Evaluating Employer Communication Competency Expectations: A Pilot Study

Samoilenko, S.A., Ballard-Reisch, D., & Akhatova, B. (2011). Evaluating Employer Communication Competency Expectations in Kazakhstan. Research Study presented November 18 at the 97th Annual Conventional of the National Communication Association in New Orleans, LA.

In the age of globalization and social media there is increased demand for a new type of communication practitioners capable of adapting to rapid organizational change and constantly emerging online communities. These specialists should not only be familiar with numerous social tools available, but also understand the importance of ethical choices when using these tools and applications. Clearly, organizational efficiency goes beyond acquiring instructional knowledge or simply demonstrating mechanistic skills. According to Pamela Shockley-Zalabak (2009), communication competency develops from an increased understanding of the communication process; ability to sense accurately the meanings and feelings of oneself and others in the organization; improved skills in communication, conflict management, and decision making; and finally, a well-defined sense of organizational and interpersonal ethics.

In their roles as counsel to the CEO or manager of company’s reputation, professional communicators are expected to define and instill company values; build and manage multi-stakeholder relationships; enable the enterprise with “new media” skills and tools; and finally, build and manage trust. The adoption of this framework is particularly intended for education and training providers responsible for successful professional development of the next generation of professional communicators. The role of educators, therefore, is to help students understand new roles and responsibilities of public relations practitioners and provide them with adequate training to cultivate fundamental communication competencies reflective of changes of the industry.

In many countries there is a steady need for competent public relations professionals to assure nation-building inter-ethnic campaigns locally and public diplomacy efforts internationally. Kazakhstan is one of the most successful Central Asian countries among those that emerged from the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan represents an interesting example of a complex, inter-ethnic society working rapidly to adjust to globalization in order to keep up with constantly emerging professional requirements. The rapid growth of the oil and gas industries has significantly contributed to economic growth and decline in poverty. It also increased government public diplomacy efforts for nation branding to promote the country among international businesses and the global political community.

Communication researchers Sergei Samoilenko, George Mason University and Dr. Deborah Ballard-Reisch from Wichita State joined their colleague from Kazakhstan Dr. Akhatova to assess of the quality of the public relations education recently offered in Kazakhstan universities to satisfy the government ambitions for international recognition and acceptance. Primarily, the researchers wanted to understand current expectations held by business employers in Kazakhstan regarding important communication competencies that university graduates with a degree in public relations should possess in order to be successful in their organizations. Their research was intended to provide practical guidelines for educators to develop new curricula in strategic communications that will help Kazakhstan universities better prepare future communication specialists and increase opportunities for their employment.

The research team utilized a multi method survey with qualitative and quantitative components, which was distributed to over hundred chief communication officers or those holding upper management positions in public relations. The survey dealt with professionals’ expectations regarding crucial communication competencies that university graduates with a degree in public relations should possess in order to be successful in their organizations.

The researchers designed a communication competency instrument based on the organizational communication competency framework developed by Shockley-Zalabak (2009). The Shockley-Zalabak (2009) model consists of four major components: knowledge (the ability to understand the organizational communication environment), communication skills (various abilities to accurately analyze organizational situations and to effectively initiate, develop, disseminate and receive organizational messages), sensitivity (the ability to accurately understand organizational meanings and appropriately analyze roles and relationships, and values (understanding how individual and organizational values/ethics can shape organizational climate).

According to research findings, the discussed four criteria showed moderate to strong correlations (as seen in the accompanying iconographic below), while 54% of the variance in skills was explained by the three predictors (knowledge, sensitivity and values).

The potential employers also identified college degree, professional standards, language skills, and psychology, as the most important knowledge criteria for young professionals; creativity, flexibility, adaptability, the ability to decrease stress, sociability, and diplomacy, as the most important sensitivity criteria competence; using new information technologies, relationship building, self-control, ability to initiate dialogue, persuasion, and negotiation as the most important skills criteria for young professionals; and being reliable, responsible, punctual, diligent, and versatile, as the most important values criteria for young professionals.

The grounded inductive analysis of qualitative data produced seven major themes:

1) Communication skills: oral/written communication skills, the ability to interact effectively in interpersonal through public speaking contexts as well as in business communication

2) Building quality relationships

3) Knowledge of and support for the advancement of the corporate image

4) Ethical business practices

5) Training: including formal education and continuing, on-going skill development

6) Technical competence

7) Personal characteristics

The following should be noted:

  • Employers surveyed for this project recognized the importance of knowledge, skills, sensitivity and values in their practices. In their open-ended responses, participants elaborated on nature and characteristics of these constructs in culturally and contextually unique ways.
  • There are several discrepancies between quantitative and qualitative results in this research. While in their open ended responses, employers discussed the importance of education and ongoing professional development to the quality and capacity of communications professionals, when asked direct questions about the importance of education and professional organizations, they rated them as having little or no importance. This indicates that while business professionals recognize the importance of the skills learned through education and professional organizations, they do not yet recognize the role of formal education and ongoing training in the development and refinement of desired skills.
  • The lack of a developed communication discipline in Kazakhstan has led to a lack of understanding of the importance of the discipline to the business sector.
  • That knowledge, sensitivity and values account for 54 percent of the variance in skills demonstrates the interrelated nature of these constructs and the importance of knowledge, sensitivity and values as the foundation for skill development.
  • Uniqueness in the results of this study indicate the need for international consultants and collaborators to remain culturally sensitive as they attempt to assist Kazakhstan in the development of the academic discipline of public relations and work to identify the critical communication competencies of public relations and human resources professionals. Assessment measures must be evaluated and tailored appropriately to meet the needs of the culture in Kazakhstan.

The authors recommend that universities offering the major in public relations seek opportunities to collaborate with employers and communications professionals to assure that curriculum is developed and skills critical to the success of business and organizations are at the core of university and professional training in public relations and human resources. Reciprocally, professionals and employers of human resources and public relations workers should also seek opportunities for collaboration with universities to assure the overall quality of the entry-level public relations and human resources specialists.

Educators should seek ways to develop common norms and standards for, public relations education that would pertain to communication competency criteria. Since the range of required criteria pertaining to the development of necessary knowledge, skills, sensitivity and values is relatively broad, the introduction of communication education as an autonomous discipline at Kazakh universities is highly recommended. Active involvement in professional national and international communities, and on-going professional education will help improve the overall quality of public relations curriculum, textbooks and resources and class activities.

Following the preliminary results of this study, the Kazakhstan Communication Association (KazCA) was founded. The mission of the new organization was to bring together specialists representing various fields (mass communications, journalism, political science, sociology, linguistics, etc) who are interested in helping establish communication as a scholarly discipline in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

On June 27, 2011 KazCA held its first international conference. The conference discussed several initiatives pertaining to promoting the image of Kazakhstan in the global community, creating a communicative model for social development, and using communication research to address sociocultural, political and economic problems in the context of globalization.

Note: Sergei Samoilenko and Deirdre Breakenridge are working on a new version of Communication Competency instrument to replicate this study in the United State this summer.  If you are interested in participating in their research, please email Sergei at sergeisamoilenko@gmail.com or visit his new blog at http://sergeisamoilenko.wordpress.com/

The iconographic below was designed by SMM3, Communication Consulting Company http://smm3.org/ from Belarus specializing in Social Media Marketing, Monitoring and Analysis in Post-Soviet Countries and Eastern Europe.