Communicative Coworkership

Part III: Communication as Constitutive of Organizing

A perspective acknowledging this central role of communication, is the viewpoint regarding communication as constitutive of organizing (CCO), which has evolved within the field of organizational communication (Putnam & Nicotera, 2009). This perspective offers a significant value to organizational research since it recognizes organizations as continuous products of sense-making practice, which is always political in the sense that they could have been produced differently (Coreen et al, 2011).

CCO is especially valuable in looking at the understudied perspective of coworkers, since it highlights how their sense making processes and communication is fundamental in constituting the organization (Heide & Simonsson, 2011), and has emphasized how discourse is an essence of organizational life (Coreen et al, 2011). Despite this however, the aspect of power is placed in the background of the CCO-perspective (Rose, O’Malley & Valverde, 2006; Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, 2011) and is therefore something that should be developed in order to further a significant contribution to organizational communication research.

Mikhail Pavstyuk

There is thus a need of a study with aim to analyse power relations in the communicative organization, where the focus is on the coworker. With a critical approach it should be examined how this communicative coworkership is described, practiced and experienced, what conditions this entails for the coworker and what the consequences are.

The purpose is two-fold: 1) to develop the CCO perspective in organizational studies by adding a power perspective, 2) to address a deficit of research in strategic communication regarding coworkership. A study should wish to shed light on the power aspects of organizational communication in studying the organizational tensions a communicative coworkership entails for the employee, and what the consequences are. It should acknowledge but also problematize the coworker as an active communicator and creator of meaning.

The aim is to further a development of constitutive communication models for organizational research. A study could do so by developing the analysis of organizational communication from the Montreal School’s CCO-argument by adding a Foucauldian perspective where power relations are in focus, highlighting the tensions that arise for the coworker when communication is considered essential. The study could do this through case studies in which the framework is formed by a concept model based on Foucault’s ideas (see Figure 1 above). The cases will exemplify how organizations are constituted by dynamic power-knowledge relationships, which mobilize discourse, structures and subjectivity.

 

Annonser
Standard
Communicative Coworkership

Part II: Organizational Tensions

There is currently not much written about the communicative coworker, and therefore we do not grasp the consequences of these mounting expectations on the employee to be communicative in everyday organizational life; not only actively engaged in his or her work assignments, but also expected to participate in overall organizational dialogue. The lack of research means that we do not grasp how the coworker perceives, experiences and enacts these expectations. The concept of a communicative coworker is not unproblematic since it places high demands on employees in addition to skills in their professional roles, where they are also expected to be skilled communicators both in relation to colleagues and managers, and also to external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and media.

2066706879_aa3b7a6bab_o

Simonsson (n.d.) describes how managers often get training, support and coaching in creating their identity as a leader, something coworkers on the other hand seldom receive in creating their identities as communicative coworkers. Ciulla (2004, p. 5) argues how employees in today’s organizations perhaps get more responsibility however not the tools required, such as time or knowledge, which she calls ”bogus empowerment”. The importance of employee participation is thus constantly put in the background when instrumental values ​​such as time and money, based on short-term goals, in the end is what is valued most for the organization (Cheney, Christensen, Zorn & Ganesh, 2010; Simonsson, 2002).

a25910b883dbcbda014e5fdbe2f17385-1

This form of organizational tension between the expectations put on the coworker and the perceived work situation, looking at the employee’s perspective of the tensions, is understudied in organizational communication research (Trethway & Ashcraft, 2004) and the understanding of the coworker’s perspective is generally underrepresented in a management and leadership oriented research field (Heide & Simonsson, 2011; Tengblad, 2007). Despite a trend towards the post-bureaucratic organization, where hierarchy is flattened and the coworker is considered to have a more active role in relation to managers and directors as well as ambassador of the organization externally (Tengblad, 2007), there is always an unequal balance of power between employee and manager. Leadership in itself is about influence, which inherently entails an asymmetric power relationship (Axäll, 2004).

Standard
Communicative Coworkership, Organizational studies

Part I: Communicative Coworkership – What is expected from us as coworkers?

The field of strategic communication is imbued with concept such as dialogue, participation and employee engagement, with communication policies and strategic documents employing this vocabulary (Heide and Simonsson, 2011). The communicative empowerment of a growingly self-dependent coworker, is based on the idea that employees should actively participate in dialogue and meaning creation, give and receive feedback on their actions and achievement, share knowledge and ideas, ask for support and listen to others, as well as act as ambassadors for the organization at large (Simonsson, n.d.).

Illustration by Anna Handell

Today in organizations as well as organization studies, we find increased expectations on the coworker to be engaged and participate in decision-making, presumably due to less hierarchical organizations which raises the status of the coworker in regards to management (Alvesson, 2004). The communicative organization is often cited as the modern organization that gives employees more agency and power, making he or she more participative and engaged, which in turn will create a successful business (Coreen, Kuhn, Cornelissen & Clark, 2011).

Illustration by Chris Gregori

This engaged employee requires more communication with and between all organizational members (Stohl and Cheney, 2001) since being able to interpret information and engage in creative dialogues are seen as capacities closely related to learning and innovation processes (Heide & Simonsson, 2011). The communicative organization is therefore considered to require communicative leadership, where the leader develops and controls the operations with communicative methods (Simonsson, 2002). In this organization where the central social practice is communication, it is not only common to talt about communicative leadership, but also communicative coworkership (Axäll, 2004; Hedman Monstad, 2015; Simonsson, n.d., Sveriges kommunikatörer, 2015), with the term communicative coworkership derived primarily from a practitioner’s area.Illustration by Jack & Wolf

The communicative leadership is considered to be dependent on communicative coworkership for dialogue to be conducted on all operational levels, since participation and communicative employees are seen as essential for the creation of value dialogue (Axäll, 2004) and considered to create effective organizations.

But what does this really mean from a coworker’s perspective?

Standard
Organization and leadership

Why are organizations promoting open offices?

Bild

illustration by Olimpia Zagnoli

With a shift from a closed perspective to the open approaches to organizing, office environments also developed. In the 1950s in West Germany, the foundations were built for a ”more humane environment than previous decades of open offices, with work in straight lines in order to enable effective monitoring”, and in 1966 the first Swedish open office environments was created (Rissler & Elgerot, 1980). Although the open workspace can be seen as a norm for workers during industrialization, where they clearly could be monitored and controlled, the open workspace was not a standard for management to have direct contact with the workers, but strove to maintain a model of authority and formality (Scott & Davis, 2007). With the help of the rational school type of organization standards, we can understand how power and status came to be reflected in the private service room.

 

Seddigh (2013) defines the room as cellular office, and says that even when the office organization begun to switch to open solutions, senior officials and managers have continued to work in private rooms. Ahlsson, Frankenberg, Iwar, Herkeman och Löwgren (referenced in Rissler & Elgerot, 1980) suggest that staff in higher income brackets were bothered more than lower income earners in terms of perceived efficiency reductions and concentration disorders, and they argue that it suggests that the nature of work has significance. An alternative way of looking at it is from a power aspect, namely that those with a history of status and power confirmed by private offices now have similar workspace as the others in the organization, which in itself creates dissatisfaction. On the other hand, the status could be shown by the individual landscape placement, for example near a large window with views opposed to near the toilets. It could also be demonstrated by anyone sitting, for example, close to other managers and executives as opposed to trainees. We can anticipate that the power thus always be communicated in organizational environment, and the open plan offices in itself does not necessarily mean a more equal workplace.

 Bild

Organizations’ quest for legitimacy, with isomorphism as a phenomena, can explain how the open plan offices spread in organizations and has become a symbol for the modern organization. Open plan offices were popularized in the 1970s when many companies implemented the design based on arguments that they created flexible spaces that were more functional when changes in staff numbers and structure. A movement was also to remove physical barriers to communication between individuals, groups and departments, to strengthen morale and productivity (Brennan, Chugh & Kline, 2002). An example of isomorphism can be seen in the trend around openness and transparency in and around organizations (see, inter alia Falkheimer & Heide, 2011; Fombrun & Van Riel, referenced in Cornelissen, 2011), where open communication seems to require open spaces.

 

Foss (2003) sees this in his example of a tendency for organizations to mix the hierarchy of markets to enhance entrepreneurship and motivation in the business, so-called internal hybrids, where he points to the company Oticon and its organization. The knowledge-based organization connects communication and transparency where information should be freely disseminated in the business, which requires open office environments. On the other hand, there is a rational perspective around the control remaining in the open office space. First, we see a bureaucratic control (Scott & Davis, 2007) embedded in the social and organizational structure, built in professional categories and responsibilities. Secondly, we see a social control (Sutton, 1996), a kind of paradox of subjection in transparency, where employees and managers are in the same room creating an awareness that others see what I do as an employee and hear what I say.

 Bild

Just like Oticon implemented an open office landscape, popular private employers such as Google and Microsoft have done the same, as well as the majority of public organizations (Conning, 2012). 1996 cell offices were discontinued at one of Skåne’s largest employer, Tetra Pak (Jurjaks, 2013) with approximately 4,000 employees in Lund (Tetra Pak, 2013). Another employer is the county council Region Skåne, with the central regional building in Malmö awarded the Urban Development Prize 2011, where reasoning among other things was ”[…] where every floor has open plan offices which are accessed via bridges. A thought about supporting the opportunities for increased spontaneous meetings in the workplace.” (Region Skåne, 2011). Legitimacy comes from how the open office landscape is in line with stakeholders’ expectations of the organization, by signaling modernity, flexibility and transparency in operations. The environment should enable an organizational culture where interaction is promoted, and signaled. There is also an economic aspect which means reduced costs for the organization, since open office solutions are both cheaper to build but also to maintain (Brennan, Chugh & Kline, 2002), which is to be requested from two specific stakeholder groups, namely the management and the shareholders’ perspective. The open plan office is here a way to promote the organization. Partly to external groups such as the media to pay attention to the organization and positively reflect on their audience, potential employees who will be attracted to apply to the organization, or customers who will want to associate with the organization and buy its products or services. Secondly it is a marketing internally to promote a particular organizational culture where communication, flexibility, and openness is considered desirable.

 

Standard
An introduction to Strategic Communication

What is a social intranet? Part II

Bild

Falkheimer and Heide (2011) emphasize that the new information and communication technologies in organizations, for instance intranets, have positive qualities such as to reduce the distance in time and space, but could hardly live up to expectations on the efficiency of human learning, which is complex processes that new media itself cannot solve. The authors emphasize that the introduction of intranets require huge investments but has marginal results. With that realization, intranets can be understood as an expression of isomorphism, i.e. that they mimic how other organizations are acting to achieve legitimacy (Cornelissen, 2011). Then the Intranet is basically about creating a good image of the company in general for stakeholders than to serve as an interactive medium for employees.

Bild

Social intranets seem to reflect a paradox in organizations. Partly it reflects a new communication ideal in having one voice, one message that pervades the vision, image and culture, which among others Hatch and Schultz (2001) argue in the Harvard Business Review. The ideal is also visible in the trend of ”integrated communication” which means that the organization should not send different messages externally and internally (Falkheimer & Heide, 2011). The internal culture of the organization should by using the intranet open up by the employees having access to larger amounts of information relating to the business by governing documents, manuals, etc. are available to all regardless of time and space. It works as a marketing channel that explains what the organization is, why it is important, the core values ​​it has and how employees are its ambassadors.

 Bild

On the other hand the intranet reflects the common perception of meaning in which organizations are considered to be in communication processes, rather than the opposite, which is found in the term ”organizational communication” which considers a polyphony of individual voices together constitute the whole organization (Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011). With the intranet, employees can communicate digitally across hierarchical boundaries through chat, comments and email system. The digital community will give all voice and influence. Christensen and Cornelissen (2011) criticize the communication ideal of one unified voice. They see instead how a vague and ambiguous message can promote opportunities for differences to co-exist in an organization, and make it work as a strategy to create identification with the organization of its employees, by allowing different interpretations of the organization’s message. Are the writers influenced by a classical transmission’s approach in their field, or is it even a development of the meaning making perspective? There is a constant tension in the literature between the transmission and meaning making perspective, information and communication, hierarchy and polyphony, and it is possibly the strongest point of strategic communication, but at the same time the weakest point.

Standard
An introduction to Strategic Communication

Can an organization be open and transparent?

Bild

A current theme when discussing organizations and their communication, in general as in the academic field, is the importance of being open and transparent (see among others Falkheimer & Heide, 2011; Fombrun & Van Riel referenced in Cornelissen, 2011; Berg, 2011; Werntoft, 2013). Political institutions describe their activities as striving for transparency as seen with everything from the Swedish State Bank (Riksbanken) to the NGO Sida, making general gambit regarding the importance of transparency (Svensson, 2008; Sida, 2012). One reason lies in how technological developments are perceived to have expedited communication processes, such as how the media can quickly spread negative news about a company or authority, and that both the organization and stakeholders quickly need access to information and expertise to handle the situation. Falkheimer and Heide (2011) argue that the opportunities available to store and access a wealth of information has created expectations on organizations to be transparent. It can stem from for example to prevent corruption which could jeopardize an organization’s entire raison d’être, such as the United Nations which should reflect international law (United Nations, 2013).

 Bild

Openness and transparency is in line with the prevailing academic perspective on communication, namely the mutual creation of meaning or ”ritual” model, where communication is seen as a circular process where individuals and groups together and continuously creates meaning (see for example Jansson, 2009). Varey (2000), Axley (1984) and Botan and Taylor (2004) highlight this perspective as the modern and ideal, in contrast to the transmission model where communication is seen as linear transfer. The authors seem to be missing a power aspect of communication, where even a perspective based on shared meaning making can be used to control and exert control over others. Deetz and Mumbay (1990 referenced in McPhee & Zaug, 2000) points out ”All communication necessarily involves the use of power […].” An organization’s communication will thus always involve a production and reproduction of power. Moreover both perspectives should be needed to understand how organizations communicate and why, as this is based on cultural norms and traditions, despite Varey’s (2000) argument that the transmission perspective is out of date.

 Bild

That an organization is transparent seems to be based on the idea that the organization is more democratic as everyone can get access to information. Falkheimer & Heide ( 2011) writes : ”[…] strategic communication is justified based on the argument that it promotes openness and transparency between members of the organization and between the organization and the environment. The argument is based on a non-authoritarian and democratic view of organizations and society based on secrecy, hierarchy and the withholding of information being valued negatively.”. We find this standard in the Swedish principle of public access where the government and other agencies are required by law to keep a great deal of information open and where transparency is considered positive (Regeringen, 2013). But the principle of openness has exceptions, e.g. documents relating to national security or protection of individuals. This in itself points out therefore, the risks associated with organizations’ openness, while it raises the question: if transparency is limited, is it really transparent? Is transparency something that an organization can strive for, but never totally achieve? The issue is likely normative. From an organizational communicative perspective the question evolves around the specific organization’s approach to leadership and strategy. If the leader is based on a ”top-down” perspective found in classical approach school (Whittington, 2002), the organization can hardly act with transparency since focus on is on individual leaders’ thought instead of communication processes. The corporate culture is therefore fundamental to whether transparency is possible.

Two settings can be found in the literature that may be linked to the two dominant communication perspective, where the pursuit of transparency and openness is seen as positive, which is based in ritual model of communication ideals, and one who sees transparency as impossible and more as a strategy for the conductors which is based on the transmission model. But if a modern organization should strive to be open and transparent, how is such a corporate culture created?

Standard