarding the change process. The majority of organizational change fails;1 however, actively pursuing two-way communication with employees can prove to be a powerful tool a firm can use to improve organizational change outcomes.
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Men, Linjuan Rita, Marlene Neill, and Cen April Yue (2020), “Examining the Effects of Symmetrical Internal Communication and Employee Engagement on Organizational Change Outcomes,” Public Relations Journal, 13(4).
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- Daly, Finbarr, Paul Teague, and Philip Kitchen (2003), “Exploring the Role of Internal Communication Furing Organisational Change,” Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 8(3), 153-162.
- Men, Linjuan Rita (2014), “Why Leadership Matters to Internal Communication: Linking Transformational Leadership, Symmetrical Communication and Employee Outcomes,” Journal of Public Relations Research, 26, 256-279.
- Grunig, James E. (1992), “Symmetrical Systems of Internal Communication,” In J. E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in public relations and communication management (pp. 531– 576). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Neill, Marlene S. (2018), “Change Management Communication: Barriers, Strategies & Messaging,” Public Relations Journal, 12(1).
- Saks, Alan M. and Jamie A. Gruman (2014), “What Do We Really Know about Employee Engagement?,” Human Resource Development Quarterly, 25(2).
- Schaufeli, Wilmar B., Marisa Salanova, Vicente Gonzalez-Roma, and Arnold B. Bakker (2002), “The Measurement of Engagement and Burnout: A Two Sample Confirmatory Factor Analytic Approach,” Journal of Happiness Studies, 3, 71-92.
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About the Authors
Linjuan Rita Men, PhD, APR
Associate Professor, Department of Public Relations, University of Florida
Dr. Men’s (PhD – University of Miami) research interests include internal communication, leadership communication, measurement and evaluation, relationship/reputation management, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurial communications. Her research has appeared in leading academic journals including Communication Research, New Media and Society, Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, and Management Communication Quarterly, among others. Further, Dr. Men is the lead author of Excellence in Internal Communication Management, and Strategic Communications for Startups and Entrepreneurs in China. Dr. Men received the 2010 Ketchum Excellence in Public Relations Research Award, is a three-time Arthur W. Page Legacy Scholar, and has received over 20 national and international top paper and research awards, among many other academic accolades. Prior to her academic career, Dr. Men worked as the Marketing Communications Specialist at Alibaba Group in China and as a Research Analyst at Ketchum.
Marlene Neill, PhD, APR, Fellow PRSA
Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director, Baylor University
Dr. Marlene Neill’s (PhD – The University of Texas at Austin) research interests include ethics in public relations, public relations management, integrated communication, ethics in advertising, and internal/employee communication. Her research has appeared in leading academic journals including Corporate Communications: An Internal Journal, Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, Public Relations Journal, Journal of Media Ethics, and Public Relations Review, among others. Dr. Neill has also co-authored PR Women with Influence: Breaking through the Ethical and Leadership Challenges and Public Relations Ethics: Senior PR Pros Tell Us How to Speak Up and Keep Your Job. Dr. Neill is significantly involved in the prestigious Public Relations Society of America, previously serving as the chair for the Southwest District, on the PRSA Nominating Committee, and as the faculty adviser for the Baylor University PRSSA chapter. Prior to her academic career, Dr. Neill worked in nonprofit and government public relations.
Cen April Yue, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut
Dr. Yue’s (PhD – University of Florida) research interests include internal public relations, leadership communication, organizational change management, and relationship management. Her research has appeared in leading academic journals including Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, International Journal of Business Communication, Public Relations Review, Public Relations Journal, and Corporate Communications: An Internal Journal, among others. Dr. Yue has received over 10 top paper and research awards and recognitions from national and international communication associations and conferences and also works as a research editor for Organizational Communication Research Center at the Institute for Public Relations.