How do we define and measure effectiveness and excellence in public relations management? This is a crucial question to the field because it allows us to know how to help our organizations achieve their goals and to be the most effective that they can be. Studying these factors of effectiveness and excellence tells us how public relations, ideally, should be conducted in order to achieve the best results.
For more than a decade, J. Grunig and his team of researchers studied this very question as part of a nearly half-million-dollar grant from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Grunig’s project is called the Excellence Study, and the results are known as the excellence theory. We will review those findings here in order to help you learn how to make your public relations efforts the most effective they can be and to help your organization or clients achieve excellence.
What is organizational effectiveness? We can say that organizational effectiveness is helping any type of organization be the most efficient at what it seeks to do and the most effective it can be in accomplishing its goals and mission. Organizational effectiveness can be defined in two primary ways:
- The strategic constituencies perspective
- The goal attainment perspective
The strategic constituencies perspective holds that organizational effectiveness means that constituencies who have influence or power over the organization are at least partially satisfied with that organization. Those constituencies, such as consumers or regulatory agencies, have the power to decide whether the organization thrives or fails. When those constituencies are satisfied, an organization thrives. In this sense, organizational effectiveness means maintaining strategic relationships with constituencies that help an organization achieve its goals, such as profit, education, or continued existence.
In the goal attainment perspective, an organization sets clear goals that are measurable, such as rankings, market-share figures, or sales numbers. The organization knows that it has accomplished its goals when the actual figures match its stated goals. In this way, the organization is seen as effective when its stated goals are fulfilled.
An ineffective organization is termed one with “competing values” in which “the organization is unclear about its own emphases” or criteria for success.Robbins (1990), p. 77. This type of organization might change goals over time, have inconsistent or unclear goals, and therefore it flounders and fails to achieve effectiveness.
Organizational effectiveness involves the entire organization, not just the communication function. However, the management of communication is an important part of helping the organization as a whole achieve greater organizational effectiveness. Plus, the concepts of effective or excellent public relations can also be used to optimize the organization, structure, and management of the public relations function itself.
Grunig’s Excellence Study identified numerous variables that contribute to organizational effectiveness. After many years of study, Grunig and the Excellence Study’s of researchers distilled the most important variables for public relations in making contributions to overall organizational effectiveness. These variables were distilled through both quantitative and qualitative research. The variables that emerged from the data did not vary across cultures or national boundaries, or by size of organization, or industry, therefore they were termed generic principles of excellence. The Excellence Study team identified 10 generic principles of excellent public relations:
- Involvement of public relations in strategic management
- Empowerment of public relations in the dominant coalition or a direct reporting relationship to senior management
- Integrated public relations function
- Public relations as a management function, separate from other functions
- Public relations unit headed by a manager rather than a technician
- Two-way symmetrical (or mixed-motive) model of public relations
- Department with the knowledge needed to practice the managerial role in symmetrical public relations
- Symmetrical system of internal communication
- Diversity embodied in all rolesVercic, Grunig, and Grunig (1996), pp. 37–40.
And the team later added the last principle
- Ethics and integrityVercic, Grunig, and Grunig (1996), p. 58.
These principles can be used to design the public relations function in an organization to structure its inner action with management and the rest of the organization, and to staff the public relations department in a way that predisposes it toward effectiveness. The more of these factors that are present in a public relations function, the more excellent that function should be. Another important consideration is that the chief executive officer (CEO) must be aware of the contributions that public relations and communication in general can make toward the effectiveness of the overall organization. He or she is probably aware of how reputation can impact the bottom line of the organization, and that reputation can be enhanced and protected by the public relations function.
Explaining the Generic Principles of Excellence
Here is a brief review of why each of the 10 generic principles of public relations is important to organizational effectiveness:
- The involvement of public relations in the strategic management function allows for more inclusive decision making, better organizational policy from the perspectives of publics, and more enduring decisions. Higher levels of satisfaction with the relationship are reported by publics who were considered by an organization in its strategic management process.
- The public relations function must be empowered to report directly to the CEO in order to advise on matters involving publics, values, and ethical decision making. Although the researchers posited that a direct reporting relationship to the dominant coalition would also enhance excellence in public relations, later research found that public relations is the most excellent when reporting directly to the CEO.
- An integrated public relations function has access to and authority in all levels and functions of the organization. It is not isolated or pigeonholed, and it is not encroached upon or subsumed by marketing or other functions, but has its own degree of autonomy.
- It is important for public relations to be a separate management function in the organization in order to prevent encroachment by marketing or legal departments into the role and responsibilities of communication management. When these areas are usurped by other organizational functions, it is common for smaller or less strategic publics to be ignored in organizational decision making.
- The public relations unit should always be headed by a professional public relations manager, rather than someone who is simply adept in the technical skill of writing. Managers have the research knowledge necessary to collect information, to facilitate conflict resolution, to engage in issues management, to create budgets, to resolve ethical dilemmas, and to manage the staff of the public relations department. Technicians are normally specialists in writing or other technical aspects of production, but are not normally trained in management. Without a manager in charge of the public relations function, it is likely to be pigeonholed as media relations rather than as a true management function.
- It is important for an excellent public relations department to use the two-way symmetrical model of public relations because a dialogue-based approach has been shown more effective than any other in resolving conflicts, preventing problems, and to building and maintaining relationships with publics.
- An excellent public relations department has the knowledge necessary to manage public relations symmetrically in that it can conduct sophisticated research to understand publics, and it can also engage in negotiation and collaborative problem solving.
- Dialogue-based systems of internal communication are important for building teamwork, increasing employee morale and job satisfaction levels, and decreasing employee turnover. Issue research also allows issues managers to identify problems early so that they can be resolved before they escalate.
- It is important for public relations departments to have diverse professionals in all roles of the function so that decisions and communications will be inclusive of varying viewpoints. Inclusivity breeds excellence because it lessens the feelings of alienation created by excluding or not soliciting the ideas and opinions of some publics.Vercic, Grunig, and Grunig (1996), p. 58.
- The excellence researchers added ethics and integrity as important considerations 4 years after the publication of the Excellence Study, remarking that ethics is important enough to be a standalone principle of excellence.Vercic, Grunig, and Grunig (1996), p. 58. Bowen’s research found that ethics were included in the decision making of the most successful organizations issues management, leading to higher levels of organizational effectiveness when ethics is planned, trained, and instilled throughout the organization.Bowen (2004b), pp. 311–324. She elaborated on ethics as the tenth generic principle of public relations, and indicated that the rational analysis of ethical dilemmas could be the most important facilitator of organizational effectiveness.Bowen (2004b), pp. 311–324.
How organizations measure excellence depends on the industry, the size of the organization, its goals, and whether those goals are measured through the satisfaction of strategic constituencies or through the goal attainment approach. However, the excellence study has shown that these generic principles of excellence apply to any type of organization, size of pursuit, any industry, and across cultures.