Management specialists urge honesty in communication; Image at the Top: The Crisis & Renaissance in American Corporate Leadership, by Richard S. Ruch and Ronald Goodman. New York: The Free Press. 163 pp. $16.95.

If you are a connoisseur of management techniques, you'll like ''Image at the Top.'' It's pithy and short, and it can easily be read on a transcontinental flight.

Who could argue with the call for abundant and hon-est communication from top management to the work force? In this sense, the book is certainly long enough, as the need for open, ongoing dialogue can be stated in only so many ways.

Much of the thinking presented is similar to that given in other currently popular management books, which (1) describe the very real crisis in corporate America; (2) show in detail why the ''productivity war'' is, in large meaure, being lost due to worker alienation; (3) attack the stereotypical MBA numbers crunchers and the graduate schools that churn them out; and (4) then give a thorough sales pitch for the consulting methods of the authors.

The ''communications audit'' thus proposed in ''Image at the Top'' is innovative, and it might help any company be more people-oriented. Probably no one would argue that employee attitudes couldn't be improved in the process. The text would have been even more useful if it had gone a bit deeper into the new research findings and consequent thesis that draw the reader in at the beginning of the book: ''The employee's image of the Chief Executive Officer is the single most important determinate of work attitude.''

Ruch and Goodman go on to state that a positive image is not primarily a question of style a la theories X, Y, and Z. The real issue in the hearts and minds of subordinates, they claim, is the competence of superiors. This conclusion is significant, because it moves us beyond the touchy-feely management seminars of the 1970s and into the competition of the '80s.

The attempted marriage by the authors of two somewhat different disciplines - organizational behavior and public relations - is, at times, a bit strained. Madison Avenue-type public relations and technological dog-and-pony shows are panned. Yet it is, shall we say, a more enlightened use of PR that is recommended for better company communication. Ruch and Goodman have strong credentials in both areas they attack, academics and PR.

Central to the message of ''Image at the Top'' is the call for love in business - love defined as KCRR - knowledge, care, respect, and responsibility. The authors aver that this is what workers really want. When practiced by management, these qualities result in fulfilling and meaningful work (F&MW), they say. On this point, this is the best explanation I've seen of William Ouchi's (''Theory Z'') term ''subtlety.''

It all reminds one of the latest luncheon speaker's story about the three generals captured by guerrilla commandos. Before their execution, they're asked for last words. The Frenchman asks if he can sing ''La Marseillaise.'' The Japanese general asks if he can deliver a lecture on Japanese management techniques. And the American asks if he can be shot first so he won't have to listen to another lecture on Japanese management.

Whatever theory, acronym, or MBA buzz word is currently useful, the essence of any good communication effort was formulated 2,000 years ago. One of the many CEOs used as a case-study example in ''Image at the Top'' states it clearly. James Daniell, captain of the Cleveland Browns football team in 1945 and now head man at RMI Company, is quoted from an article in the Wall Street Journal as saying:

''Believe it or not, for a big, dumb football player, I have a philosophy. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' ''

A quote in the book from a 1959 speech to the Public Relations Society of America by the late Erwin Canham, former editor of The Christian Science Monitor , summarizes the main point of ''Image at the Top'':

''Our task . . . , if we are to strengthen the fortress of the mind, is to strengthen the moral sense. We can do that by exemplifying it.''

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