Specialized organs of communication

Because of the great importance of communication to their functioning, most organizations, even of moderate size, develop certain specialized communications tasks. Decision-centers themselves—that is, executive positions—must often be staffed with persons who can assist the executive in his communications functions. The organization develops specialized repositories of its official “memory”—files, records, libraries, followup systems. Organization units may be established to handle specific information-gathering functions: accounting, inspection, administrative analysis, intelligence, and the like. The larger the organization, the farther it becomes possible to carry this specialization.

1. Organization of Decision-Centers

A number of the communications tasks of the administrator need not be performed personally, but may be delegated to staff assistants in his office. Included among these are the drafting of outgoing communications, the screening of incoming communications, and liaison.

The drafting of outgoing communications hardly requires comment. It is one of the common functions of secretaries, and important executives often have assistants with such functions. Perhaps the most elaborate specialization of this sort is the Bureau of the Budget in the Executive Office of the President, which has, as one of its important functions, the drafting of presidential orders, as well as the drafting of bills for submission to Congress.

The possibility of this type of division of work does have one important consequence. This system is perhaps best developed in military organization, where an artillery officer, for example, on the divisional commander’s staff will work out the artillery phases of an operational plan, and so forth. The executive himself—and in the military example, his chief of staff—exercises the function of coordinating and balancing these specialties.

The review of incoming communications to determine which should receive the personal attention of the executive is also a delegable function that is specialized for important executive positions. In some cases this extends to the preparation of analyses and recommendations for the executive which are transmitted to him with the communication. In other cases, the executive’s staff may be able to take action on the communication, by-passing him completely.

The delegation by the executive to his staff of the function of liaison with subordinates or with other organization units creates somewhat more delicate problems than the other two types of delegation. Unless the relationships are carefully defined, the subordinates of the executive may fail to recognize that the liaison officer is exercising authority not on his own initiative, but as representative of his chief. As a result of this ambiguity, considerable resentment may develop against the liaison officer and he may lose his usefulness. In many civilian organizations the distinction between an assistant department head and an assistant to the department head is not clearly understood, and such organizations would do well to observe the care with which this distinction is made in military organization.

2. Repositories of Organization “Memory”

Since an organization is not an organism the only memory it possesses, in the proper sense of the term, is the collective memory of its participants. This is insufficient for organization purposes, first, because what is in one man’s mind is not necessarily available to other members of the organization, and, second, because when an individual leaves an organization the organization loses that part of its “memory.”

Hence organizations, to a far greater extent than individuals, need artificial “memories.” Practices which would become simply habitual in the case of the individual must be recorded in manuals for the instruction of new organization members. Among the repositories which organizations may use for their information are records systems, correspondence and other files, libraries, and follow-up systems.

3. Investigatory Facilities

Most organizations, or particular decision-centers in organization, require information in addition to that which comes to them normally in the course of their work. This necessary information is of two kinds: external— that which is to be obtained from sources outside the organization; and internal— that which is to be obtained within the organization. In any large organization units can be identified whose function it is to secure one or the other of these types of information. The patent department in industrial concerns is such a unit, one of whose primary fLinctions is to keep continual watch on patent and product development in the company’s field by checking the Patent Office Gazette, manufacturers’ catalogues, periodicals, and trade literature. The accounting department is the outstanding example of a unit whose function it is to obtain internal information.

The external investigatory unit does not require much discussion. The chief problem in fitting it into the organization is to locate it in such a manner that the information it receives will be transmitted promptly and in usable form to the appropriate points in the organization. This inevitably leads to questions, like those asked of any service unit, as to how far the function should be specialized and how far it should be decentralized among the operating units. Other such units are the intelligence units in military organization, market research units in business concerns, a fire alarm bureau, and a police communications system.

There are several varieties of internal investigatory units in addition to accounting. Perhaps the most significant are independent inspectional units (like the Inspector General’s Office of the Army) and analysis units (the Department of Investigation of New York City, or the Division of Administrative Management of the United States Bureau of the Budget).

In the case of accounting for money, the need for a flow of information independent of the regular channels of authority is universally accepted as almost self-evident. The functions of the typical accounting unit have been very much broadened, however, beyond the simple audit for honesty. It is quite frequently used nowadays as a source of information for determining whether expenditures are conforming to the plan laid down in the budget. Accounts are used also as a basis for cost analysis which, in turn, contributes to future executive decisions.

Accounting controls have probably never been carried further than they have by the Comptroller General of the United States. That office has for a number of years maintained a continual pre-audit of Federal expenditures and has disallowed those which it considered to be not in conformity with Congressional authorizations. This has created a system of dual authority over expenditures in the Federal government that has generally received adverse comment from persons who have studied it. It should be recognized, however, that this is merely an extreme form of the problem that arises whenever control functions of any sort are vested in an accounting unit. To the extent that the accountant has authority to set limits to the actions of executives in the line organization, his authority cuts across the regular lines of authority, and unity of command in the broad sense of that term is violated.

Independent inspectional organizations create problems of dual com- mand similar to those created by accounting controls. Even where, as is usually the case, the inspectional unit has no power but that of reporting its findings to the top executive, the line organization will become responsive to its viewpoints. The seriousness of this problem is mitigated somewhat—with a weakening in the effectiveness of the inspectional unit—by the fact that its intervention is usually intermittent rather than continuous. At any rate, whatever the problems it creates, the top administrator often finds the inspectional unit an invaluable aid because it gives him information that simply would not be transmitted up through the line organization.

Another way in which the top levels of the hierarchy gain knowledge about the operation of the organization is by undertaking, at intervals, a comprehensive analysis and survey of the organization or some part of it. In this they may be assisted by an administrative analysis unit which specializes in such work. Such a survey may be confined to questions of organization structure, or it may include an analysis of the program of activity. In most cases these two are so inextricably interwoven that both are involved.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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