Nine Commandments of Excellent Communication

Ansgar Zerfass

An excellent communication department is dependent on ambitious professionals working in influential departments in connected organisations.

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Three levels of excellence

Excellence in communication is multidimensional. This is why leaders have to focus on three interdependent levels.

An excellent communication department is dependent on ambitious professionals working in influential departments in connected organisations.

On each level, three key characteristics can be identified. When turning those indicators into requirements then nine commandments of excellence emerge. Only simultaneous efforts at all three levels can produce optimal results.

Connected organisations

Organisations that nurture excellent communication departments are usually globalised, mediatised and reflective.

1)      Globalisation is not an expression of size, as digital technology allows even the smallest organisations to operate globally. Globalisation is much more an expression of open-mindedness and humbleness: organisations today, at least potentially, compete with others wherever they are in the world, so they have to be observant and globally connected to be able to understand what goes on.

2)      Mediatised means that organisations understand that the reality they are facing is constructed and influenced by communication. Organisations are therefore dependent on communication. They use communication not only for messaging but also for listening. Organisations themselves are communicatively constructed, they exist in communication and this communication materialises in media. Traditional mass media still hold significant power in the world. Collaborating with journalists (so-called earned media) and using advertising (paid media) is a key feature of successful organisations. But social platforms online (shared media) and corporate channels (owned media) are gaining in importance.

3)      Reflective organisations are those that understand that they are dependent on many stakeholders for their success or failure and that they have to be able to observe or look back on themselves through their own eyes. Reflection and adaptation to ever changing environments may be the most important characteristics of modernity and communication.

Nine commandments of excellent communication

Influential communication departments

Communication departments must be influential to matter and have an effect.

4)      Embedded communication departments fit in organisations where they can have the highest impact: they are very close to top management are therefore able to affect decision-making, and they are well connected to other functional departments, like human relations, marketing, operations, sales, etc., to enable synergies and mutual learning. Communication must be embedded in every activity an organisation makes.

5)      Datafied means that communication departments today are as much about numbers as they are about people. Long gone are the times when ‘people who liked people’ went into public relations and those that liked numbers went to finance. Practitioners must understand how to collect, analyse and use data, as much as finance people must understand why numbers are collected and how they should use them and with what effect.

6)      Strategised means that communication departments will only have a real impact on organisational success when their activities are clearly aligned to overall goals. A decade of empirical research shows that this is still the most important issue communicators face: how to link communication to organisational strategies.

Ambitious communication professionals

Without personal drive and motivation, the search for excellence is void.

7)      Sagacious professionals are knowledgeable, demonstrating reflective wisdom as well as shrewdness and at times applying appropriate mental discernment. Professional communication is at the intersection of business and social sciences, and appropriate appreciation of both is a necessary condition for any communicator.

8)      Linked professionals are personally and professionally networked individuals who understand the importance of collaboration with colleagues through mentoring and mentorship. They must develop and nurture interpersonal relationships with their colleagues above, parallel and below them.

9)       Last but not least, solid professionals are driven by personal, organisational and professional ethics and frameworks. In a world of declining trust in organisations, it is important to start building respect and reliability of communicators at the interpersonal level. This creates the ground for excellent communication departments, that can help organisations overall to rebuild public confidence and trust without which success is not sustainable.


  • Tench, R., Verčič, D., Zerfass, A., Moreno, A. & Verhoeven, P. (2017). Communication Excellence – How to Develop, Manage and Lead Exceptional Communications. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Order the book at www.palgrave.com and get 20% of until July 28, 2017 with this code: PM17TWENTY

 This article is first published in Communication for Leaders No. 1 - 2017. Link to E-magazine: https://docplayer.me/47784880-9-commandments-of-excellent-communication.html

Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by Centre for Corporate Communication and Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School. 


Published 28. June 2017

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