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Communication Studies 380

Corporate Communication

Study Guide

Athabasca University a
Course Team
Course Professor: Dr. Evelyn Ellerman
Authors: Bill McMillan, Holly Dougall (2006)
Editors: Timothy Anderson, Gilda Sanders (2000)
Lori--Ann Claerhout, Gilda Sanders (2007)
Cover Design and Illustrations: Margaret Anderson
Visual Presentation: Digital Media Technology Unit

Every effort has been taken to ensure that these materials comply with the
requirements of copyright clearances and appropriate credits. Athabasca University
will attempt to incorporate in future printings any corrections which are
communicated to it.

The inclusion of any material in this publication is strictly in accord with the consents
obtained and Athabasca University does not authorize or license any further
reproduction or use without the consent of the copyright holder.

Athabasca University 2000, 2007

Revised edition
All rights reserved
Printed in Canada

CMID 541157
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

About the Course Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Unit 1 Changing Concepts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

Unit 2 Leadership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

Unit 3 Public Consultation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

Unit 4 Issue Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

Unit 5 Strategy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

Unit 6 Communication and the Learning Organization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

Unit 7 Learning Organizations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

Unit 8 Social Responsibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101

Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111

Supplementary Reading List . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119

Welcome to Communication Studies 380: Corporate Communication, a three-credit,
senior-level course designed to present practitioners of corporate communication
with a broad framework for making effective decisions about communication
approaches, priorities and activities. The course represents a dramatic rethinking of
the role of the communication practitioner in corporations and government.

Contemporary changes in corporate and community communication place new

demands on communication managers and practitioners. This course offers a broad
perspective on leadership and communication, ties communication to adaptive
strategy and change management, and exposes students to questions of
communication ethics and process.

The course demands that you apply the concepts presented to real corporate settings
and experiences. If you have not had such experiences first hand, the course offers
you an opportunity to draw out the experiences of others.

About the Course Authors

Bill McMillan (B.Sc., M.Env.Des.) has been the coordinator or leader of more than
fifty policy and issue management projects. He is a founder of and partner in Equus
Consulting Group Inc., which has been at the forefront of public consultation and
corporate communication, with involvement in major public consultation processes
in environmental issues, agriculture, health, education and social services.

He has also led many courses and seminars on topics such as public consultation,
decision making, teamwork, managing customer services, problem solving and
creativity; and he is a coauthor of, Opening the Door: Improving Decisions through
Public Consultation.

In 2006, this course was revised by Holly Dougall (B.A., B.Ed., M.A.), who has held
various communications-based positions in the advertising, manufacturing and
educational sectors. Her current research interests include organizational development,
media literacy, civic engagement and critical theory.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 1

2 Corporate Communication
Unit 1
Changing Concepts

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a typical manager is how

dependent he is on the activities of a variety of other people to perform his
job effectively. (Kotter, 1983, p. 360)

Note: Within this course, the concepts of corporation and organization are
treated as equivalent. The content of this course is equally applicable to government,
private sector and nonprofit sector organizations.

It is widely accepted that communication is a critical process that is a necessary

component of both leadership and organization. Effective corporate communication

supports organizational strategy and objectives.

guides organizational leadership.

motivates organizational members and stakeholders.

encourages productivity within the organization.

In large organizations, skilled people are assigned the function of supporting

communication. However, the integration of effective communication into the actual
work of the corporation is often a struggle. This challenge has become more complex
as the concept of corporation has changed over the past century. So we must ask,
How has the corporation changed, and how have these changes altered approaches
to corporate communication?

When you have completed Unit 1, you should be able to

1. discuss twentieth-century developments in organizations and corporate


2. discuss implications of the global marketplace for communication.

3. describe the biological, systems and adaptive organizational models, and discuss
their implications for communication.

4. discuss relationships between power and communication.

5. describe emerging challenges and issues (e.g., decentralization) faced by

communication managers.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 3

History and Theory
Threads of the Industrial Revolution
The success of the machine and industrial mass production in nineteenth century
Europe created a powerful image of the corporation. People imagined that the
organization had to be designed around the machine, and soon came to believe that
the organization should act like a machine. By 1870, it had become obvious that
workers should be assigned to specialized activities to support the specialized
functions of their machines. Standardization of tasks and products became the
managers work: the machine should be able to produce the same product, at the
highest possible rate, endlessly. Little value was placed on communication among the
workers. Instead, communication was hierarchical: direction from the top ensured
that workers followed specific instructions for their specialized tasks (and mimicked
familiar military and church models, which were accepted as right).

This mechanistic model of the organization was a dominant management concept at

the dawn of the twentieth century. The assumptions within this mode were exemplified
by Fredrick Winslow Taylor in The Principles of Scientific Management, first
published in 1911. Taylor considered that management information was properly
directed to control of the efforts of the worker, rather than to motivation, support or
enlightenment. He emphasized the selection and training of workers to ensure that
the best way of completing the job was always instituted. Communication was
used primarily to direct the means of production, and production became the primary
measure of success.

Questions for Thought

Note: As described in the Student Manual, these questions for thought are intended
as a guide for your journaling. Your responses throughout the course can be used as a
basis for your Questions for Thought assignment responses, ten of which you are
required to submit for grading. You may wish to revisit your answers as you work
through the course.

1. What vestiges of the machine organization do you observe in the

communication functions of your organization (or others you know)?

2. Describe two industrial-era communication behaviourshierarchical

communication and communication to direct the means of productionand
discuss whether they are still effective.

4 Corporate Communication
Hierarchical Corporations and Formal Communication
In 1969, Rensis Likert documented a management typology in New Patterns of
Management, describing the linking pin concept (group communication across
hierarchy). It is clear that he was describing a way of trying to overcome the natural
limitations of communication in a hierarchy. In 1960, in The Human Side of
Enterprise, Douglas McGregor described the difference between hierarchical and
cross-cutting communication as a choice between Theory X and Theory Y. Both
authors described choices that were a consequence of the form and the growth of the
bureaucratic organization.

The twentieth century began as a continuation of the industrial era, and Western
culture remained dominant. As the century has unfolded, it has been shaped by
warfare. The two world wars that dominated Europe prior to 1950 brought the
military concept of hierarchical power into vogue (as had Napoleons victories a
century earlier). The resurgence of the Western economies after each world war
reinforced support for the hierarchical model that the military had used to gain
success. The concept of marshalling resources, the image of the commanding
leader, and the value of organized bureaucracy, all rose to prominence after each
war. These concepts, along with vestiges of the machine model, informed large
organizations of this century until the 1980s, and resulted in organizations that
visualized themselves as structures similar to the one shown in Figure 1.1, below.

Figure 1.1: Generalized organizational hierarchy

In Interpersonal Communication in the Modern Organization (1982),

E. G. Bormann, R. G. Nichols, W. S. Howell and G. L. Shapiro note that
After World War II many investigators who went into plants and factories
discovered organizations that were run along the lines of the military. . . .
Many top managements caught up in the latest thinking about industrial
democracy decided to institute programs of change. . . . They discovered
that they could not change these matters easily from the top down. In a
number of organizations, ironically enough, the end result was that top
management was ordering lower levels to participate in management
decisions and become more democratic. (p. 243)

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 5

In The Human Side of Enterprise (1960), Douglas McGregor observes that
Among these pervasive characteristics of organizational life in the United
States today is a managerial attitude (stemming from Theory X) toward
membership in the industrial organization. It is assumed almost without
question that organizational requirements take precedence over the needs of
individual members. . . . [Advances in the] human side of enterprise . . . are
improbable, so long as management continues to organize and direct and
control its human resources on the basis of assumptionstacit or
explicitlike those of Theory X. (pp. 49-50, 56-57)

Over the course of the century, organizations have also been affected by the growth
of professional and managerial positions. Instead of the simple top and bottom
levels that characterized the early industrial corporations, there was now a very
significant middle. By the 1960s, the importance of managers and leaders in the
middle had been documented in the works of Peter Drucker who emphasized
management as a distinct social force (see Drucker, 1994). The growth of a powerful
and influential middle layer made communication in the organization more complex,
and increased the number of people who saw themselves as sources of organizational
direction. G. Lumsden (1982) describes the important new class of middle managers
as, the people who work below a policy-making level, but who have some say in
how policy will be implemented and considerable involvement in carrying out that
implementation (p. 4).

In the last three decades, many large organizations influenced by hierarchical and
machine model assumptions have exhibited the following communication
communication from those at the top is perceived to be important
selling managements message, to both employees and customers of the
organization, is emphasized.
consultation with employees is undertaken to gain buy in, but the decision
process is reserved for executives and senior management.
line and support functions are separate, and line (production) functions
are considered to be more important.
formal communication methods (e.g., brochures, binders, videos) are considered
to be important and to require executive review (and editing), while informal
communication methods (such as informal meetings, casual discussions) are not
considered official.1
a communication group is established as a specialized support function, and is
not imagined to be integrated into line functions.
rumours (the grapevine) capture employee attention and energy.

1 Marion Kellogg (1969) describes the ambiguous thinking about informal communication: There is a
persistent theme in management thinking today: to increase employee influence on the goals of the
organization. . . . This implies that managers should become more democratic in their approach, more
open minded . . . but informality can be . . . overdone in work situations (p. v).

6 Corporate Communication
External Forces of Change
After the Second World War, the economies of North America and Europe grew
rapidly, and this growth provided the environment within which corporations
developed and operated. During this period, it was often perceived that the
corporation was driven by the internal priorities of management, and often assumed
that the corporation worked within a generally stable environment. While there were
considerable external changes in the environment, governments generally had the
resources and the power to resist short-term changes, and people accepted long-term
trends, such as inflation, without direct concern about the consequences.

In the early 1970s, the first serious threat to this stable world occurred with a world
oil supply crisis. People were amazed both that such a thing could happen, and that no
one had any immediate answers to the problem. During the 1980s, there were
continued shocks that demonstrated that national governments and corporations
were far more vulnerable to outside change than had been thought.

In the mid 1980s, corporations began to incorporate the practice of environmental

scanning, to gain the earliest possible detection of external changes and trends that
could affect their business. While the practice was inconsistent, there was mounting
evidence that corporations were trying to anticipate external influences.

The recognition that corporations work within a changing external environment led
to a corresponding view that corporations must be adaptive. This change in
perspective was a dramatic one: the machine corporation had been based on a
model of rigid control, and was therefore ill-suited for the organic process of
adaptation. Many corporations were challenged by the changing environment and
took far too long to adjust. Corporate leaders learned along the way that they would
have to redesign their structures and processes to work within the emerging

In The Age of the Manager Is Over! (1975), S. Thompson describes the influence
of external factors.
The shifts that are displacing whole patterns of existence are not shifts and
forces and effects deliberately willed by leaders and managers who are
bent on inventing the future . . . . The changes that are conditioning new
preferences are unmanaged changes in the sensibilities of vast populations .
. . . They are not clashing with their superiors so much as forgetting about
them altogether. (p. 16)

The Global Market Place (Economics)

The external environment within which corporations work has come to be termed the
global market place. The market-place analogy allows people to understand that
many forces are in play, and that most perceptions, needs and expectations can be
converted into economic terms. The analogy has led us to expand the term
competition to be much more inclusive than it once was.

As a result, there has been a tendency to quantify many seemingly intangible

elements of the corporation as economic factors (e.g., typifying the local value of the

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 7

corporation as its economic impact on the community, and referring to the balance
sheet as if it were a planthe bottom line). Competition has come to include all
of the means of delivering a service, and so government and nonprofit organizations
are also seen to be working in a competitive environment.

As an example, when informing leaders of nonprofit organizations about changes

they would have to make to adjust for the looming millennium, Alceste Pappas
(1996) included two direct references to the competitive environment:
nonprofits will have to intentionally . . .
Position themselves in a highly competitive marketplace through the
generation and use of market research data.
Diversify their revenue stream as financial resources shrink and
competition for diminishing resources grows. (p. 11)

Reading Assignment

Read Global Citizens, by Kenichi Ohmae, reproduced in the Reading File.

Questions for Thought

Ohmae strongly believes that the global marketplace has become borderless and
that this change will affect all of government and all corporations.

3. Do you think this change is as profound as Ohmae asserts? Why or why not?
Offer examples to support your position.

4. What will be the implications for your organization or an organization with

which you are familiar?

5. Using the Internet, library, and other sources, research the work of
Kenichi Ohmae. What are his current research endeavours? Critically
examine a website or journal article relative to his research.

As Michael Goodman (1998) points out, the reality of the global marketplace
presents specific cultural challenges to corporate communicators. Effective
communication is measured by different standards in different parts of the world.
Variations in language, language use, technology, environment and social
organization create contexts that might be entirely different from those to which we
are accustomed. An effective corporate communicator will be sensitive to these
cultural distinctions, and will perform the research necessary to encourage successful

8 Corporate Communication
Reading Assignment

In the Digital Reading Room (DRR), read Unit 1Changing Concepts, Article #1.

Questions for Thought

6. Compare low context and high context cultures. Using examples, discuss
the strategies of communication commonly used within each type of culture, and
the problems they may pose to communicators from a culture of the opposite

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 9

Adaptive Organizations (The Biological Model)
Since 1982, there has been increasing emphasis on the concept of the organization as
a problem-solving place, a service place, and a living, adaptive place. This concept
has been known for decades (the Banff School of Advanced Management has had the
slogan Adapt or Perish since the 1960s), but it has not been integrated into
organizational design and communication.

In Organizational Communication (1997), Peggy Yuhas Byers notes that systems

theory was largely defined by L. van Bertalanffy in 1968, and that it became an
increasingly prevalent approach through the next three decades. She notes that
While classical theorists perceived of the organization as a machine-like process
that operated through control, system theorists perceived that organizations are more
like living organisms (pp. 27-28). She further notes that, in systems theory,
communication is a dynamic process that defines the organization (p. 29).

The lessons of the 1980s, notably the experiences of corporate giants, such as IBM
and General Motors, which were forced to undergo painful restructuring, suggested
that organizations were at risk if they followed the fallacy of linear projection (the
assumption that the future will be a linear extension of the past). In the systems or
biological view, an organization is seen as a continually adaptive place that uses
sophisticated methods to sense its environment and to change in response to what it

The biological or systemic view includes the concept of networks within and beyond
the organization. The network approach ensures that people are connected, and that
information can travel in any direction as required to create the best possible
approach to an emerging situation. The concept of network (see Figure 1.2, below)
is vastly different from the hierarchical machine concept we discussed earlier.

Figure 1.2: Network configuration

Unfortunately, many organizations retain the structure and reward systems of the
hierarchical model, but have created programs, processes and plans that assume the
biological or system model. This disjunction creates difficulties for corporate
communication managers, who find that four serious problems emerge:

formal communication occurs far too slowly to keep pace with organizational

communication shifts between team-based and line-based modes, creating a

kind of organizational schizophrenia.

10 Corporate Communication
communication needs become complex and unpredictable.

roles and responsibilities for communication, especially external

communication, are unclear and often overlooked.

In Managing in Turbulent Times (1980), Peter Drucker provided a forecast of his

view of the organization in the last two decades of the twentieth century:
the one certainty about the times ahead, the times in which managers will
have to work and perform, is that they will be turbulent times. And in
turbulent times, the first task of management is to make sure of the
institutions capacity for survival, to make sure of its structural strength and
soundness, of its capacity to survive a blow, to adapt to sudden change, and
to avail itself of new opportunities. (p. 1)

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 1Changing Concepts, Article #2.

Question for Thought

7. Naturalist Charles Darwin coined the phrase survival of the fittest. Explain
how an organization featured in Article #2 exemplifies this concept. Support
your position with examples. Can you think of any other strategically adaptive

System Improvement
In describing adaptive organizations, some observers have noted the concept
of system improvement as a means of achieving the required changes.
James Harrington (1987) suggests that, The only way improvement gains can be
effectively and permanently embedded in the fiber of a company is through changing
the systems that control the companys operations (p. 135). Jill Janov (1994)
similarly notes that, Regardless of organizational type size, we need to think
systemically (p. 119).

Janov argues that

Our organizations are open systems. An open system is not static; it is
continuously changing, affecting and being affected by the external
environment . . . . systems thinking provides a road map for how to interact
simultaneously with the whole of the enterprise as well as the parts of the
enterprise. . . .
Systems theory is a useful lens through which to view an organization
because it allows us to focus on:

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 11

1. The organization as a series of relationships in action.
2. The impact of one aspect of the organization on all other aspects of the
3. The whole of the enterprise as well as those parts that constitute the
4. What creates wholenessthe integration of effortsand what creates
fragmentation. (pp. 125-129)

Louis Fried (1995) describes how systems thinking affects the design of information
systems: We have learned . . . that companies must abandon old hierarchical
organization models and organize along lines that optimize business processes
(p. 9). When considering the fact that information systems did not always achieve
intended results during the 1980s and early 1990s, he observes that
A substantial part of the failure of systems to pay off must be attributed to
the analytical methods of the past, in which applications were designed to
automate the business processes as they existed rather than to redesign the
business processes first. (p. 12)

Culture and Power

Effective communication in the corporate setting requires diagnosis and priority
setting. The communicator must take the time to read the culture of the
organization in order to establish communication priorities and approaches that
will be valued.

Every organization has its own set of cultural norms; that is, accepted patterns,
preferences and unspoken rules. The culture of an organization has a major influence
on the role of communicators and on the processes used to support communication.
Edgar Schein (1989), one of the most respected commentators on corporate culture,
observes that
The most powerful primary mechanisms of culture embedding and
reinforcement are (1) what leaders pay attention to, measure, and control;
(2) leader reactions to critical incidents and organizational crises; (3)
deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching by leaders; (4) criteria for
allocation of rewards and status; (5) criteria for recruitment, selection,
promotion, retirement, and excommunication.
If leaders are . . . inconsistent in what they pay attention to, subordinates and
colleagues will spend inordinate time and energy trying to decipher what the
leaders behavior really reflects and even project motives where none may
exist. . . .
Some of the most important signals of what the founders/leaders pay
attention to are sent during meetings and other activities devoted to
planning, which is one reason why planning is such an important
managerial process. In forcing subordinates to focus on certain issues in a
certain way, leaders can get across their own view of how to look at
problems. The ultimate content of the plan may not be as important as the
learning that goes on during the planning process. (pp. 224-226)

12 Corporate Communication
Based on Scheins observations, one could conclude that the corporate
communicator should observe and interpret leader attention, reward and punishment,
and should engage leaders in the communication planning process as a way to
integrate corporate culture and communication.

However, in the adaptive organization, power becomes more ambiguous. It is easy

to suggest that information is power, but difficult to estimate how the flow of
information affects peoples power. In many organizations, internal power is now
based on a variety of influences that shift as the organization adapts.

In the larger picture, however, power has shifted dramatically from the internal
executives of the organization to external sources: shareholders, investors and
customers. The rising importance of external stakeholders often leads to a great deal
more emphasis on communication related to strategic benefits and service processes.

Reading Assignment

Read Power, Dependence, and Effective Management, by John Kotter, reproduced

in the Reading File.

Questions for Thought

8. Describe a situation in which power and influence have played a major role in
shaping corporate communication priorities and messages in your organization.
Which of Kotters methods of influence were used in that situation?

9. Kotter identifies seven characteristics of managers who are successful at

acquiring power and using it effectively. What are these characteristics? Which
do you feel are most significant, and why?

Ubiquitous Computers
Corporate communication has been changed by an ongoing shift towards computers
as a basis for information development, exchange and broadcasting. Louis Fried
describes the change as follows:
We are also facing a major shift in the way people work and live with
computing and communications. Computing futurists have called this the
era of ubiquitous computing. Ubiquitous computing means . . . an
increasingly computer-literate society will expect computers to do what it
wants, the way it wants it done. And it means that users will increasingly
desire to create or tailor their own applications, often using objects created
by computer professionals. (1995, p. 8)

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 13

Richard Rosenberg (1992) notes that ubiquitous computers create significant
changes in the workplace. He particularly notes that information can flow directly
from top to bottom, without interventions by middle managers (p. 95). He suggests
that, much of middle managements function has been made redundant as a result of
information being made directly available to top managers (p. 95). He notes that
computers have, opened up new possibilities for cooperative work among
individuals, and concludes that, Significant changes are occurring in the
organizational structure of companies as a result of information technology
(pp. 96, 97).

Ubiquitous computers, linked to telecommunications, intranets and the Internet,

allow almost anyone to broadcast information. This situation challenges the
standards of communication professionals, and increases the competition for
attention. It also links communication to information systems in a very direct manner.
Fried refers to the importance of the information technology system when he
observes that, Information technology is so woven into the fabric of the firm that it
not only must be responsive to the strategic directions of the company but also must
be considered as an influence on those strategic decisions (1995, p. 111).

From Control to Service

Along with the changing emphasis within the communication portfolio, there has
been a significant change in the role of the communication unit. In the machine
organization, communication was often seen as a control point, and a significant
amount of energy was invested in controlling what information was released, how it
was stated, and who could have access to it.

Communication professionals were often called on to ensure that the flow of

messages was controlled and the content of the messages carefully shaped.
Executives in these organizations were prepared to spend significant amounts of time
(thirty to forty per cent of total time in some cases) reviewing and editing documents
to ensure that they were acceptable. There was a great investment in polishing
information before it was distributed. Polishing often took the form of a committee
review process (often editing and review time accounted for months of the
information process).

Information flow in the machine organization was often out of step with changing
perceptions and problems. It was not uncommon for a document that had taken years
to produce to be almost totally ignored on release and distribution. Tolerance of this
lack of synchrony and relevance was a signal that the organization did not view the
changing environment to be a critical factor in its success.

The machine organization commonly viewed communication as a one way

process. Hierarchies were established to encourage top-down information flow, and
to discourage lateral communication. Despite the emergence of the professional and
managerial middle in these organizations, the hierarchical and unidirectional
nature of communication remained.

G. Lumsden (1982) describes how middle managers model themselves on top

managers in a form of hierarchical mimicry:

14 Corporate Communication
what happens is that the behavior inheritance persists. As it is passed down
deeper in the organization, sans power, such behavior begins not to work so
well. And at lower levels it gets muddied even further because its being
used on individuals who dont understand it, arent impressed by it, or are
downright opposed to it. (p. 8)

In the adaptive organization, communication is seen as a service process; hence,

communication roles and characteristics are dramatically different from those in
the machine organization. Some characteristics of adaptive communication are
listed below.

Priority is related to the relevance of the project to customers and investors, not
to executive enthusiasm.

Development, review and editing time is minimized so that the communication

can be responsive to current expectations and perceptions.

Communication is a multi-directional process, with many senders and receivers

operating in synchrony, and an open flow within the organization.

Communication often flows beyond the organization to key stakeholders

(investors, customers, partners) who would formerly have been viewed as

The emerging emphasis in communication support is that the communication has to

be relevant, part of the organizations adaptive strategies, respectful of the needs and
perceptions of a wide range of stakeholders, timely, and responsive. Communicators
must help the organization achieve its strategic and service objectives, or risk being

The move towards an adaptive service process (along with rapidly changing
communication technologies) has also distributed communication roles and abilities
much more broadly throughout the organization. This development has meant that
the communication professional is much more likely to be valued for coordination,
facilitation and support than for direct expertise in language or communication

Questions for Thought

10. As stated above, computers in the workplace allow almost anyone to broadcast
information. What effect can this factor have on communication within an
organization? Draw from your own experiences or well-known media examples
to support your position.

11. Describe some ways that you would alter the communication function within an
organization with which you are familiar to make it more service-oriented and

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 15

Decentralized Communication
As corporate communication has changed to become part of the adaptive organization,
there has been a need to redefine the communication function as an integrated rather
than a specialized one. This change has challenged most organizations.

Corporate communicators are now challenged to respond to two somewhat opposite

concepts within the organization. On the one hand, executives feel that communication
must be linked to strategic direction, and that therefore the communication function
should be closely tied to the executive suite. On the other hand, communication must
be linked to the operations and service functions of the organization in order to be
effective and adaptive.

In general, the move towards adaptive organizations has led to a decentralization of

communication. Decentralization has meant that communication is seen as a less
specialized function, and that there is no longer a distinction between the line
manager and the communicator. This change has not only affected the role of those
who were formerly communication specialists, but has come as a surprise to line
managers, who went through a substantial part of their careers without direct
responsibility for communication.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 1Changing Concepts, Article #3 and Article #4.

Question for Thought

12. What are the advantages and disadvantages of decentralized communication

roles in the organization? Support your position with references to Article #3 and
Article #4.

16 Corporate Communication
Unit 2

Leadership is a reciprocal relationship between those who choose to lead

and those who decide to follow . . . . If there is no underlying need for the
relationship, then there is no need for leaders. (Kouzes & Posner, 1993, p. 1)

In this unit, we examine how the traditional view of organization changed in the
latter part of the twentieth century. In particular, we consider how communication
and leadership are inextricably bound, and how changing concepts of leadership have
affected and continue to affect corporate communication.

When you have completed Unit 2, you should be able to

1. define leadership and community in their own applied terms.

2. describe leadership behaviours that suit adaptive and machine models of


3. discuss communication as an act of leadership.

4. describe communication, problem solving and decision making in an adaptive


5. discuss how emerging information technologies are changing the requirements

of corporate communication.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 17

Changing Concepts of Leadership
One can lack any of the qualities of an organizerwith one exceptionand
still be effective and successful. That exception is the art of communication.
It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate
to your people. In that event you are not even a failure. Youre just not there.
(Alinsky, 1971, p. 81)

What is a leader? How do you define leadership? The question of what makes
a good leader has bedevilled Western society since the late Middle Ages. In the
many commentaries on leadership written between the 1500s and 1970, the most
common view presented is that a leader is someone who is influential and decisive.
Niccolo Machiavelli presented the archetype of this view in The Prince, written in
1513. Machiavelli implied that the leader has a brilliant sense of context and
direction, and a strong sense of strategy (to the point of being manipulative
we now use the adjective Machiavellian to mean brilliantly manipulative).
However, one must bear in mind that Machiavelli was fully aware that he had to
assemble a composite of several leaders to achieve the ideal he was describing.

The concept of the brilliant leader closely follows earlier beliefs about the divine
right of kings. This notion served the needs of the ruling class, and later, industrial
magnates, who needed the full belief and support of their followers. Divine leaders
were nearly always supported by force; often, they had absolute power of life and
death over their subjects.

Even in times when the idea of the divinely appointed leader prevailed, there was
often a contrary view, held by social activists, that a leader was actually empowered
by the followers, and that strategy was really a product of the followers needs,
not of the leaders single-minded brilliance. This view was concisely stated by
Thomas Paine in 1791, Titles are but nicknames . . . it is common opinion only
that makes them anything or nothing . . . . [A] body of men, holding themselves
accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by anybody (1944, pp. 59-60, 63).

A more satirical presentation of the contrary view of leadership is presented in the

nineteenth-century story by Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperors New
Clothes. The version quoted below was adapted by Virginia L. Burton in 1949.
The emperor felt very silly for he knew that the people were right but he
thought, The procession has started and it must go on now! So the Lords
of the Bedchamber held their heads higher than ever and took greater
trouble to pretend to hold up the train which wasnt there at all. (p. 42)

Our views of leadership changed greatly during the twentieth century. In the early
part of the century, it was widely held that leaders gained their skills through
inheritance. As the century progressed, the alternative view, that leadership is a
learned behaviour, became dominant. There was an emerging sense that leaders
could behave in ways that would motivate followers and ensure effective results.

During the latter part of the century, the role of the leader changed fundamentally in
industrialized nations. Changing conditionsmost notably the emergence of highly
educated masses with ready access to informationmade it difficult for a leader to

18 Corporate Communication
claim inherited brilliance. The emergence of an independent mass media created a
new challenge to the structures that had supported leadership in earlier times. As the
century progressed, public leaders found themselves under intense scrutiny that
exposed weaknesses that the public was reluctant to accept. At the same time,
concepts of democracy shifted towards the view that power and intelligence reside
with the masses, and that leaders must listen to, and gain information and support
from, followersthat leaders acquire power, influence and intelligence by listening
and to communicating with followers.

The new view of leadership has raised difficult questions for leadersnotably, how
to determine what is best when the followers have many conflicting interests; and
how to maintain credibility when it is widely known that leaders are not divinely
better than followers. Furthermore, citizensand employees in the corporate
modelhave not been as thrilled with the new structure as one might think: the
consultation process is time consuming and confidence in leaders has dropped. The
paradox of the egalitarian leadership model is one of the great organizational
challenges at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Contemporary views of leadership are wide and varied; they include feminine styles
of leadership, servant leadership and socially responsible styles of leadership, among
others. As such, this facet of organizational life is dynamic and typically changes to
reflect the various values and concerns of stakeholders in business communities. The
DRR articles on leadership reflect this diversity of theory and approach.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read at least two of the first six articles in Unit 2Leadership. All of
these articles address different leadership approaches.

Note: Take notes as you read; you may wish to use the table on the following page to
guide your note-taking.

Questions for Thought

1. Describe a famous Machiavellian leader with whom you are familiar. Why is
this leader described as such? Consider his or her actions, personality and
reputation, among other factors.

2. Compare the leaders, or styles, or both, of two leadership examples featured in

Articles #1-#6. Use direct quotes, or paraphrases, or both, as you deem

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 19

Aspect of Leadership Leader / Approach 1 Leader / Approach 2

Beliefs and values



Accountability and

Policies and Priorities




20 Corporate Communication
The Work of a Leader
The historical shift in the perceived source of powerfrom God and genes to
peoplehas led to considerable confusion about what leaders are now supposed to
do. Modern leaders must consult a wide range of people, each of whom has some
stake in decisions. Then, they must implement decisions in a way that will achieve
effective results. This shift requires leaders to use skills that were not as necessary in
earlier times.

The Relationship of Followers to Leadership

In the latter part of the twentieth century, the rising importance of the customer, the
investor and the public affected not only our view of leadership, but also our
perception of the role of the followers. In the hierarchical (machine) organization,
employees were commonly referred to as subordinates, and were expected to
follow the directives of their superiors. This relationship simplified the role of the
follower to one of passive reaction; however, it also made the organization vulnerable
to internal resistance, and often led to a rigidity that harmed the adaptability of the
organization (see Unit 1).

Similarly, the machine organization rarely included the customer in the decision
process, and often provided products or services with the assumption that customers
would be pleased with whatever was available. If you examine approaches to
banking, for instance, you will note that, during the 1960s and 1970s, customers were
generally told what to do by the banks, and often had to line up for services and
accept whatever they got. By contrast, since the 1990s, banks have invested heavily
in services that are supposed to maximize convenience and attractiveness to the
customer, although many customers might take issue with being forced to receive
service from a banking machine (see Unit 7 for a discussion of customer service).

These changes suggest that we have reduced the distinction between leaders and
followers. Increasingly, we see that attempts to isolate a chief executive or a group
of senior executives as the leaders in an organization are unworkable. Instead, as
De Pree notes, leaders are embedded in the organization. His model is not consistent
with words such as superiors, subordinates, insiders and executive suite.
Emerging language about teams, associates, families, communities and
constituents represents contemporary efforts to envision the corporation as a
shared place rather than a ruled place.

In this course, we employ the word community to refer to people who share
common values and beliefs, or share a common situation (the definition is taken
from Collins Dictionary). While we have come to use the word community to
mean municipality or neighbourhood, it has a larger meaning that we will use here.
The concept of community is important to the adaptive organization because it
describes the interdependencies and variations that typify an organization. In
leadership and in communication, it is much easier to describe and respond to the
needs of communities than to respond to a multitude of individuals. Typically, an
organization will have a direct relationship with a number of communities, both
inside and outside.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 21

Another word that has emerged with this change is stakeholder. This term is used
to describe the many people who have a shared stake in the outcome of the major
decisions and actions taken by an organization. We can therefore talk about
stakeholder communities as the communities of interest that interact within the scope
of the organizations work.

Using the adaptive model, it is no longer desirable to isolate the organization from the
communities it serves. The sense of shared relationship often flows beyond the
walls of the organization, and many outsiders have a significant impact on the
outcomes the organization seeks.

As the hierarchical connotations of leader have declined, we have become more

aware that leadership can be vested anywhere in an organization or its stakeholder
communities. For example, imagine the organizers of a leaders conference deciding
that they needed to involve key influencers to gain their commitment to the major
changes that were being initiated. When the organizers discussed whom to invite, the
conversation might go as follows:
Who would we invite from (x organization)?
Not the President.
No, hes not going to be the key influencer.
Probably (y name), hes a real mover and shaker over there . . . .

You have probably experienced this kind of discussion. The hierarchy may not tell
you who the real leaders are.

There are many attempts to define leadership these days. Most people writing in the
field accept that leaders

have demonstrated their ability to influence others.

communicate well.

are respected decision makers.

are committed to achieving an outcome.

These characteristics can be vested with anyone in an adaptive organization. In

addition, organizations that value adaptation rely on leaders within all of the
stakeholder communities. This local leadership is important in the development
of service and quality initiatives. Local leadership is also considered an important
factor in effecting change in organizations.

In The Leader in You (1993), S. Levine and M. Crom describe an example of the
kinds of leadership changes that one adaptive organization valued:
Good human-relations skills have the ability to change people from
managing others to leading others, says John Rampey, director of
management development at Milliken and Company, a leading textile
manufacturer. People can learn to move from directing to guiding, from
competing to collaborating, from operating under a system of veiled secrecy

22 Corporate Communication
to one of sharing information as its needed, from a mode of passivity to a
mode of risk taking, from one of viewing people as an expense to one of
viewing people as an asset. (p. 15)

Levine and Croms book is an overview of valued leadership behaviours, which are
summarized in the list below.

building communication on trusting relationships

expressing genuine interest in people

seeing things from the other persons point of view

listening so that you can learn (no one is more persuasive than a good listener)

being a team player

respecting the dignity of others

recognizing and praising others for their contributions

setting goals and remaining focused on the outcomes

maintaining your enthusiasm

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 2Leadership, Article #7.

Question for Thought

3. Explain at least three differences between managers and leaders, based on

Article #7.

4. In your own organizational experience, are managers always leaders? Are

leaders always managers?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 23

Information Technologies
The revolution in communication technology in the last fifty years has made
information quickly available to many people. This dramatic change has
overwhelmed government and industry alike, and has altered our sense of leadership,
competition and value. Furthermore, it continues as people with Internet connections
gain access to information instantly around the world. The availability of information
has had a significant impact on the need for adaptive approaches in organizations.

Information Overload
In the information age, there can be too much exposure and too much
information and too much sort of quasi-information. (Bill Clinton, quoted in
Shenk, 1997, p. 17)

The amount of data that flows through a typical organization in a day is enormous.
People in the organization can become overwhelmed and unable to determine which
information is critical. Or they can become weary of reviewing the huge amount of

David Shenk describes this problem at length in his book, Data Smog: Surviving
the Information Glut (1997). He begins with a simple statement: Information, once
rare and cherished like caviar, is now plentiful and taken for granted like potatoes
(p. 27).

He observes that, at the end of World War II, We began to produce information much
faster than we could process it, and he believes that computers, microwave
transmissions, television and satellites have surged ahead of human processing
ability. . . . [W]e have vaulted from a state of information scarcity to one of
information surplus . . . in the geological blink of an eye (p. 28).

Increasingly, communicators hear that they have not made enough effort to make the
key information available. Common stakeholder complaints include: I didnt even
see it, or I couldnt find it. The communicator may be astounded that information
sent directly to stakeholders did not reach them. However, in the age of information
overload, people make quick decisions about what is relevant. Humans survive in an
information-rich environment by forgetting information deemed irrelevant, so they
can concentrate on information that is relevant.

Types of communication that would have been effective in the 1970s may now go
almost unnoticed. The communicator must always be concerned about the perceived
relevance and credibility of the information provided. Ideas are more commonly
reduced to the thirty-second sound bite, a term derived from the length of news
items and film clips on television newscasts. An information-rich environment
requires that communicators focus on being succinct and on targeting their audience.
We identify three favourite strategies below.

One method of overcoming the vagaries of an information-rich environment is

to move people to an information-poor environment so that they can concentrate

24 Corporate Communication
on specific information. This approach is often called the retreat. It has the
advantage of allowing participants to focus on building relationships to a greater
extent than might be possible in the office. Unfortunately, many participants will
bring their information-rich environment with them, in the form of cellular
phones, portable computers with modems, and extensive project files. It is
difficult to enforce limits on information sources when constant access has
become the norm.

Another method of communicating effectively in an information-rich

environment is to target receivers and applications. The communicator should
have an intimate knowledge of the communities involved in the communication
process and be able to identify both the individuals who truly need the
information and the type of information that they actually require.

The likelihood that information distributed only once will be noticed and
recalled by all who receive it is relatively low. Knowing this, corporate
communicators reinforce the information through repetition. Repetition can
greatly increase the likelihood of recall, but it also increases the amount of
information that must be reviewed. Obviously, there must be greater selectivity
about which information merits repetition, or this technique ultimately will
become counter-productive.

Problem Solving and Teams

Working in a complex information environment, many organizations have tried to
improve processes used to identify and solve problems quickly. Where problems are
complex, this effort has led to increased use of teams. The trend suggests three
important areas of skill for the communication professional: teamwork, problem
solving and creativity.

The subject of teamwork is often discussed in organizations, and with good

reason. Nearly everyone believes that teamwork is essential to the success of the
organization. Unfortunately, the practice of teamwork has lagged behind the talk.
Ongoing hierarchical habits and reward systems have hampered the effective
formation of teams. However, the effort to create effective teams remains an essential
part of the adaptive trend.

Communication professionals require skills in team development and team

participation. Communicators must be willing to work with people in a manner
that reflects trust, recognizes everyones responsibility and values everyones
contribution. Not surprisingly, peoples strengths in hierarchical organizations can
become their weaknesses in teams: it has been difficult, for instance, for managers to
abandon control and approval behaviours to gain increased team effectiveness and
trust. Levine and Crom (1993) recommend that each team participant endeavour to
create a shared sense of purpose, establish shared team goals, treat people as
individuals, make each member responsible for the team product, take every
opportunity to build confidence on the team, and be a mentor (see pp. 103-109).

The growth of teams has meant that the communicator must pay more attention to the
connections among teams. The need for effective communication links among teams

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 25

is often overlooked, and the subsequent lack of information sharing and understanding
can limit team effectiveness; thus, the need for the communicator to act as a connector.

The art of problem solving is not foreign to anyone. We all learn to solve problems
early in life. However, problem solving in an organizational context requires
additional skills that may not have been learned. The main impediments to problem
solving in organizations are a belief that bringing attention to problems could harm
the organization; an inability to frame the problem in a way that helps create
solutions; and difficulties with group process.

Ernie Zelinski (1994) suggests that problems are good for an organization. In Boy
Are You Lucky, You Have Problems, a chapter of The Joy of Not Knowing It All, he
notes that
Individuals and corporations will not only survive, but flourish in todays
rapidly changing world if they are good problem solvers. Good problem
solvers are those who welcome problems and are challenged by them.
(p. 111)

However, some organizations retain the view that problems are a bad thing: having a
problem means that someone will be accusedand punished. [Culturally, this view
may be valid. For centuries, the punishment for being associated with certain
problems, such as bringing the news of a military defeat, was severe, if not terminal.]
Since the 1980s, most organizations have been trying to find ways to encourage an
acceptance of problems as the basis for breakthroughs and sustained effectiveness.
More dramatically, organizations are seeking ways to redesign processes to create
new value and advantage.

Many organizations have discovered that their ability to solve problems has not only
led to new value in their services, but also to a new product: they are now able to sell
their problem-solving skills and experience. For example, General Electric, one of
the worlds largest and most successful organizations, is now selling its ability to
solve the problems that it overcame in becoming a successful adaptive organization.

The easiest time to incorporate expectations is at the outset of a project or the

initiation of a service: if the expectations are clearly defined, then problems should
be detected easily and early. However, in the adaptive organization, the defining
expectations are often outside the organizationamong other stakeholdersand
may not have been incorporated into the original concept.

Communicators must learn community and corporate expectations and how current
service varies from those expectations, before acting on a perceived problem.
Identifying ways in which service can be changed to meet expectations is the key
to problem solving. Often service providers see the expectations as unreasonable.
The adaptive concept suggests that corporations will welcome unreasonable
expectations and closely examine the possibilities they present.

Innovation and creativity are historically honoured values in organizations.

However, the efforts must be made to ensure that creativity is actively supported.
These efforts were the key to success in the corporate climate at the close of the
century. The rules that dominated organizational behaviour in the 1970s encouraged

26 Corporate Communication
orderly conduct, but led to concerns that any efforts to do things differently would
not be tolerated.

One challenge of adaptive organizations is to broaden responsibility for creativity.

Adaptive theory suggests that everyone in the organization can improve what the
organization does. Machine organizations are more likely to consider creativity to
be a responsibility of specialists and declared leaders. Communicators can help
organizations integrate creativity by focusing on the identification of multiple
solutions, while resisting the impulse to defend a single solution as the only
appropriate way to accomplish results.

Emotional Intelligence
Although recently popularized in the business world for its holistic approach to
leadership, strategy and problem solving, the concept of emotional intelligence is
not entirely new. As Paul Wieand (2002) states,
During the past two decades, no psychological concept has had a greater
influence on leadership development than emotional intelligence. On the
other hand, no other concept in the past 20 years is so tied to ancient
wisdom: 2,000 years ago Socrates declared that the attainment of
self-knowledge is humanitys greatest challenge; Aristotle added that this
challenge was about managing our emotional life with intelligence. (p. 32)

Emotional intelligence, as an organizational and leadership philosophy, embraces

soft skills and people-friendly policies. This approach is highly compatible with
progressive human resource management and adaptive organizational models.
As the emotional intelligence approach deliberately allows for some subjective
and circumstantial interpretation, it is a challenge to define. Martin Dodds, however,
defines some of the characteristics of emotional intelligence in the following points.
Self-awareness: Only when somebody is aware of their strengths and
weaknesses can they maximize their potential.
Self-regulation: In a constantly changing business world, the ability to
control your emotions is paramount. Panic and anger are
understandable, but rarely produce good working relationships.
Empathy: The successful manager is the one who convinces people that
they are important, and is aware of the changing moods and emotions
of their people.
Social skills: First impressions are very powerful and can be difficult to
change. The first handshake or greeting and initial facial expressions
form the basis of our opinion, and begin to develop the reputation we
have within an organisation. (quoted in Beagrie, 2004, p. 29).

Emotional intelligence, as an organizational value and as a leadership approach, is far

more likely to be embraced by an adaptive and learning organization. The adaptive
organization, like the concept of emotional intelligence, places emphasis on social
capital, or people and relationships; in contrast, the machine model places emphasis
on physical capital such as infrastructure, tangible assets and products.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 27

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 2Leadership, Article #8.

Questions for Thought

5. Are there currently programs in place in your own organization to encourage

creativity? If so, are they effective? Why or why not?

6. Explain a personal experience in which you used emotional intelligence. Could

you have handled the situation differently? How?

7. Using the Internet, library, and other sources, research the work of Harvard
psychologist Howard Gardner. What is his relevance to the concept of emotional

28 Corporate Communication
Alliances and Coalitions
In the Industrial Era, assumptions based on the machine model led most organizations
to develop internal capacity and scope rather than engaging in external partnerships.
This response made sense given the core requirement to control all aspects of
production, and the belief that the market was a stable place.

However, as the Information Era has emerged, the perceived desirability of self-
reliance has faded, and a preference for working with contractors, partnerships and
alliances has grown. Several key characteristics of the marketplace have driven this

organizations have thrived when they keep their internal focus on core
competencies (and rely on other suppliers to provide products and services as

technologies and market opportunities have changed so quickly that it has been
very difficult for a single organization to retain leadership in all of the services it

the cost and risk of developing future opportunities has not been manageable by
a single organization, and is better shared.

success increasingly requires cooperative relationships among private, nonprofit

and government agencies.

G. Hamel and C. K. Prahalad (1994) refer to this growing need for coalitions:
Many of tomorrows most intriguing opportunities . . . will require the
integration of skills and capabilities residing in a wide variety of companies.
Competition for the future often takes place between coalitions as well as
between individual firms. Sometimes these coalitions are cemented by
substantial share holdings. . . . Sometimes they involve the creation of a new
joint venture company. . . . And some coalitions simply involve close,
collaborative development work. . . .
Coalitions may be required for several reasons, the most obvious being the
fact that no one firm possesses all the requisite resources to bring the new
product or service to fruition. Nestl and Coca-Cola are collaborating to
distribute hot, canned drinks through vending machines. . . . This alliance
combines Nestls strength in soluble coffee and tea with Coca-Colas
powerful international distribution and vending machine network. (p. 187)

The emergence of alliances has also been noticeable in government. Increasingly,

environmental, health, education and transportation requirements are addressed
through coalitions of governmental, nongovernmental and private-sector agencies.
For example, better control of toxic substances has been achieved through federal
government coordination, provincial government evaluation, industry association
monitoring and education programs, and private company investment, measuring
and emission reporting.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 29

These kinds of coalitions require that information and communication flow across
agency boundaries with few constraints. The coordination of these efforts is a
requirement for their success.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 2Leadership, Article #9.

Questions for Thought

8. Do you think that there is one best structure that is appropriate for every
organization? Why or why not?

9. Using the Internet, library and other sources, research organizational structures.
Define concepts such as networks, clusters and joint ventures. Does your own
organization use any of these alternative structures in its operations? How do
alternative structures affect leadership?

10. How do alliances and coalitions affect communication activities and priorities?

30 Corporate Communication
Communication Ethics
We have referred repeatedly to communication leaders. Leadership brings with it
great potential to influence both the results and the means used to achieve them. With
this potential comes a responsibility to act in accordance with societys values and
interests. This responsibility is guided by ethics: the standards of conduct of your

Cicero, the Roman political leader, established ethical requirements that guide us to
this day. In approximately 100 BC, he noted several ethical guidelines (which he
called virtues) in On Moral Obligation. They include honesty, the willingness to
keep faith and deal honourably; generosity; mercy; and liberality, the willingness to
give freedom of choice, rather than to enslave (Skinner, 1981, p. 36). The assumption
that Cicero embedded in his work was that it is always rational to be moral.

Sixteen centuries later, in 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli questioned Ciceros assumption

in The Prince. Machiavellis view of rationality is that a leader should not be limited
by conventional morality. He had observed that leaders were often successful when
they were not so limited. This observation implies that a leader has the power to do
wrong, and must assess the situation to determine whether actions that are contrary
to truth, charity, humanity or religion are required. Machiavellis views have fuelled
debate ever since their publication, because they accept the premise that leaders
sometimes use means that are considered immoral to achieve their ends.

In modern times, Machiavellis theory of leadership has been reduced to the end
justifies the means, but this maxim does not fully capture what he was saying. It
would be more accurate to say that Machiavelli felt that leaders must respond to their
current situation, and that rigid moral guidelines do not serve them as well as does
reflection on the requirements of the moment.

Rules vs. Ethics

It is possible to claim that, if rules are absolute, the professional ethics of the
individual worker are unimportant.

Corporate behaviour can be guided almost entirely by rules. However, it is extremely

difficult to create a set of rules that is sufficiently broad to cover all situations.
Organizations that have tried this approach have found that there are very quickly too
many rules to remember, and that the cost of monitoring ethical practice is onerous.

Liberality was one of the attributes of leadership that Machiavelli most valued in his
later career. He proposed that leaders would be most successful when they supported
the freedom of their subjects to make decisions within their culture. Ironically,
however, this is the very situation in which ethics become most important. Where
delegation and creativity are practised and valued, ethical guidelines become
increasingly necessary.

Many philosophers have pondered the relationship of ethics and the public sphere.
Immanuel Kant addressed the need for ethical guidelines in 1785, noting that nothing
in the world can be seen as good without qualification (e.g., love can lead to revenge,

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 31

money to greed). His conclusion was that good will is therefore absolutely necessary.
For Kant, good will means that a person performs an action because it is intrinsically
right, and not because of some personal advantage the action will bring. Furthermore,
good will implies that one never uses another person for ones own advantage, but
instead recognizes other people as valuable in themselves (see Plamondon, 1997).

In 1861, John Stuart Mill promoted an ethical approach called utilitarianism in his
treatise Considerations on Representative Government. His theory was that each
person has a responsibility to do what creates the most happiness, and the least pain,
for all concerned (including the agent). The moral agent should regard his or her
happiness as equivalent to the happiness of anyone else. In essence, Mill supported a
situational consideration of ethics that had superficial similarities to the ethics
described by Machiavelli 350 years earlier, but that defined the measure of glory (or
success) differently: while Machiavelli felt that the leader could define success, Mill
felt that everyone involved must share happiness.

All writers on ethics have had to consider the fact that the need for ethics is
incrementally linked to increases in personal freedom. Society considers it desirable
that people be empowered, but such empowerment creates a new ethical climate.

Some studies on workplace ethics indicate that workplaces which have written
ethical guidelines often also have an unspoken code that may contradict the written
one. In such circumstances, people encounter situations and practices in the
workplace that conflict with their personal ethics. Many people are coerced or subtly
pressured into behaviour they do not consider ethical (Sims, 1992).

Currently, the most important aspect of ethics in communication and leadership

is said to be the establishment of ethical principles that will provide guidance
(signposts) for judgement in times of stress. Although many organizations do
not have ethical guidelines for corporate communication, such guidelines are
often imbedded in contracts, work agreements or union master agreements.
Communicators who join professional associations will usually find that ethical
guidelines are provided in the obligations of membership.

In other words, models for the creation of ethical guidelines for corporate
communications may be found in those areas of the workplace where individual
responsibility to the maintenance of the whole is recognized and valued.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 2Leadership, Article #10.

Questions for Thought

11. Should ethics be a rigid moral code, or should ethics provide guidelines that
communicators can interpret within their actual situation? What are the
implications of taking either stand?

32 Corporate Communication
12. Give an example of an ethical principle that is, or could be, a practical guideline
for a place where you have worked.

13. Must one be the prime actor to be unethical, or do observers of unethical

behaviour act unethically if they do not challenge the behaviour?

14. Consider the content of Article #10 and recent media examples of ethical or
unethical corporate communication. In your estimation, do ethical
communicators finish first?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 33

34 Corporate Communication
Unit 3
Public Consultation

Consultation is merely one part of the decision process, but its importance has grown
as power has shifted to consumers and investors. Under certain circumstances,
governments and corporations will make efforts to consult with the public at some
point in a decision-making process, especially if the decision may be contentious or
directly affect the lives of many people.

A 1994 public consultation manual produced by the Canadian Association of

Petroleum Producers (CAPP) notes the growth in consultation in the petroleum
industry at that time:
The 1970s have been described as the decade of citizen awakening. Terms
like participatory democracy, citizen participation, [and] public
involvement became part of the planning process of all businesses
including crude oil and natural gas. . . . This trend . . . continued to accelerate
in the early 1990s. An expectation of consistent consultation existed with
Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations and community-based
citizen groups. Regulatory agencies no longer considered consultation
optionalit became entrenched in legislation and specified in regulations.
Many industries and industry associations . . . were committed to
consultation in policy statements and codes of practice. (CAPP, 1994)

The public consultation process above stemmed from citizen movements, the
growing environmental movement, and finally from prescriptive regulation
(particularly in relation to environmental protection). James L. Creighton describes
the growth as follows: public participation in the 60s was urban, with the key issues
being race and poverty. In the 70s, the action moved to environmental issues (1995,
p. 7). Creighton writes that in the United States, consultation efforts diminished
under the Reagan administration, while in Canada, consultation efforts continued to
grow during that period.

Barry Sadler (1995) notes that in Australia, public consultation began to grow in the
1970s, with the requirement for environmental impact statements, and that in the
1990s, the growth of public consultation was stimulated by management cultures
which emphasize internal and customer involvement (p. 37).

Frank Tester (1992) describes a continuous development of citizen participation in

Canada since 1915 and the extension of suffrage. He observes that, in the 1970s and
Under citizen pressure, governments have moved slowly to allow
increasingly direct citizen involvement in a variety of areas, including
environmental policy and regulation. However this involvement has been
circumscribed by the exigencies of an economy organized and managed
with capital accumulation as its essential raison dtre. (p. 38)

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 35

Desmond Connor suggests that the growth of public participation in Canada has been
ongoing since the 1930s and that in the 90s . . . the number and nature of groups
wanting access to public issues planning and decision making is exploding.
According to Connor, some public opinion polls show that Canadians, however,
are becoming disillusioned about participation (1996, pp. 31-50).

Many organizations now place a high value on ongoing relationships with the
communities that affect them most, and have developed both formal and informal
methods to contact, consult and involve people from those communities on a
regular basis.

When you have completed Unit 3, you should be able to

1. discuss positive and negative aspects of public consultation.

2. discuss issues, requirements and processes for an effective consultation.

3. demonstrate your ability to coordinate consultations.

4. describe the most common problems that emerge in stakeholder consultation,

and suggest ways to minimize or correct these problems.

36 Corporate Communication
Is Public Consultation a Benefit or a Detriment?
Consultation is valued because it has potential to increase the effectiveness of
organizations. It also has value in reducing the likelihood of making investments or
changes that will either be unsupported in the long run, or directly deleterious to
environment or health. However, some observers note that the opposite may also be
true: public consultation may be an expensive diversion that keeps organizations from
committing to any action; it may also expose the organization to hazards created by
external stakeholders who wish to influence the work of the organization.

Obviously, the leadership and practice of public consultation can greatly affect
support for the process and confidence in the results. While many organizations
have professed their commitment to consultation, others avoid consultation wherever
possible. Often, individual project managers will avoid consultation because they do
not want to be exposed to, or risk, potential criticism and conflict.

William Renfro (1993) declares that consultation may be unavoidable:

This is not a benign internal participation of employees throughout the
organization under the guidance of an enlightened senior management, but a
confrontational demand by those outside the organization who inject their
participation into its most private, traditionally internal decisions. (p. 25)

There are many critics of the public consultation process. Benjamin Ginsberg wrote
a major thesis against public opinion measurement in 1986. In The Captive Public:
How Mass Opinion Promotes State Power, he argues that public consultation may
just be a means of building a constituency for services.
As they began to respond to citizen opinion, governments in effect created a
mass market for their services . . . governments have learned to expand their
power by actually stimulating citizen demand for their services. (p. 30)

Jane Aronson (1993) concurs, stating that participatory processes fall far short of
their promise to give people a say and some control over policies and practices that
affect their lives (p. 368).

When Jean Chretien was elected as Prime Minister of Canada in 1993, he committed
his government to public consultation, as documented in the news media: The
Liberals, it seems, are going to go out of their way to let the public have its say on
major issues (S. Durkan, Ottawa Sun, February 3, 1994). At last count, seven
ministers in Jean Chretiens cabinet had announced plans to consult Canadians
before making major policy decisions (C. Goar, Vancouver Sun, February 11, 1994,
p. A19). However, the same media reported skepticism about these consultative
approaches: The problem with front-end consultations is that they can be
manipulated in pretty much the same way as opinion polls can be manipulatedto
give you the results you want (Durkan). If participatory democracy is to work,
politicians are going to have to find better ways of reaching out to voters (Goar).

Reports of excellent results from consultations are harder to find, perhaps because
few organizations document or feel a need to make a further evaluation of successful
consultations. However, the example below is offered as evidence that there are
successful consultation processes.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 37

Interaction with residents . . . resulted in a far different outcome. . . . Saved
were over $250,000 in construction-related costs. Avoided were the long
delays and six-figure expense of a State Environmental Quality Review.
(Niagara Mohawk, 1994)

William Renfro notes that corporations, as well as governments, must follow and
anticipate the will of the people (1993, p. 27). Renfro says that public issues are
forcing these institutions to become as responsive asand in many ways, far more
responsive than . . . their federal, state and local governing bodies (p. 27).

Questions for Thought

1. When the potential of consultation is fulfilled, what benefits would you expect
an organization to gain?

2. What concerns would you expect an executive to have about hosting a public
consultation program? What concerns would you have?

38 Corporate Communication
The Goal Is Good Decisions
In 1991, in a speech to the graduating class at the University of Western Ontario,
Arthur Kroeger (then Deputy Minister of Employment and Immigration Canada)
noted that
One reason why people have become so much more critical . . . is the
coming of the Information Age. It has fundamentally changed the way
people regard organizations and the way they respond to authority. . . .
Decision making proceeds not by recommendations up, orders down, but
by development of a shared sense of direction among those who must form
the parade, if there is going to be a parade.

McMillan and Murgatroyd (1994) argue that consultation is a rational investment

because of its potential to improve decisions (p. 57). They go on to list several
critical requirements for the successful integration of public consultation with the
decision process (p. 60).
There must be a planned decision process. Someone must be
responsible for managing the process. . . .
The participants must agree about what is to be achieved, and what the
limitations are, before they discuss how to achieve these outcomes. . . .
Agreement should be built at each step. People must make priority
choices for criteria as well as options.
People need to compare the performance of options in order to
determine the best one. (McMillan & Murgatroyd, 1994, p. 60)

The Structure of a Decision

Although effective decisions are critical to most organizations, there is a common
tendency to overlook the nature of decision making and the structure of decisions
within organizations. Projects are often initiated without regard to an attendant
decision process that must also be managed. Decisions seem to appear out of
nowhere, and stack up at the door of the team leader, project manager or executive.

Decisions are, very simply, choices. Decisions are made when someone selects the best
option for action. A model for decision making is illustrated in Figure 3.1, below.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 39

Figure 3.1: Decision model

In this model, decisions are portrayed as logical processes (i.e., one step follows
another in sequence). Not surprisingly, it is important that the need for a decision, and
the purpose of the decision (Stage 1) are clearly communicated to everyone at the
outset. In Stage 2, however, the development of intentions and options may be

Consultation does not end with options. Stage 3 of the decision process also requires
input from people, and offers an important opportunity for affected communities to
express any concerns with the preferred option. If the preferred option is to proceed,
there should be contingency responses to any concerns raised by affected
communities, or at least, clearly expressed reasons why the chosen option is
preferable to any other reasonable option.

Consulting with Stakeholder Communities

The concept of public consultation has led to the need for new terms for the people
who are affected and involved. The term currently in use is stakeholder. This word,
which had an entirely different meaning in dictionaries published before 1990, was
described by one senior government wag in 1994 as the most over-used word in

In 1996, the Canadian Standards Association produced a manual and software

program titled A Guide to Public Involvement, which states that public involvement
is a process that gives those who have a stake in the outcome . . . a chance to
influence [a decision] before it is made (p. 3). The authors also state that You can
identify stakeholders by the impact your project has on them, their interest in the

40 Corporate Communication
outcome, their sector, and/or their geographical location (p. 33). They note that
stakeholder perceptions can be influenced by proximity, economics, changes to
traditional or habitual activities, mandate and values.

Stakeholder communities are not static: they change in relation to the decisions that
are being made. For example, discussions of whether protected areas should be
maintained as wildlife habitat in a forested area might elicit a parallel response from
hunters and birdwatchers (who might be grouped as the outdoor recreation
community). However, decisions about hunting guidelines within the protected
areas might see a strong divergence between hunters (consumptive users) and
birdwatchers (nonconsumptive users).

Drucker (1994) notes that the old communitiesfamily, village, parish, and so
onhave all but disappeared in the knowledge society. . . very few [social tasks]
are being done by the old communities any more (p. 72). The disappearance of
traditional communities makes public consultation more challenging.

In the health sector, health management organizations have found that they must
define the communities with which they want to communicate. In 1994, the
American Health Association recommended that providers define their own
communities. Whatever the community is, it must tie the institution in to individuals
and organizations that can help shape the direction of health services to meet peoples
needs (p. 7).

Reading Assignment

Read Chapter 1, Leadership and Public Consultation, by Bill McMillan and

Stephen Murgatroyd, reproduced in the Reading File.

Questions for Thought

3. McMillan and Murgatroyd describe four types of relationships with stakeholder

communities. How are these relationships relevant to the organizations
consultation process? Can you think of other relationships? What are they?

4. McMillan and Murgatroyd also describe six levels of decision. What are the
advantages and risks of involving external stakeholders in decisions about the
goals and objectives of the organization?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 41

Profiling the Communities and the Situation
Both the Canadian Standards Association and McMillan and Murgatroyd emphasize
the need to profile stakeholder communities early in the process. Profiling requires
direct contact with community representatives early in the process to learn more
about their perceptions of themselves, the issues and the consultation process.

Project managers have a concern that early contact with stakeholder communities
will raise expectations and create alarm. This concern assumes that information is
secret until it is formally announced. The assumption of secrecy is rarely realistic
in adaptive organizations.

Desmond Connor (1997) refers to the development of a social profile early in the
consultation process. He notes that
The social profile is a comprehensive summary of the key characteristics of
the people of a community or study area. Its purpose is to orient planners,
engineers and administrators to the social and cultural realities which they
need to understand and take into account if a project, program or policy is to
be accepted. (p. 9)

People contacted during the profile exercise usually aid the consultation process by
creating interest in it. As well, the information gained provides a strong basis for the
public consultation plan, and gives significant insight into the nature of the
discussion that is to come.

Interest Groups
Ian Montgomerie notes that
Rather than a single consistent understanding of who constitutes the public,
there are many. Generally in the literature four broad conceptions of the
public emerge: the public as interest groups, the public as consumers, the
public as clients, and the public as constituents. (1994, p. 66)

Montgomerie goes on to discuss the role of interest groups in public consultation.

He argues that administrators must often accommodate the various demands of
competing groups, and that the penetration of interest groups so deeply into the
policy process creates contradictory stresses on administrators (1994, pp. 66-67).
Montgomerie cites a variety of authors with wide ranging views about whether
interest groups are a detriment to the consultation process (because of their high
degree of specialization, organization and access to the decision makers), and about
whether interest groups interfere with the process of public consultation (because
they are too influential and distort the administrators perception of broad public
needs and preferences).

42 Corporate Communication
William Renfro contends that
No sooner is an issue defined than a group is formed to advocate a particular
resolution. . . . Some groups stumble into being from grassroots incidents,
while others are carefully created with ample resources to define and market
an issue. (1993, p. 35)

Jonathan Rauch (1994) regards the role of interest groups in the consultation process
with disdain. Rauch calls interest groups a parasite economy (p. 64) and notes that
one of the nastiest surprises is that the rise of government activism [by interest
groups] has immobilized activist government (p. 149). W. T. Stanbury (1993) notes
that public interest groups who claim to speak for the poor or the disadvantaged
deserve skepticism, and contends that all interest groups actually operate in their own
self-interest, no matter how noble their cause may appear.

Nevertheless, interest groups balance the self-interest of the corporate sector, and
often, the ideological self-interest of some governments. Indeed, as government
abandons its role in preserving and protecting the public good in favour of
encouraging private interests, the role of the interest group has necessarily changed.
Now, more than ever, it is vital for interest groups to speak up for their constituencies.

The communicator can therefore expect that interest groups will take a large role in
public consultation. Their presence completes the circle of private and public
interests at the consultation table. In fact, so experienced and adept have such groups
become over the last few years, that the communicator will find that their
representatives are often more experienced in public consultation than is the
communicator himself or herself.

Questions for Thought

5. What would you want to know about any interest group involved in your
consultation process?

6. What factors should be considered as part of a decision about the role that
interest groups will play in the consultation process?

7. Can interest groups play a positive role in achieving desired changes? Explain.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 43

The Role of the Corporate Communicator
At the time this course was prepared, there were no available manuals on how to
integrate corporate communication into public consultation efforts. This lack may be
for good reason, since a random sampling of six organizations suggests that each one
defines the role of the communicator differently.

Questions for Thought

8. Review the following potential communication roles for public consultation

exercises. Identify which roles you feel are most appropriate and define what the
communicator should be doing.

a. coordination

b. guidelines for community relations

c. writing or production of presentation materials

d. training

e. quality control

f. executive involvement

g. media relations

9. Identify other roles you feel are necessary, and the specific tasks you think they
should involve.

A Larger View of Public Consultation

It may be natural to view public consultation as a one time event that must occur
when a situation makes it necessary. However, several authors have suggested that
this one off approach is detrimental to corporate-community relations. These
authors have proposed a larger and more consistent approach to consultation.

Desmond Connor (1996) observes that government and corporations often try the
traditional Decide-Announce-Defend approach, and discover that it is no longer
effective. Instead, he writes, they need to examine how participation fits into the
organizational environment and develop a systematic policy, guidelines and revised
job descriptions appropriate for their organizational culture (p. 9).

The Niagara Process was developed as a framework for response for use by
corporations, government and interest groups to deal with difficult national issues

44 Corporate Communication
surrounding hazardous chemicals in the environment. We quote a few tenets of the
process here, because they specifically point out the need for a larger view of
Consultation may be initiated by any stakeholder or group of
stakeholders, and need not necessarily be initiated by governments. . . .
Consultation should, as a general rule, take place under the auspices of
an independent facilitator who does not represent major stakeholder
interests and is perceived by all as a neutral party. . . .
The consultation process should be viewed as ongoing . . . .
The process must encourage building trust among stakeholders,
including clarifying values, building a common data base that various
stakeholders agree is accurate, developing norms for cooperation, and
applying these to specific problems. (Whitby, 1996, pp. 28-29)

Note that public consultation processes are most often used for decision making about
and researching issues of the environment, public policy and land development, as
these issues are crucial to their stakeholders. The following articles illustrate these
processes in action in such contexts.

In 2006, the full potential of public consultation had not yet been realized on a grand
scale. The widespread adoption of such democratic and inclusive processes in the
business community would be indicative of a society espousing adaptive
organizational principles. The rise of arguably democratizing media, such as the
Internet, increasing globalization and media awareness, and a greater demand for
organizational accountability may lead to the expansion of public consultation
further into the private sector.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 3Public Consultation, Articles #1, #2 and #3.

Questions for Thought

10. In the articles above, how do the public consultation processes differ from the
approach to decision-making processes and stakeholder relationships described
by McMillan and Murgatroyd (1994)?

11. In your estimation, has public consultation realized its full potential in the form
of public policy, and environmental and land planning efforts?

12. Do you think that the private sector will adopt public consultation programs on a
wide and public scale? Why or why not?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 45

46 Corporate Communication
Unit 4
Issue Management

Those who define the issue win the debate. (Renfro, 1993, p. 40)

In this unit, we examine the nature of issue and crisis management within
organizations. In particular, we consider how such challenges can be dealt with
through internal communications, situation identification and analysis, and
pre-emptive strategy.

When you have completed Unit 4, you should be able to

1. describe the significance of perception to issue and crisis management from a

systems perspective.

2. define, and differentiate between, issue management and crisis


3. discuss preemptive strategy as an essential part of any issue management plan.

4. describe some of the common communication mistakes that can occur when
managing an issue or crisis.

5. discuss the implications of information technology on issue management.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 47

A read-through of any daily newspaper will reveal that organizational dilemmas and
challenges are weighty and newsworthy topics. From a North American perspective,
2004 might be remembered as the year of corporate scandals, such as those involving
Martha Stewart and Enron. Similarly, 2003 might be remembered from a distinctly
Canadian perspective as the year of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crises. Such widely known examples
demonstrate that strategic issue management is necessary to all sectors in the
marketplace. From private, for-profit corporations to governmentally controlled
public health systems, organizations that are to manage inevitable communications
and public relations challenges effectively must have a plan in place before such
issues and crises arise.

A systems or adaptive approach to effective issue management begins inside the

organization. Solid internal communication processes must be in place to encourage
uniform messages within the organization; this consistency will, in turn, encourage
uniformity and solidarity in the messages sent to external stakeholders and the
general public.

Lorenzo Sierra (2003) proposes a theory of communicativity that is based on the

value of internal organizational communication (p. 38). This concept of
communication is based on four elements: the value of the communication to the
organization, the cost of the communication, the effort required to communicate the
desired message effectively, and the overall perception of the message. These
elements can be described, briefly, as follows (see Sierra, 2003, pp. 38-39):

1. value determines the monetary and anecdotal worth of what you are

2. cost determines the actual dollar expenditure involved in communicating the

message, and estimates the cost of not communicating it.

3. effort determines how much time and how many resources will be required to
communicate the message effectively.

4. perception determines the nature of the gap between reality and expectations.

Sierra posits that within this framework, perception is the most significant
elementit permeates an organization . . . [and] is the conclusion people draw from
the things your organization says and does (2003, p.40). Therefore, it is necessary
for organizational members to have a solid concept of the organizations internal
goals, strategies, objectives and ideals in order to encourage effective external

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 4Issue Management Article #1.

48 Corporate Communication
Questions for Thought

1. Think of a situation in your organization when your perception of a situation

caused you to arrive at conclusions quickly. Were your initial perceptions
ultimately correct? Why or why not? Might you have benefited from clearer

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 49

Issue or Crisis?
In the article assigned below (Smudde, 2001), the author contends that issues and
crises are two distinct communications challenges, and should be handled as such. In
his view, therefore, it is essential to differentiate between an organizational issue and
an organizational crisis in order to implement an effective communications strategy
to handle the challenge that the organization is actually facing. Although it is easy for
an issue to become a crisis through mismanagement, and for a crisis to become an issue
through proper management, it is important that corporate communications
practitioners be positioned to identify correctly the nature of the communication
challenge as it unfolds. Smudde proposes the following definitions:

Crisis: a specific, unexpected, and nonroutine event or series of events that

create high levels of uncertainly and threaten or are perceived to threaten an
organizations high-priority goals (Seeger, Sellnow & Ulmer, 1998, p, 233,
quoted in Smudde, 2001, p. 34).

Issue: arises unexpectedly, but can be anticipated; relates to foreseeable aspects

of organizational function, such as public policy, product and workplace safety,
preserving the ecological environment, organisational change, financial
viability, and so on. (Smudde, 2001, p. 35)

Through his research, Smudde has found that cultural predisposition (p. 35) is a
significant factor in the handling of organizational issues and crises. Smudde contends
that a sound, proactive and pre-emptive internal milieu is essential to uniformity and
solidarity in organizational communication:
Corporate officials can choose to predict potential issues that may emerge as
publicly important, and they can anticipate certain adverse circumstances
that could precipitate a crisis. The organizational culture that those leaders
foster predisposes communications officials (and others) to prepare for it in
advance, ignore it until a response is absolutely necessary, or somewhere in
between. Communications professionals in these situations can be a real
catalyst to help shift cultural attitudes toward being more proactive in
communications planning, execution and measurement regarding issues or
crises. (Smudde, 2001, p. 36)

Corporate communicators can influence the way an issue or crisis is handled by the
organization long before the problem arises. All members of the organization can
contribute to a culture of awareness by learning the strategic communication goals of
the organization, and acting on them.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 4Issue Management, Article #2.

50 Corporate Communication
Questions for Thought

2. Pete Smudde (2001) differentiates between organizational issues and crises.

Do you think that other types of communication challenges can be
distinguished? If so, can they be dealt with using the strategies Smudde
identifies? Explain.

3. Apply one of Smuddes definitions to a situation that you have encountered

within your own organization or to a situation with which you are familiar. Does
it help you identify the nature of the situation? Why or why not?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 51

Communication Management
Traditionally, the role of the public relations (PR) department within an organization
has been to promote a positive image in and positive connections to the community
or communities the organization serves. With the advent of instantaneous
communication tools, such as fax, Internet, text messaging and others, PR
departments (or those responsible for PR within smaller organizations) have found
themselves assuming, among other tasks, expanded roles as gatekeepers of
organizational information, moderators of public discussion, correctors of false
information, trainers for other organization members, and decision makers for
communications strategies to be adopted by the organization. Although all members
of an organization are responsible for ensuring that the goals, objectives and
philosophies of the organization are upheld through their own communications with
internal and external stakeholders, the communication specialists within an
organization may be called on to act as consultants to other members and sectors of
the organization when an issue or crisis arises.

Collectively, the media form a pervasive and complex entity with its own objectives
and agendas. Therefore, PR and communications specialists must be familiar with the
complex nature of the media, and aware of its motivations in order to deal effectively
with the challenges it poses. These skills are especially important when an issue or
crisis attracts media attention. A failure to respond effectively to media scrutiny can
be disastrous for any organization.

A true crisis may surprise even the most skilled corporate communicator. Therefore,
it is important that organizations prepare a general strategy for managing crises. In
the first of the articles assigned below (Ashcroft, 1997), the author, Linda Ashcroft
recommends several strategies for preparing for crises long before they arrive, and
considers several examples of poor crisis management in order to draw out some
best practices for communication in a crisis. For example, she recommends the
reparation of a Crisis Management Manual that contains such information as who
will handle what aspects of the communication process (including designated
spokespersons), what communication lines are in place for incoming and outgoing
queries (telephone, fax, email, etc.), how and when support staff will be trained, and
rules for communication with the media (e.g., how to handle journalistic subtleties
such as off the record inquiries).

Quoting N. Purdom (1995), Ashcroft also recommends that the following Crisis
Checklist be used by communication managers:
Identify which managers will be part of the crisis handling team.
Establish who is the spokesperson and ensure they are trained.
Ensure that out of hours contact numbers of senior staff are available to
relevant staff, including evening security cover.
Establish a control room away from the day-to-day running of the
business. Ensure computer equipment, TV and radio are available.
Practice makes perfect. Senior management should run through a
simulation of a crisis including dealing with the media under pressure.
Dont forget to train support staff. Often it will be customer service,
secretarial staff or telephonists who will be the first to receive a call.

52 Corporate Communication
Consider arrangements for receiving large numbers of telephone calls.
Telesales companies can offer consultancy and support in this area.
Dont keep crisis plans confidential among a select management group.
All staff should know the procedures during a crisis, whether it is a
material disaster or a media siege. (cited in Ashcroft, 1995, p. 329)

In the spirit of pre-emptive planning, it is recommended that crisis management

procedures be well known to all members of an organization before an issue or a
crisis arises, so as to discourage panic and encourage confidence in the organizations
ability to manage the challenge effectively from a communications perspective.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 4Issue Management, Article #3 and Article #4.

Questions for Thought

4. Using Purdums Crisis Checklist (Ashcroft, 1997, p. 329), analyse an

organizational crisis situation that you have experienced or one with which you
are familiar. Consider whether these steps were in placeif so, were they
effective? If not, could the situation have unfolded any better had they been
implemented? Explain.

5. Do you believe that the media attempts to tell the truth about situations? Why or
why not? Support your response with examples.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 53

As we have discussed, PR and communications specialists have new responsibilities
in an organizational environment characterized by instant communication and
rapidly changing technological tools. Although traditional communication theories
are pertinent in such a context, the complexity and rapidity with which information
can be transmitted has changed the practical implications of some of these concepts.
As Augustine Ihator (2001) explains, one of the most significant implications of
technological innovation is that information does not only flow from the organization
at a significant rate, it also flows towards the organization at a rate that is potentially
as rapid.
The old forms of corporate communication were unidirectional in nature.
Organizations were usually the senders of information and their audience
the receivers. For the most part, organizations controlled and monopolized
channels of communication. This provided companies with the opportunity
to structure their message in conformity with organizational goals. There
was also opportunity to make messages consistent across multiple media
channels. However, due to the fragmentation, complexity, time constraint
and interactivity of computer communication, corporations may be unable
to carefully package their message and make it consistent across all media
channels. Internet communication is multidirectional in nature and very fast
in transmission. (Ihator, 2001, p. 200)

This new reality of organizational communication reinforces the need for strategic

Ihator (2001) makes a pivotal point when characterizing this new communication
environment as complex and fragmented. Audiences and stakeholders can and do
assume a variety of identities, orientations, responsibilities and interests, even though
they may be in the same audience category vis--vis the organization. Stakeholders
may also differ in the media through which they prefer to receive information, further
complicating the execution of communication tasks.
Consumers [and other stakeholders] want substantive and updated
information. They demand real-time interactivity with a corporation. Quick
answers to specific questions and responses to public issues are expected,
More than ever before, publics demand corporate social responsibility and
transparent ethical behavior. (Ihator, 2001, p. 202)

These characteristics of the contemporary, progressive and technologically savvy

stakeholder assume a greater significance within the context of issue management,
since an organization may not be entirely prepared to address an issue when
prompted by insistent stakeholders.

In discussing reactive communication and feedback, Ihator (2001) notes that

The traditional approaches to crisis management may have to be carefully
reviewed for their successful applicability in the computer age. Vigilance
and control of the situation are the usual reactive instinct of corporations
during a crisis. . . .

54 Corporate Communication
Corporate messages and advertisements are carefully timed and placed in
preferred media. There is a careful balancing of the need for the public to
know and of guarding sensitive corporate information.
Easy access to decontrolled and unfiltered information by the public, makes
reputation and crisis management more difficult to control. Shortness of
time to react, uncontrolled information, lack of effective audience
identification and limited strategic information for management options,
make the stakes very high for corporations during crisis situations in the
new information technology milieu. . . .
For formative and summative research programs of corporations to be
effective, there is a need for reliable feedback from the target audience. This
helps in the designing and implementation of future communication
activities (p. 203).

Communicators must also be cognizant of emergent technologies and their power to

influence the organization. In this respect, communicators benefit from close
alignment and alliances with other groups within the organization; the more that
people are involved in internal consultative processes, the greater the opportunity to
share information about emerging technologies and to speculate on and research their
potential implications for the organization.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 4Issue Management, Article #5.

Questions for Thought

6. Describe a situation in which you were affected by the speed of current

communication technologies. Were you prepared for the implications of this

7. Ihator (2001) states that the Internet audience cuts across geographic, national,
cultural and political boundaries (p. 200). What are the effects of this feature of
the Internet on your organization?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 55

56 Corporate Communication
Unit 5

Strategys most important contribution is searching for, and redefining,

context. (Pascale, 1990, p. 54)

In this unit, we explore the need for organizations to integrate strategy into their
culture, and the role of communication in bringing strategic intentions to fruition.

For several decades after the Second World War, organizations treated strategy as the
purview of the executives. It was seen as an element of higher command, mirroring
military structure. By the 1970s, most organizations had a strategic planning group
that was assigned the task of looking ahead and assessing the organizations
prospects and requirements. Henry Mintzberg (1994) wryly comments on the
changing value placed on strategic planning:
The mid-1990s is perhaps the right time to publish such a book [as this]. It
might have been dismissed before 1973, when planning could do no wrong,
and after that submerged in the wave of anti-planning sentiment that
continued for a decade or more . . . . Perhaps now people are more inclined
to consider [planning] in a more reasonable way, as neither a panacea nor
the pits but a process with particular benefit in particular contexts. (p. 4)

Ironically, the demise of formal strategic planning signalled an increase in the

importance of strategy. As organizations became adaptive, the need for strategic
responses to occur simultaneously and quickly throughout the organization
increased. Strategic planning could no longer be a specialized function that focused
on the production of plans, but had to be vested in the actual operations of the
organization: everyone had to think strategically. Communication had to provide a
consistent framework for strategic responses and a method of ensuring that strategic
information flowed through the organization. Richard Hamermesh notes in his
foreword to Strategic Management (1983) that,
No longer is it sufficient for the chief executive alone to have a sense of
where the company is headed. Strategy must be communicated with
sufficient clarity so that it can dominate action throughout the
organization. (p. 3)

Mintzberg (1994) comments on the relationship between strategy and top

Planning has always had a curious relationship with top management. On
one hand, it has deferred to the power of authority, at least formally, over the
process itself. . . . On the other hand . . . by its very nature planning is
designed to reduce a good deal of top managements power over strategy
making. (p. 161)

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 57

When you have completed Unit 5, you should be able to

1. discuss the concept of strategic initiative.

2. describe how communication leaders try to improve strategic value.

3. discuss the use of environmental analysis in communication planning.

4. discuss the integration of strategic information into communication approaches.

58 Corporate Communication
The Competitive Environment
In Post-Capitalist Society (1993), Peter Drucker observes that capitalism, communism
and the Industrial Revolution all emerged between 1776 and 1816. He observes that
while communism has collapsed as an economic system (p. 12), and capitalism has
been the dominant social reality for 250 years (p. 7), both [communism and
capitalism] are rapidly being superseded by . . . a post-capitalist society [which] will
use the free market as the one proven mechanism of economic integration (p. 7).
Drucker further comments that while the post-capitalist society will still be market
driven, the basic economic resource will be knowledge instead of the means of
production that emerged as the core of capitalism in the eighteenth century.

Hamermesh describes strategy as the pattern of objectives, purposes, or goals and

major policies and plans for achieving those goals, stated in such a way as to define
what business the company is in or is to be in and the kind of company it is or is to be
(1983, p. 2). He notes that strategy is about creating a fit among four factors:

a. the opportunities in the external . . . environment,

b. the strengths and weaknesses of the firm,

c. the personal values of the key implementers, and

d. the broader societal expectations of the firm. (p. 2)

Strategy is therefore the means of adaptation used in a free market to ensure the
survival and success of the organization. In Organization Theory: A Macro
Perspective for Managers (1986), J. H. Jackson, C. P. Morgan and J. Padillo
note that
It has been suggested that adaptability is far and away the most critical issue
in determining the survival of the organization . . . Leavitt and colleagues
agree that an organizations quick and accurate response to environmental
alterations will account for the lions share of its success and continuation.
(p. 335)

Throughout the capitalist era there has been discussion about the extent to
which government should be affected by the forces of a free market. In 1992,
David Osbourne and Ted Gaebler described adaptability and market-based strategy
in the public sector in Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is
Transforming the Public Sector. The list below summarizes the concepts they see as
the hallmarks of strategy in the public sector.

focusing on strategic decisions (steering, not rowing)

working within a competitive environment

focusing on the customer

including net earnings as a critical consideration

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 59

building strategy into all areas of the organization

focusing on outcomes, not inputs

They note that the delivery of public service is no longer viewed as a monopoly, and
that there is an expectation that an agency must be competitive with any alternative
delivery means. This thinking has greatly influenced the management of public
sector organizations.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 5Strategy, Article #1.

Questions for Thought

1. What does it mean to say that an organization is strategic? Why do nonprofit

organizations have to be strategic?

2. Johnson (2004) states that Strategic management is the process of getting

things done (p. 2). How do you interpret this statement?

60 Corporate Communication
The Process of Forming Strategy
Mintzberg describes a core process of strategy formationthe design school
model (1994, p. 37) He explains that this approach barely qualifies as a model,
because planning models are usually more complex, but that its strength is its

Figure 5.1: Core design school model of strategy formation

Mintzberg, H. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, p. 37. New York: The Free Press,
1994. Athabasca University has copied this material under licence from Access Copyright.
Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.

Mintzbergs core model shows the major steps in the strategy process (see
Figure 5.1, above). The process begins with situation analysis: the appraisal of
external and internal conditions that most affect the organizations priorities and
actions. This analysis reveals key success factors related to external changes and
distinctive competencies related to internal skills and culture. The organization
also considers its social responsibilities and values in determining what its actions
should be.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 61

The box titled Creation of strategy is essentially the identification of goals, the
allocation of funding, people and resources, and the identification of actions that will
move the organization towards desired outcomes. In 1994, Hamel and Prahalad noted
that successful strategy implies creating new actions and allocations, and deleting
former approaches and activities, To get to the future, a company must be willing to
jettison, at least in part, its past (p. 61). Communicators must be concerned with
both aspects: encouraging people to embrace the new, but also helping them to
relinquish the old.

Kenichi Ohmae (1990) notes that

good strategies . . . comprehendand strike the right balance amongthe
three key points of . . . the strategic triangle of customers, competitors and
company (an organizations distinctive strengths and weaknesses). Today,
as a genuinely interlinked economy emerges, two more Cs have to be added
to the list: country, by which I mean the various government- created
environments in which global organizations must operate, and currency,
by which I mean the exposure of such organizations to fluctuations in
foreign exchange rates. (p. 2)

External Forces
It is increasingly evident that external forces of change have a major influence on the
responses and success of every organization. In many cases these forces are global in
nature and quite beyond the control of any national government.

David Carr and Henry Johansson comment on this fact in Best Practices in
Reengineering (1995):
The compelling need [to change] is driven by the marketplace and the
competitive environment. Without a compelling need to increase
competitiveness, efforts to transform a company will run up against
the who cares syndrome. (p. 40)

Changes in the external environment, which have a significant impact on the

opportunities and requirements of the organization, are called trends. Generally
trends are beyond the control of the organization. The speed and accuracy with which
those within an organization can interpret and respond to trends will have a critical
impact on the success of the organization. Trends can help organizations discover
critical opportunities that then redefine the organizations potential.

Trends can be best imagined as waves of change. The problem is that it is difficult to
predict their wavelength. Some trends arrive quickly and offer tremendous
potential, but only for a short while; we usually call them fads. Other trends arrive
gradually, but have very significant effects over the long term. Global warming may
be an example of this sort of trend.

There are many kinds of trend. The categories of trends that organizations usually
look for include environmental, social, economic, governmental, competitive,
market place, technological and work place. Organizations need a way to identify
and assess possible trends to determine both the probability that they are actually
occurring, and the significance that they could have for the organization.

62 Corporate Communication
A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of a situation can
help to identify both the trends that an organization faces and the best possible
defence against those trends (or perhaps, the best way to take advantage of them).
According to Scott Beagrie (2004):
A SWOT analysis is one of several business planning tools that an
organisation can use to examine its state of health and investigate business
opportunities by itemising its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and
threats (SWOT). It can also be used on a personal basis in a variety of career
applications. (p. 21)

An accurate assessment of organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and

threats supports the organizations ability to develop pre-emptive strategies. An
organization cognizant of its abilities and the trends it might face is considerably more
prepared to deal with environmental challenges as they arise. The importance of this
type of preparation has been emphasized throughout Communication Studies 380.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 5Strategy, Article #2.

Question for Thought

3. Identify five trends that have affected post-secondary educational institutions

over the past ten years. How would you interpret and respond to these trends?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 63

The Organizations Mission and Market
We have discussed the importance of external factors as driving forces that an
organization must consider in making strategic choices. These choices, however,
must be balanced against the declared mission of the organizationits answer to the
question, What are we here for?

In his 1986 book Winning on the Marketing Front, William Cohen identifies several
theories of strategy that combine market relationships and organizational focus. He
cites Michael Porter, a leader in identifying the competitive nature of strategy. Cohen
consolidates Porters approach into three components of strategy (see p. 171):

overall cost leadership.

differentiation (producing something your clients view as unique).

focus (concentrating on a market, or area of specialization).

Cohen also consolidates the PIMS (Profit Impact Marketing Strategies) approach,
which emphasizes market share and quality leadership as keys to competitive
advantage. There are many other approaches to strategy, including the Boston
Consulting Group portfolio method and the GE-McKinsey portfolio matrix. The
important thing about all of them is that they require the strategists to be highly
familiar with competitors and the success of competitors in the marketplace.

By the 1990s, methods of learning more about competitors had become entrenched in
the corporate world. Benchmarking of competitors had become part of corporate
practice and a necessary tool for making strategic decisions. In 1990, General Electric,
described by Thomas Stewart (1991) as the Harvard of corporate America, instigated
a process called Best Practices, which went beyond the benchmarking lots of
companies do . . . GE was looking less for nuts and bolts than for attitudes and
management practices (p. 45). Jack Welch, CEO at General Electric, determined that
market share was critical to their strategic investments: he sold any companies or
divisions that were not first or second in their markets. Interestingly, one outcome of
the studies that GE undertook was a rethinking of the managerial role: They will be
people who are comfortable facilitating, greasing, finding ways to make it all
seamless, not controllers and directors (p. 49).

Building and Communicating Mission and Vision

Effective organizations need a clear mission. Alan Weiss (1990) states that
organizations that lack a mission focus but have a strong ability to implement strategy
are lulled into a false sense of well-being . . . but they are vulnerable to abrupt changes
in their markets and unexpected events in the environment. They generally lack
resiliency (p. 3).

In Leading Change (1996), John Kotter asserts that developing a good vision is an
exercise of both the head and the heart, it takes some time, it always involves a group
of people, and it is tough to do well (p. 79). He describes the process of creating a
vision, emphasizing the importance of a guiding coalition . . . or an even larger

64 Corporate Communication
group of people that elaborates a vision statement over time, and insists that
effective teamwork is a prerequisite. He notes that vision is never created in a single
meeting. The activity takes months, sometimes years (p. 79).

In the same book, Kotter discusses the challenge of communicating the vision:
For people who have been trained only to be managers, communication of
vision can be particularly difficult. Managers tend to think in terms of their
immediate subordinates and boss, not the broader constituencies that need
to buy into a vision. They tend to be most comfortable with routine factual
communication, not future-oriented strategizing and dreaming . . . One of
the main reasons that vision creation is such a challenging exercise is that
those on the guiding coalition have to answer all these questions for
themselves, and that takes time and a lot of communication. (1996, pp. 87-88)

Kotter makes the challenge of communicating a vision in an organization explicit.

He calculates that vision communication accounts for only fifty-eight per cent of the
communication in an organization. He then goes on to outline seven key elements in
effective communication of a vision: simplicity; use of metaphor, analogy and
example; presentation in multiple forums; repetition; leadership by example;
explanation of apparent inconsistencies; two-way communication (1996, p. 89).

The use of the terms vision and mission often leads to confusion in an
organization. While the terms are often used interchangeably, they are really
very different concepts.

Mission Statement: A mission is a statement of why the organization exists.

The mission defines the central purpose of the organization; that is, the focus that
everyone in the organization shares and that defines the point of all the work in the

Vision Statement: The vision statement functions within the context of the mission
statement. It is a statement that offers direction to employees about what the
organization wants to change or achieve over a shorter term (e.g., within five years).


As organizations have become more adaptive, they have discovered a greater need to
have core values that provide guidelines for how people behave. Values are expressed
as moral or ethical statements. In Managing by Values (1997) Ken Blanchard and
Michael OConnor point out that organizations that adopt values find that everyone in
the organization becomes involved in the process of defining values and translating
those values into behaviours. They note the importance of communication support in
defining and transmitting values throughout the organization.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 65

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 5Strategy, Article #3.

Question for Thought

4. Find a mission statement for an organization with which you are familiar and
that is posted on the Internet. Discuss whether you find the statement effective
or representative (or both) of your experiences with the organization.

66 Corporate Communication
Strategic Initiative/Strategic Withdrawal
Once an organization has a strategic approach, it can focus on areas into which it is
intentionally expanding, and areas from which it is withdrawing. The latter process is
more difficult for most organizations. In The Northbound Train (1994), Karl Albrecht
notes that it is difficult for people to let go of the things with which they are familiar
the things that they feel competent doing (pp. 107-108). Traditionally, communicators
have focused on the new initiatives within an organization, but have not given much
attention to the process of ceasing activities in areas where the organization has
decided to withdraw. People involved in initiatives feel glorified, while those
affected by withdrawal feel abandoned.

Kotter describes a retreat in which senior administrators attempted to fashion a new

vision: most of the attendees wished they were back home . . . it made one person
extremely anxious, because it spoke of a future in which his group would become less
important (1996, p. 88).

The presence of intentional strategy in an organization is of great benefit to the

corporate communicator who can express the actions of the organization within a
rational context to both internal and external stakeholders. With a strategy and a
vision, it is always possible to look ahead to where the organization is going, and
to emphasize the common focus of the efforts, rather than the elements of
fragmentation that are part of the change process.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 5Strategy, Article #4.

Question for Thought

5. Describe a situation in which you experienced one of the weird practices that
work illustrated by Polly LaBarre (LaBarre, 2001, p. 68). Was this practice
effective in your experience? Why or why not?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 67

Flexibility Within a Strategic Framework
Many people conclude that successful strategic approaches require a high degree
of central control. The need to have a common focus and to rationalize strategic
priorities often leads people to assume that creativity and local initiative must be
constrained. Benjamin Tregoe and John Zimmerman disagree with this assessment,
and describe strategy as, The framework which guides those choices that determine
the nature and direction of an organization (cited in Weiss, 1990, p. 5). John Kotter
(1996) argues that effective visions are open ended enough to allow for individual
initiative and for changing conditions (p. 76).

Strategic focus implies that an organization has a mission, vision, values, customer
segments and priorities that provide guidance for all activities undertaken. These
factors lead the organization towards consistency of purpose and interpretation, but
they are not intended to dictate uniformity. Instead, the organization should use the
strategic focus as a framework within which creativity and initiative are nourished.
Ironically, creativity can be stimulated by the clear set of requirements that strategic
focus implies. The barriers to creativity are usually embedded in the culture of the
organization, not in the strategic direction.

Communicators must be aware that the communication of strategic focus information

will have to occur repeatedly, and that some elements of strategy, such as mission and
vision, may become ubiquitous in the organization. This communication may lead
people to believe that all thinking is centralized; ideally, an effort will be made to
ensure that the local adaptation, creativity and initiatives are also publicized in the
company to support the view that the framework is a foundation for action, not a

Building a Strategic Culture

In theory, organizations can act strategically, but in practice, doing so requires that
many people with different interests and priorities act cooperatively. Organizations
have struggled with the challenge of embedding strategic thinking into
organizational culture.

Edgar Schein has studied organizational culture through most of his career. In
Organizational Culture and Leadership (1989), he states that, At every stage the
role of the leader and the group must be understood if one is to make sense of how
the culture evolves (pp. 221-222). As we discussed in Unit 1, Schein notes the
importance of leaders in embedding attitudes and perspectives into corporate culture,
stating that
The most powerful primary mechanisms of culture embedding and
reinforcement are (1) what leaders pay attention to, measure, and control;
(2) leader reactions to critical incidents and organizational crises; (3)
deliberate role modelling, teaching and coaching by leaders; (4) criteria for
allocation of rewards and status; (5) criteria for recruitment, selection,
promotion, retirement and excommunication. (pp. 224-225)

Scheins work suggests that personal action and role modelling are the focus of
culture formationthat leaders must actively lead the process of establishing

68 Corporate Communication
strategic thinking within corporate culture. Most others agree with this view,
although it is somewhat paradoxical if hierarchy is to disappear in an organization.

Leaders, however, cannot do it all. Authors such as Carr and Johansson suggest that
extensive communication can greatly help the process of creating a strategic culture.
As they note, It is impossible to use too much communication (1995, p. 40).

As you will see in the reading assigned below, Clampitt, Berk and Williams (2002)
offer a four-step model to guide leaders efforts to communicate (p. 51). This
model comprises the following steps: assessing the context, crafting the strategy,
implementing the strategy and provoking the dialogue. The first three steps support
and enhance the precepts of pre-emptive strategy and SWOT analysis discussed
above. The fourth step however, provoking dialogue, emphasizes a new dimension
that is characteristic of the systems or adaptive organizational model. Dialogue
provocation means that leaders ensure that dialogue goes further, encouraging
give-and-take, and allowing everyone to influence outcomes (p. 56).

It is helpful to involve employees from throughout the organization in dialogue. After

all, in the end, you want this information to flow throughout the organization so why
not have many points within the organization that are talking about it? Similarly, it is
helpful to allow service teams to interpret the vision in the context of their own tasks,
and to design the service processes that will ensure that the vision is achieved.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 5Strategy, Article #5.

Questions for Thought

6. Identify and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each of the five basic
communication strategies outlined by Clampitt, Berk and Williams (2002, p. 52).
Which of these strategies is commonly used in the organization with which you
are most familiar? How successful is it?

7. What thought-terminating cliches (Clifton, quoted in Clampitt, Berk &

Williams, 2002, p. 55) are most common in your organization? How effective
are they in closing out consideration of new initiatives? How could they be

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 69

70 Corporate Communication
Unit 6
Change Management

. . . every organization has to prepare for the abandonment of everything

it does . . . . (Drucker, 1995, p. 79)

In earlier units of this course, we discussed how organizations adapt to changes

occurring on the inside and on the outside. On paper, it would appear that any
organization can change on demand to suit a new situation; however, change is a
disruptive force, and it requires considerable attention within the organization. In this
unit, we discuss the role of communication leaders in supporting and coordinating
change within organizations.

When you have completed Unit 6, you should be able to

1. discuss issues and processes of organizational change.

2. compare four models of change: those developed by Hurst, Kbler-Ross, Flach

and Bridges.

3. describe leadership choices in initial stages of change.

4. discuss communication requirements in change management.

5. diagnose stages of change, and identify appropriate communication responses.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 71

Change in Organizations
Change management refers to the activities and communication used to help people
through a desired process of change. Given that change is an important aspect of most
organizations, communication leaders should be well versed in the process of change,
and in their role in supporting change. As dysfunctional behaviours related to change
reduce organizational productivity, change management can be seen as an investment.

Reading Assignment

Read Our Psychology, by J. Ty and H. E. Walker, reproduced in the Reading File.

An Ecosystem Model of Organizational Succession

Many scientific perspectives have influenced how we view change in the
organization. David Hurst examines the biological concept of ecosystem and
applies aspects of this concept to organizations in his 1995 book Crisis and Renewal.
He concludes that organizations are not naturally stable, but that they evolve through
a predictable cycle of change that he called the organizational ecocycle. Hursts
most dramatic observation is that organizations have natural stages of crisis that set
the stage for renewal. As you read the section of Hursts book assigned below,
consider the validity and implications of his perspective.

Reading Assignment

Read Chapter 5, Growth and Renewal, by David K. Hurst, reproduced in the

Reading File.

Questions for Thought

1. How relevant is the idea of an organizational ecocycle to corporate

communications? Why?

2. Do you agree with Hurst that organizations must have crises to stimulate
change? Explain your position.

72 Corporate Communication
Homeostasis: Our Warm-blooded Heritage
As warm-blooded animals, we humans have bodies that are accustomed to dealing
with change in a certain way. Our bodies are a system of individual cells that operate
in a synchronized manner to maintain conditions within an acceptable range, and thus
to allow the whole system to function effectively. For example, in temperate climates,
we live with external temperature variations within a range of 80_C or more: a range
that the cells of our bodies should not be able to tolerate. Our bodies store energy and
release it to allow us to maintain a narrow range of internal temperature, even when
the external temperatures vary considerably.

This processmaintaining conditions within a predictable rangeis called

homeostasis. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, homeostasis means
the maintenance of metabolic equilibrium within an animal by a tendency to
compensate for disrupting changes. It can also refer to the maintenance of
equilibrium within a social group; for example, the tendency to make adjustments
to keep internal conditions in an acceptable range within an organization. In Healing
from Within (1980), D. T. Jaffe discusses homeostasis and its relationship to health:
Because the bodys defence system operates so automatically and usually so
effectively, you could spend your entire lifetime without the slightest
awareness of the ongoing, difficult inner struggle to keep you alive and
intact. As you move through the outside worldencountering various
dangers and stresses, risking accident, taking in food that may be damaging
or poisoning your internal organsit is essential that the body sustain a
constant temperature and internal milieu to allow the natural healing
process to occur. Claude Bernard, a nineteenth-century French physician,
gave the name homeostasis to the efforts of the body to maintain a stable
internal environment of correct temperature, circulation, movement of
energy sources, elimination of toxic wastes, and reaction and protection
against external changes. . . .
Disease, then, is a central aspect of the bodys struggle to preserve
homeostasis. . . . The healthy person is not someone who is never ill or
avoids disease, but someone whose healing powers are strong enough
to combat any threat or breakdown. (pp. 15-16)

Jaffe concludes that Health . . . is your adaptive capability to meet the demands
posed by your environment (p. 66).

Question for Thought

3. If organizational health were defined in the same way that personal health is
defined above, what would be the organizational equivalent of disease?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 73

Models of Change

The Grief Model

In 1969, Elizabeth Kbler-Ross published an account of her observations of
individuals coping with imminent death. The five stages in the process of adjustment
and acceptance that she identifies have influenced many others in her field, and were
eventually applied more broadly to the process of change, especially where the
change is seen as unavoidable, unwanted and imposed. The stages are outlined by
Therese Rando in Grief, Dying, and Death (1984, p. 27), and summarized below.

Denial and isolation A buffer period that protects the individual from the
reality of the situation.
Anger Often expressed as blame. In organizations, people may
talk about shooting the messenger.
Negotiation An effort to create the best possible future (perhaps one
that is very different from the future that was originally
Depression A period of withdrawal and adjustment, accompanied by
a loss of social energy.

If one applies these stages to any change that is characterized by a sense of loss,
then one may understand the reasons people act in ways that initially appear to be
irrational during major change. Kbler-Ross indicates that the behaviours she
describes are needed for the psychological adjustments that take place in cases of
imminent death. She strongly cautions against pushing people through these stages in
order to get them to Acceptance. She also notes that the stages are not linear; that is,
not all individuals go through all stages in the same order.

The Resilience Model (Flach)

An early model for coping with change was devised by Frederic Flach, a
psychotherapist. Flachs resilience model, presented in his 1988 book Resilience:
Discovering a New Strength at Times of Stress, has much to offer corporate

The following simple model of change is based on Flachs experience with hundreds
of patients and in his own life. Flach was seeking ways to help people remain resilient
through change. He began with the concept of homeostasis, and then noted that new
stimuli create disruption. Change naturally leads people into a period of discomfort
typified by a sense of loss of control. Flach notes that therapists must face a critical
question about discomfort, Is it better to minimize discomfort, or is discomfort a
necessary part of change? He concludes that discomfort is necessary, because it
leads to a search for new opportunities. This search then leads to reintegration, which
leads to a new homeostasis. Flachs model is diagrammed in Figure 6.1, below.

74 Corporate Communication
Figure 6.1: Flachs model of response to change

Flach notes that the change process is not necessarily continuous. He points out that
people commonly get stuck at two stages of the change process. The first sticking
point is failure to accept the disruption; that is, holding on to the past as if nothing had
changed. For example, workers have sometimes picketed a plant that has already
closed. The second sticking point is marked by a failure to reintegrate. In some
cases, people get used to the period of discomfort and lose their expectation that
reintegration will occur. They become accustomed to being uncomfortable.

The Transition Model (Bridges)

In Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change (1991),William Bridges
describes change in organizations as a manageable process. He describes a simple
three-stage process, and uses examples to illustrate how each of the three stages can
be managed in a way that is helpful to people experiencing transition (pp. 18-68). The
three stages Bridges describes, and some of the implied communication responses,
are described below.

Ending Transition begins with letting go.

People need to know what behaviours must change. Help
people understand why change is necessary. Help people
prepare for transition. Celebrate past achievements and
formally (ceremoniously) end what is now being set
Neutral Zone There is a middle period characterized by disorientation,
confusion and ambiguity.
Minimize other changes during this period. Help people
build their sense of community and sharing. Help people
focus on short term goals and adjustments. Provide
immediate responses to problems and frustrations.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 75

Beginning People begin to embrace the new beginning after they
have passed through a neutral zone.
Communicate the purpose of change (expected results).
Paint a picture of the desired new approach. Describe a
step-by-step plan, and describe the roles that each
individual will play.

Questions for Thought

4. Of the models of personal change and transition enunciated by Kbler-Ross,

Flach and Bridges, which gives you the information you need to understand how
communication support might help people experiencing organizational change?

5. Apply one of the three models identified in Question 4 to an organization going

through changeone you know from experience, or one you have read
aboutand note the implications for communication leaders.

76 Corporate Communication
Barriers to Change
Leaders of the change process soon discover this paradox: while change is inevitable
in organizations, the characteristics, culture and expectations embedded in
organizations work against the natural process of change.

While barriers to change are not necessarily bad, it is important for a communicator
to realize that part of effective change management is overcoming barriers. Barriers
can delay effective change if they are not addressed.

In Leading Change (1996), John Kotter describes many of the barriers that can delay
the change process. These barriers are summarized below.

Structural Structures built into the old organizational practices are

barriers often in the way of the intended new practices. For
example, an organization that values individual initiative
in its employees may also have many middle managers
who are practised at controlling the actions of employees.
Communication The greatest barrier is that the communication of the new
barriers vision and new expectations gets lost in the clutter of
information to which people are exposed in most
workplaces. Kotter estimates that communication of the
new vision typically accounts for only 0.6% of the
information people receive, while other communication
accounts for 99.4% of the information flow. Given this
ratio, simplicity and repetition are necessary. Kotter also
notes that there are often barriers that interfere with
leaders listening to others; too often, change
communication is a one-way street.
Leadership Those who lead change may not behave in ways that
barriers reinforce the change. When leader behaviour does not
match the implied expectations, the barrier to change is
clear. There can also be barriers if local leadership is
lacking, and too few people are trying to interpret change
requirements for too many.
Skill and knowledge Often, cues in the workplace environment reinforce
barriers behaviours opposite to what is needed (examples include
having team members located on different floors, having
executives in fortress-style offices). The layout of the
workplace and the messages created by architecture,
signs and printed materials may conflict with the change
People may not understand the skills or knowledge
required for change. Sometimes the requirements are
understood, but the individual may not have all the skills
or information he or she needs to perform the new duties.
An individual may not feel confident demonstrating the
new requirements in front of his or her colleagues.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 77

Active Inside and outside the organization, there are normally
resistors people who will actively resist change. These people may
be slow to adapt, and therefore resist any change, or they
may be people who actively oppose specific intended
changes for other reasons. The role of active resistors,
and the response to their actions, can critically affect

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 6Change Management, Article #1.

Questions for Thought

6. Of the twelve steps for change management specified by Mento, Jones and
Dirndorfer (2002), which do you think receives the most emphasis in
organizations? Which is the most overlooked?

7. Describe a situation in an organization with which you are familiar, in which

barriers to change were obvious. What barriers made change difficult?

78 Corporate Communication
Organizational Change and Communication
At this point, we leave our consideration of broad theoretical and philosophical views
of organizational change to concentrate on applied view of change, and on the
specific role of communication leaders in the change process.

Where to Begin?
At some point in time, organizational leaders who assess emerging risks and
opportunities that confront the organization will conclude that significant change is
required. Communicators can help in this part of the process by ensuring that trend
analysis is part of the organizations strategic management process. By the time
leaders have accepted the need for change, the forces acting on the organization are
usually significant. Timing is important, but leaders commonly feel political pressure
to delay change rather than to initiate it.

Once the leaders determine the need to change, the organization starts a process
of intensive communication and human adaptation. However, the leaders first
challenge is to divert the attention of everyone in the organization away from their
everyday tasks and toward the greater challenge of change. It is not easy to do so.

No matter the nature of the change, a considerable effort must be made at the
beginning of the process to gain attention for the need to change, and to make the
need credible. Experience shows that there will be significant resistance to the very
idea of change.

Experience also shows that a failure to grasp the need for change, and the extent
of the changes needed, can have drastic effects, not only on the success of current
efforts to change, but also on the attitude of employees to changes that may prove
necessary later.

There are two schools of thought about where to begin the process of change. Both
schools require that leaders express conviction about the need for change, and
demonstrate a sense of urgency. Leaders must be seen to be deeply supportive of
change. Conveying this support usually requires that the message stimulating change
is repeated many times, given a very high profile, and backed up with solid data that
makes it clear why the change is necessary.

School A: New Vision

One school of thought suggests that the leaders should focus on the New Vision for
the organization. This approach requires that the leaders quickly profile the issues in
the organization, and develop a new vision of excellence that the organization must
pursue. The leaders then must sell this vision as being more than management
claptrap, and must have a way of developing local leaders who can adapt the vision
to their part of the organization, and gain commitment from employees. This method
was widely used during the 1980s and early 1990s, and has been very successful in
some organizations. However, there is evidence that the concept of vision is
wearing thin. Several organizations have had multiple visions without creating
fundamental change, and have developed a resistance to the vision concept.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 79

If you are part of an organization that uses the vision approach to initiating change,
you must be conscious of two communication challenges:

people tend to add new requirements to the organization without being specific
about what they will give up. This tendency weakens the organizations focus.

people tend to disassociate the vision from their everyday activities; they will
think of vision meetings as an interruption of their actual work. At a recent
meeting of this sort, one leader said Will you people get on with this, we have
work to do here, and I resent these continual interruptions.

School B: Crisis

The other school suggests that leaders must convince employees that there is a crisis.
It is assumed that if employees understand the problem, they will embrace the need to
change. In some cases, the problem is well advanced; in others, it is emerging.
Alberta provides an example of the working of the crisis approach in politics. In
1992, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein used this approach to stimulate change in the
provincial government. Although there was some description of a new vision of
government, the major emphasis in early communication was the problem, in Kleins
view, of an unacceptable deficit.

In the crisis or problem approach, leaders must be tenacious and must absolutely
convince people of the crisis. Action to resolve the crisis must be initiated quickly,
and there must be a strong sense of urgency. Leaders must be visible and must
constantly draw peoples attention to the crisis. Effective problem selling usually
means openness (for example, open books). The creation of momentum leads to
urgent guidelines, and may force people into making changes without a plan. Leaders
support simultaneous changes, and accept risks and unintended consequences in the
effort to mobilize the organization. The problem approach requires a communication
plan that constantly emphasizes the problem and ties every initiative to the solution
of the problem. This approach allows rapid mobilization and change, as in the
invocation of the War Measures Act during the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec.

A General Model of Change Leadership

Table 6.1 on pages 82 and 83 identifies the usual steps in an organizational change
process. Every organization approaches change differently, but these steps generally
appear in some form.

Change is prevalent in adaptive organizations, which are characterized by some degree

of flexibility and adaptability. Therefore, a strategy of change management should
form part of all major business plans. As suggested in earlier units, the responsibility
for communicating organizational change to organizational members and other
stakeholders generally falls under the jurisdiction of human resource, public relations
or communications professionals, depending on the size and structure of the
organization. These individuals must be familiar with the characteristics and skills of
change leaders (Moss Kanter, 2000, pp. 34-36):

80 Corporate Communication
1. Tuning in to the environment Be aware of what is going on within the
organization; respond sensitively and appropriately.

2. Communicating a compelling aspiration Believe in your message; present

messages in which you believe.

3. Building coalitions Maintain healthy contacts and relationships within your


4. Transferring ownership to a working team Empower those around you to

implement change as necessary.

5. Learning to [persevere] Remember that change can be difficult and that the
change initiative may seem ineffective in the middle of the process.

6. Making everyone a herocelebrate accomplishments.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 6Change Management, Article #2.

Questions for Thought

7. Which of the skills that Rosabeth Moss Kanter describes do you think is most
important? Why?

8. If possible, describe a leader with whom you are familiar who embodies some of
the skills identified in this article.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 81

1. Early indicators Effective leaders search regularly (two to four times a year)
for indicators suggesting that changes are needed.
2. Exploration When indicators are found, leaders must deploy key people to
explore the significance, opportunities, options, needs and
perceptions associated with those indicators. This brief period
of questioning and listening is crucial for shaping the
response and the necessary communication support.
3. Initial plan: Leaders define the problem or vision and develop an initial
Defining the plan. This plan includes a communication plan, which may
problem or vision include both internal and external communication. This
sketch plan will change.
4. Profiling and Communication leaders play a key role using methods such
testing as interviews and focus groups to test the assumptions and
communication themes that develop in the initial plan. This
profiling provides further information about the context for
communication and about the perceptions that shape peoples
5. Raising the flag As soon as leaders feel that they understand what is required,
they raise the flag and sell the need for change. This
process involves a major effort to draw attention to the need
for change and to make change a priority in the organization.
It provides the stimulus for change, and is intended to
disrupt people and the organization. It leads to feelings of
discomfort, and a sense of loss of control and predictability.
6. Building local The corporate view of change lacks the specific intentions
leadership and and codifications that foster ownership in local units of the
local values organization. Immediately on raising the commitment to
change at the executive level, the leader makes an effort to
create local leadership and to adapt the values and drivers of
change to local levels. This process often results in information
about potential priority decisions that must be made.
7. Priority changes Organizations and individuals have trouble letting go of
and new targets behaviours that are not conducive to the new approach.
People tend to see new requirements as onerous additions to
existing ones, and find it difficult to let go of procedures with
which they feel competent and comfortable. Leaders promote
priority changes that will help people let go of old patterns
and activities, and focus on new ones. Similarly, specific new
targets are imposed to drive the change. [Examples of new
targets include budget reductions, delivery time reductions,
quality targets, service targets, new range of service, new
positioning of product, new products.]
Again, these changes in priority must be translated into
meaningful language for each unit of the organization.
8. Tough decisions Very few organizations can undergo significant change
without loss of jobs, transfers, changes in specific job
functions, and other changes that significantly affect peoples
comfort and their lives. These decisions are made and
communicated to people so that they can focus on the future
and overcome the foreboding that makes change difficult. In
most cases, the foreboding is much more difficult than
accepting change itself.

82 Corporate Communication
When tough decisions are made, compensation is often given
for disruption and displacement. An orderly system ensures
that people make tough changes immediately; their reward is
immediate compensation. Efficient communication is crucial to
the success of this stage.
Ideally, tough decisions include changing the systems (e.g.,
hierarchical decision processes or compensation approaches)
that specifically work against the intended change.
Tough decisions also cause stress, and the stress must be
managed. The most effective leaders in such situations are
fully aware of stress responses, and have developed some
skill in managing them.
9. Building a new Local leaders enter a period of community development to
delivery system rebuild working groups (or teams) within the organization. It
is very important during this time that priorities and
guidelines be effectively communicated to leaders and teams.
It is equally important that the communication reinforce the
activities of the local leaders, and does not send conflicting or
changing signals.
During the development phase, local leaders focus on the
internal needs of their teams, and often pay too little attention
to connecting the teams to one another and maintaining
coordination in the organization. Communication support
during this period is essential.
Again, it is necessary to ensure that the needs of the leaders
and teams are communicated to the executive, and
particularly that aggravations or barriers to change are
quickly revealed and removed.
10. Endorsing and The change process often causes a loss of capacity, before
rewarding new capacity is discovered. A period of stress and
disorientation occurs during change, and there is often a
significant need for positive reinforcement. People may need
recognition and reward before the big gains are achieved and
the long process is completed.
Successful organizations: first, consider the sacrifices that
people make in the change process and reward those efforts;
second, recognize that rebuilding the delivery system and
regaining former capacity is an achievement and should be
rewarded; and third, formally endorse promising initiatives.
A surprising number of good initiatives die because they
apparently have not been endorsed.
11. Integration The organization enters a creative period that is fertile and
exciting as people discover new ways and new capacity.
However, it must be remembered that all of these changes
take time to integrate through extensive communication and
first-hand experience. Integration also requires process time:
high-performing teams must take time to examine their
methods and analyse how they work.
The integration phase basically follows the guidelines
described in the learning organization.

Table 6.1: Steps in organizational change

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 83

How Long Is the Change Process?
It has been estimated that fewer than one third of major efforts at organizational
change produce the improvements that were originally intended. Worse, the
achievement of those results often takes considerably longer than the leaders
anticipate. Most organizations, however, find that the choice to change is inevitable
and irreversible: there is no option to ignore or undo the change.

This fact would suggest that organizations gain the most advantage from change
process when they are prepared for the rigours of change and when change leaders
are prepared to facilitate process through a variety of stages. Figure 6.2, below,
illustrates how change often results in a short-term loss of capacity in the
organization. While the graph is based on qualitative, rather than quantitative,
observations, it provides a useful way to think about how the capacity of the
organization varies during the change process.

Figure 6.2: The change process

Figure 6.2 illustrates the process of personal adjustment described in the first reading
by Flach. Capacity refers to the ability of the people in the organization to meet all
of their commitments and intentions. For example, capacity can be thought of as the
capability of a work team to solve problems and create solutions that are valuable to
the organization and its customers. For ease of discussion, we have highlighted five
specific moments in the continuous process of change.

1. Commitment to Disruption of the homeostasis of the organization.

2. Disorientation Loss of capacity during the early transition process, as
people experience stress, loss of familiar processes, and
loss and realignment of personal relationships.

84 Corporate Communication
3. Recovery Rebuilding capacity by working together and learning
new ways to meet needs and create useful outcomes.
4. Integration Development and integration of new approaches that
create significant gains in capacity.
5. Refinement Further improvement and advances that come from the
people who have integrated new methods and new
problem-solving skills.

Note that the timelines needed to move through the change process and achieve
greater organizational capacity are often much longer than leaders imagine. The
figure shows a five-year change process. The length of the process varies, but is
rarely less than two years, and may be much longer than five: Compaq achieved
integration and growth within two years during the significant refocusing mentioned
in the article by Hurst which you read earlier in this unit; Xerox found that the
process took seven years.

The most important role of leadership during the change process is to help people
through the transition and toward achieving new capacity. However, there is
continuing evidence that most executives view the change process as something apart
from their role. A prospectus for a consultant to support part of the change process in
the Alberta government included the following guideline: The process is to be
designed so as to minimize the time requirement of executives.

Let us assume that the model above is broadly representative of the process of
organizational change. The leaders role in this process is to reduce the length and
depth of disruption (Step 2), to increase the rate of recovery (Step 3) and integration
(Step 4), and to create the maximum value and return from refinement (Step 5).

Question for Thought

1. What communication needs do you expect during the disruption stage of the
change process mode shown in Figure 6.2?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 85

Communicating Throughout the Process
When you are planning the change communication process, bear in mind that there is
little value in stereotyping people within the organization as supporters and resistors.
More than forty years ago, in An Experiment in Applied Anthropology (1957),
John Collier and Mary Collier observed that individuals adopt change at different
paces. Communicators must respond to all who are involved in a change. Typically,
responses to change follows a familiar bell curve, as shown in Figure 6.3.

Figure 6.3: Individual responses to change

Communicators have tended to invest their energies in appealing to the early

adopters, using elaborate communication at the beginning of the process to excite
them about the new prospects. By contrast, the late adopters are often viewed
negatively, and less effort is made to bring them into the process. Of greatest concern,
however, is the inconsistent effort made to appeal to the conservative adopters, who
lie between the extremes. Many people take a wait and see attitude; communication
plans often overlook the need to reinforce their developing interest and investment.

Reading Assignment

Read Chapter 3, Responding to Change, by Bill McMillan and

Stephen Murgatroyd, reproduced in the Reading File.

Questions for Thought

1. How can a communication plan meet the needs of wait and see adopters?

86 Corporate Communication
Unit 7
Learning Organizations

The basic function of all education, even in the most traditional sense, is to
increase the survival prospects of the group. If this function is fulfilled, the
group survives. If not, it doesnt. (Postman & Weingartner, 1969, p. 195)

This unit is about how organizations learn and adapt. In it, we take the implications of
the systemic model, as it applies to human systems, to their logical conclusion: that
adapting is really a consequence of learning. Therefore, we do not deal with the few
informal efforts that most organizations make to promote learning; instead we
assume that the learning organization has learning and adaptation as its central
focus. Not surprisingly, the role of communication is dramatically affected by the
focus on learning.

When you have completed Unit 7, you should be able to

1. describe the characteristics of a learning organization.

2. discuss the relevance of the concept of learning organization to corporate


3. describe how corporate communication can support learning.

4. make recommendations about roles and relationships in corporate learning.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 87

What Is a Learning Organization?
As do all analogies, the comparison between inanimate organizations and living beings
breaks down, and may even become ludicrous. However, the theoretical position that
the organizations constructed by human beings can operate as extensions of those
human beings is seductive, and somewhat predictable, as soon as we begin to think of
organizations as living systems. Witness the lengths that Peter Senge is willing to go
in order to urge corporate leaders to alter their management philosophy with respect to
learning (see Senge, 1990a; Senge et al., 1994).

The concept of the learning organization appeared in the late 1980s as a response to
concerns that organizations were failing to take advantage of the human propensity to
learn. Peter Senge notes that
Children come fully equipped with an insatiable drive to explore and
experiment. Unfortunately, the primary institutions of our society are
oriented predominantly toward controlling rather than learning, rewarding
individuals for performing for others rather than for cultivating their natural
curiosity and impulse to learn. (1990b, p.7)

Senge also notes that the school system and the organizational focus on
performing for others effectively trains people not to learn. Neil Postman and
Charles Weingartner made the same observation over a decade earlier, in Teaching
as a Subversive Activity (1969).

As is the case with many of the concepts in this course, the idea of the learning
organization began with the assumption that the organization gains by being
adaptive. Senge comments, The prevailing view of learning organizations
emphasizes increased adaptability, but goes on to state that adaptability is only
the first stage in moving toward learning organizations (1990b, p. 8).

Senge considers that the next stage of the movement toward the learning organization
is to focus on generative learning, which he describes as learning about the
systems that control events (p. 8) He believes that while people can solve problems
without solving the generic source of the problem, learning organizations should
focus on the system, not the incident.

While the concept of learning organization is relatively new, many of the practices
it implies are not. Drucker (1989) points out that the force driving change in
organizations is a renewed focus on information and information systems. Drucker
cites the symphony orchestra as a historical example of this kind of organization,
noting the emphasis on individual specialists who work in teams and are very focused
on learning all they can within their specialty (see p. 211). He notes the complete
absence of management, with a focus instead on an empowered conductor. While
Druckers analysis fails to mention that most modern orchestras are run according to
the negotiated agreements with musicians unions, and are actually highly structured
in terms of management, his observation does apply to the performance of the music.

Drucker also notes that the British civil service that operated in India for 200 years
met most of the characteristics of a modern, information-based organization
(1989, pp. 211-213). In giving these examples, Drucker is making a basic
assumption: that information-based organizations are very likely to be learning

88 Corporate Communication
organizations as well. This assumption is so widely held today that the words
information and knowledge are often used interchangeably in discussions about the
economy, society and age in which we live.

In The Global Learning Organization (1994), Marquardt and Reynolds state that
learning organizations are those in which learning is accomplished by the
organization system as a whole rather than by individual members of the system
(p. 20). On pages 20-23, they cite several definitions of the learning organization.
[An organization in which people] continually expand their capacity to
create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of
thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where
people are continually learning how to learn together. Peter Senge
[An organization that] facilitates learning and personal development
for all of its employees, while continually transforming itself.
Michael Beck
[A] system of actions, actors, symbols, and processes that enables an
organization to transform information into valued knowledge, which in
turn increases its long-run adaptive capacity. David Schwandt

They refer to many characteristics of learning organizations described by

Linda Morris:
Individual learning and development is linked with organizational
learning and development in an explicit and structured way.
There is a focus on creativity and adaptability.
Teams of all types are a part of the learning and working process.
Networkingpersonal and aided by technologyis important to
learning and to accomplishing work.
Systems thinking is fundamental.
Learning organizations have a powerful, clear vision of where they are
and where they are going.
Learning organizations are continually transforming themselves and
growing. (quoted in Marquart & Reynolds, 1994, p. 21)

Question for Thought

1. Using the Internet, library, and other sources, research Neil Postman and
Charles Weingartners seminal book Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969).
How does the content of this book relate to organizational behaviour and
corporate communication? Critically examine a website or journal article that
relates to this publication.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 89

Becoming a Learning Organization

Changed Roles and Skills

Peter Senge (1990b) argues that roles and skills are different in learning organizations
than in traditional hierarchical organizations. He cautions that leaders may have to
invest in making changes in their own roles if the learning organization is to succeed.
Senges descriptions of these new roles are outlined below.

Leader as designer: designing the organization to achieve results, beginning with

a foundation of purpose and core values (p. 10); fostering strategic thinking,
and building effective learning processes.

Leader as teacher: helping everyone in the organization . . . to gain more

insightful views of current reality (p. 11). This role is similar to leader as coach,
guide or facilitator. Senge suggests that leaders must help people focus on the
systemic factors that create the situation, rather than on solving individual

Leader as steward: supporting and helping people achieve their potential, and
supporting the mission of the organization.

Senge also notes that the dominant skills of the successful leader in the learning
organization differ from commonly noted leadership skills. The new skills he
outlines (1990b, pp. 10-16) include the ability to

encourage people to have a personal vision within the organizational vision.

communicate and ask for support.

undertake visioning as an ongoing process.

see abstractions that create new learning.

balance enquiry and advocacy.

see inter-relationships and processes.

focus on areas of high leverage.

avoid symptomatic solutions.

Drucker (1989), considering the impact of information systems and data processing
in organizations, presents a somewhat different view. He claims that the number of
management levels and the number of managers can be sharply cut (p. 209). He then
suggests that leaders will have to be more driven by strategy, transforming the
investment decision from one driven by numbers into a decision based on the
probability of alternative strategic assumptions (p. 209). He sees that the main role
of managers will be to relay information from a sender to receivers.

90 Corporate Communication
Drucker also notes that there will be more emphasis on specialists in information-
based organizations, and that these specialists are more likely to be located in
operational areas rather than in traditional headquarter functions. The need for
service staff associated with headquarter functions will shrink:
Todays typical organization, in which knowledge tends to be concentrated
in service staffs perched rather insecurely between top management and
operating people, will likely be labeled a phase, an attempt to infuse
knowledge from the top rather than obtain information from below.
(1989, 210)

In the same analysis, Drucker observes that, Traditional departments will serve as
guardians of standards, as centers for training and for the assignment of specialists.
The work itself will largely be done by task-focused teams. (1989, p. 210)

In summary, then, the concept of the learning organization places a great deal of
emphasis on teams, systems thinking and the value of systemic solutions. Learning
organizations are composed of specialists who work together. Leaders in learning
organizations are advised to become highly social, and to support and coach others
through the process of learning about themselves, the organization and its

The Transition
Is such an organization possible, or is it largely a utopian vision? How can an
organization make the transition to the learning state?

In Ten Steps to a Learning Organization (1993), P. Kline and B. Saunders write that a
safe learning environment has three requirements: structure, with agreed ground
rules that specify behaviour; nurturing, which involves people supporting each other
in their learning processes; and problem solving as a constant focus (see
pp. 79-80).

A more specific approach to learning is used by Xerox Business Services.

Alan Webber notes that
theres no senior change team, formal change program, no big-budget
activities, no specific performance goals. Instead, the mind-set is
experimental, inclusive, organic, almost playful. Through a seemingly
endless series of simulations, seminars, events and experiencesall
carefully designed to reinforce a message to employees about the value of
learningXBS has created an environment that not only produces business
results but also supports personal growth. (1996, p. 113)

XBS has had to adopt learning approaches since they are experiencing huge growth
that creates three big issues . . . business context issues, [internal] community issues
[and] skills issues (p. 113). XBS focused initially on visioning exercises, with
120 people in the first workshop and 400 people in a second. The next step
emphasized training approaches and involved a learning camp focused on recreating
the organization and accepting a more organic approach to organization. It appears
that XBS has made solid progress by using systematic learning and a tangible focus.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 91

The same article notes a study that tried to extract principles of corporate learning
from the XBS example. The major finding of this study was that an emphasis on
social interaction and personal involvement in learning activities improved the XBS
learning process.

In a similar review of learning development at Royal Dutch/Shell, one of Shells

managing directors notes two approaches that have helped change the company:

Fishbowlteams present their business plans in front of each other, face-to-face

with the managing director: . . . the process creates complete transparency . . . it
has completely changed the dynamics of our operation.

Field studiesteams travel around to comparable retail sites using different

methods and review their observations and what they have learned: . . . you
learn collectively, you learn to understand the customer . . . . (cited in Pascale,
1998, pp. 110-120)

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 7Learning Organizations, Article #1.

Questions for Thought

2. What steps do Heifetz and Laurie (2003) recommend for organizations looking
to adopt a learning organization model?

3. Does the concept of the learning organization appeal to you? Why or why not?
Refer to specific features and characteristics of this model. Is there another
model you prefer?

92 Corporate Communication
Learning Communities
Asked what is needed to create a learning organization, Chris Turner of Xerox
Business Services (cited by Webber, 1996, 116) notes that the first requirement is a
shared vision, defined as an ongoing conversation about the community being
created; the next requirement is trust. Turner states that trust is one of the essentials
for learning.

The concept of a learning community, characterized by a shared vision and trusting

relationships, has also been raised by Tom Kofman and Peter Senge (1995). They
observe that the community supports certain ways of being and constrains the
expressions of individuality to certain patterns of behaviour (p. 29). According to
Stephanie Ryan (1995), learning communities find value in the collective process of
discovery, and people in such communities find value in ongoing questioning.
These communities are sustained by a continued commitment to share this journey
of exploration with one another on matters people care deeply about (p. 280).

A learning community is therefore a group of people who share a common vision and
collectively explore new means to achieve the vision in a way that serves everyones
needs. The learning community is not limited to people who work together in the
same area, or even to people who work in the same organization. The important
binding element is a common vision, not a common work place.

Other characteristics include an interest in problems and questions, a willingness to

explore more than one solution and an acceptance of the inherent tension between
pride in accomplishment and searching for new ways to replace old ones.

Ryan, and Kofman and Senge, note that members of a learning community support
each other in the learning and development process. The members view the
development of the community as a positive gain, and do not control or gate keep
knowledge to gain personal power. Ryan notes that members of learning communities
are good at giving and receiving critiques, and they spend a portion of their time
examining their thinking processes because they value collective performance
(1995, p. 280)

Are learning communities a new form of organization? The reader may remember
that nearly all of the assumptions and principles of the learning community have been
embedded in previous philosophical views and community practices, especially in
the Western monastic tradition established by St. Benedict, and in the community
described by Sir Thomas More in Utopia (1515). In The Social Philosophers,
Community and Conflict in Western Thought (1973), Robert Nisbet observes of the
Benedictine monastic community that the very essence of the order was its
communality . . . and that the monastery, especially as it was conceived by Benedict,
is the real source of most of our Western ideas of community (p. 320). Nisbet
describes both Benedictine and Utopian communities as ecological communities,
referring to the natural interdependences found among organisms, including human
beings, and between organisms and their environment (pp. 324-326). The Utopian
community was modelled after the Benedictine community. It, too, emphasized
community and learning. Interestingly, Nisbet notes that key characteristics of these
communities include autonomous associationgroups, associations and communities
which are, as near as is humanly possible, free of authority or coercion (p. 328),
cooperation (as a reaction to competitive, individualist industrial capitalism) and

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 93

As you may have noted, many authors have explored the concept of teams within
organizations, and many self-directed teams follow the basic direction of the
learning organization. Zenger, Musselwhite, Hurson and Perrin (1994) describe
how an organization can move to team leadership from supervisory leadership.
These authors suggest that a team leader must be trained to
build trust and inspire teamwork;
facilitate and support team decisions;
expand team capabilities;
create a team identity;
make the most of team [diversity];
foresee and influence change; and
encourage customer focus and process improvement. (p. 162)

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 7Learning Organizations, Article #2.

Question for Thought

4. Pinchot (1998) defines the concept of organizational community. Apply the six
steps of creating such a community to an organization with which you are
familiar to see if this model has been adopted.

94 Corporate Communication
Even in traditional hierarchies designed to control information pathways, there has
always been another information system: the rumour mill. This network broadcasts
all of the unofficial information, alerting people to changing patterns, threats and
opportunities before any announcement is made. The rumour mill also gives
people a way to address the personal relationships that are part of the organization,
although they may never be officially talked about.

In the learning organization, networking changes dramatically from being a

subversive activity to being the core of the organizational communication system.
People are encouraged to share learning and build relationships through networking;
their communication is expected to flourish along informal network channels, rather
than through formal announcements. Not surprisingly, the networking extends well
beyond the organization, with the expectation that employees will make good ethical
judgments about what information is internal and what information can reasonably
be spread beyond the organization.

Electronic networks such as email, LAN systems, and intranets have greatly
increased the potential for networking, and have created a new architecture of the
network. The use of electronic networks has increased the potential for uncontrolled
information, as in the example below.
Employees at Netscape Communications and Silicon Graphics [write their
worst complaints down] . . . every day, in wide-open virtual conversations
housed on company servers, for anyone within the fire walls to read . . . .
Drew Banks, who oversees all of SGIs newsgroups as manager of employee
communications [says that] a vibrant bad attitude serves as an escape valve
for negative energyand keeps the gripes that usually circulate at happy
hour in-house . . . the kiss of death for bad attitude is any attempt to
domesticate it with rules or policies. Just the barest hint of management
interference splintered Netscapes forum. (Mieszkowski, 1997, pp. 26-28)

The work of a learning organization requires open access to information. Hence,

databases and emerging intelligence in the organization should be accessible from
nearly any computer within the organizations network. This structure changes the
role of the corporate communicator; in the purely hierarchical organization, the
communicator may be a gatekeeper (withholding sensitive information), but in the
learning organization, the communicator is often a gateway, ensuring that
information gets onto the network quickly.

A sense of ethics is a major concern in learning organizations that have a relatively

open flow of information. A very open information flow allows lots of room for
personal initiative, and demands that the participants have an acute sense of ethics.

It may appear from our discussions that learning organizations would lack boundaries,
but this is not necessarily so. Jill Janov notes that boundaries are the most critical
aspect of any system; that a boundary can be technical, such as the ability of one

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 95

computer system to link to another (1994, p. 142); and that any demarcation can
be a boundary. Janov provides several examples, including demarcations between
the enterprise and its suppliers, customers, regulators, shareholders and
stakeholders. . . .
support functions and line functions. . . .
members of different teams, task forces and committees. (p. 142)

Janov observes that

action that occurs across boundaries is more critical than action that occurs
within the boundaries of given roles and functions. . . . Decision-making
ability is a primary component of a boundary. Whether a boundary is fixed,
fluid, or flexible, within it, decisions can be made. Fluid or flexible
boundaries are temporary and changeable, but within them, people . . . have
the knowledge to make required decisions and the authority to do so. (1994,
pp. 142-143)

She links the concept of boundaries to learning organizations by suggesting that

inventive corporations must identify which boundaries create organizational
learning and core competence (1994, p. 144). She also points out that efforts to
make systemic change must be linked to earlier efforts:
When we think of organizations as systems that are in the process of
becoming, we recognize that everything that has occurred previously is part
of the system and needs to be honored and linked to the systemic initiative
that is about to be undertaken. (p. 148)

One must also bear in mind that computer systems have been widely adopted by
learning organizations. Louis Fried comments that the information systems that
support immediate exchange of information generally require standards for
hardware, software and development methods, because such standards lessen the
variability of the results. He states that good standards reduce complexity . . . and
save costs. Poor standards, on the other hand, may paralyze an organization with
paperwork and procedures or lead to ingrained thinking (1995, p. 24).

Fried also mentions the value of having centralized coordination of communication

Because data and voice communications are truly a utility for all
users, it makes eminent sense to centralize these functions. Skilled
telecommunications planners, network designers, and network
managers are scarce, and centralization requires fewer such specialists.
(p. 21)

He points out that there are specific requirements for information security in the
network. Information security addresses both the integrity of the information
(avoiding loss or corruption of data) and its confidentiality. Fried says that most
organizations should, Establish and coordinate the information security
standards-setting process [which defines] program elements, responsibilities and
high-level control requirements (p. 22). In Frieds opinion, information security
should be supported by an awareness program and a training program.

96 Corporate Communication
The use of standards and protocols has a distinct advantage: it allows work to proceed
smoothly and ensures that the information and formats are compatible. In the
emerging world of intranets, a close relationship is needed between communicators,
who shape the standards for communication, and information services, who shape the
standards for electronic formats.

In the learning organization, corporate communication often has a major role in the
development and distribution of standards and limitations, so that the organization
can be consistent and well operated, as well as experimental. The key to effective
communication is to get the standards directly into the work process, without having
them appear too limiting.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 7Learning Organizations, Article #3.

Questions for Thought

5. Is networking important to your learning, your work, or both? Explain.

6. How are structure, nurturing and problem solving important to learning


7. Lidsky (2004) advances the notion of being an idea farm. Explain and discuss
the significance of this concept using practical examples with which you are

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 97

Customer Service
Customer service became a management fad in the 1980s, even though it had been a
component of management practice and literature for decades. Authors of customer
service articles in the 1980s pointed out that service was the critical focus for
competitive advantage. It is not surprising, then, that Kevin Coyne wrote that
Superior service is fashionable in the business press these days . . . service
cheerleaders extol the virtues of investing to improve all types of customer
service [and] service appears to offer an opportunity for positive lasting
differentiation. (1989, p. 69)

Coyne casts doubt on this observation by noting that executives are asking whether
all companies can be distinguished from competitors based on greater service, and
whether customers will actually pay for service. He warns that investments in service
can either create large benefits or . . . be a massive waste of time, effort, and
shareholders money (1989, p. 69).

Coyne also notes that many service investments fail because managers
think incorrectly about service issues. They approach service issues in
warm, fuzzy terms, rather than as a set of hard business decisions. . . .
They believe superior service is the result of an all-pervasive good
attitude among employees. (pp. 69-70)

According to Coyne, service initiatives fail in various circumstances, including when

service does not actually improve, despite the effort; when the customer does not care
about the changes to service; and when the customer service effort actually detracts
from other, more important items.

Zeithamel, Berry and Parasuraman (1988) analyse why gaining consistent quality of
service is difficult. They conclude that most factors involve communication and
control processes implemented in service organizations to manage employees
(p. 37). They note that there is a significant gap between what the customer expects
and what management directs to guide service delivery, and they suggest a reason for
this gap: layers of management inhibit communication and understanding because
they place barriers between senders and receivers of messages (p. 39). They also
suggest that the teamwork is an important requirement for effective service, and note
specifically several important factors: the extent to which employees view other
employees as customers; the extent to which employees feel management cares about
them; the extent to which employees feel they are cooperating with rather than
competing against each other; and the extent to which employees feel personally
involved and committed. These authors also propose that an important aspect of
horizontal communication is the coordination or integration of departments in an
organization to achieve strategic objectives (p. 44).

As is the case with all other facets of organizational communication, it is essential

that internal stakeholders understand the overall vision and intentions of the
organization and that a strategic plan be in place to promote good customer relations.
It is also imperative that stakeholders are aware of and have ready access to people
(or other sources of information) to explain the nature and the details of the strategic

98 Corporate Communication
plan. Without such consistency, customer service efforts can quickly become random
and ineffective.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 7Learning Organizations, Article #4.

Read the excerpt from Communicating the complex truth about cholesterol, by
Bradley T. Gale, reproduced in the Reading File.

Questions for Thought

8. Think of an organization of which you are aware that is currently adopting the
learning organization model. Explain how the process is being undertaken.
Critically examine their website (if available).

9. Some proponents of the learning organization model, such as Fried (1995),

recommend that communication coordination be centralized within the
organization. In previous units, we saw that other organizational theorists
recommend more decentralized communication structures. Which do you prefer,
and why?

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 99

100 Corporate Communication
Unit 8
Social Responsibility

By subscribing to a set of consistent organizational values that attempt to

safeguard both financial and social performance, and by empowering and
enabling employees to articulate their concerns, organizations can prevent
corporate social irresponsibility, and promote responsibility. (Bansal &
Kandola, 2004, p. 6)

In this unit, we examine the nature of corporate (or organizational) social

responsibility (CSR). In particular, we consider what this concept means for an
organizations members and stakeholders, and for those responsible for
communication within the organization. We examine why and how this concept has
gained esteem within organizational communities, and review the forms it can take.

When you have completed Unit 8, you should be able to

1. define corporate or organizational social responsibility (CSR).

2. describe some of the forms that CSR can take.

3. discuss the differences and similarities between social and environmental

corporate responsibility.

4. describe the opportunities that CSR offers to organizations.

5. discuss the place of CSR within organizations.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 101

CSR: A Working Definition
In the wake of widespread corporate scandals in North America and abroad, a new
concept has been popularized in organizational theory and business studiescorporate
citizenship or corporate social responsibility (CSR). The emergence of accounting
and reporting scandals, such as those involving Enron, Nortel and Parmalat, are
among the most prominent reasons for the emergence of CSR; however, other factors
are also significant. For example, stakeholder demand for greater environmental and
community responsibility is a significant contributing factor, as is the realization by
organizational strategists that CSR can be a profitable way to do business.

As a result, organizations are making conscious efforts to avoid the scandal and
corruption that can destroy them and devastate the lives of their employees,
customers and investors. Many organizations are consciously adopting ethical
frameworks predicated on commitments to socially beneficial philosophies and
visions that are expected to translate into socially constructive effects and outcomes.
This CSR framework is supported by its own set of theories, practices and networks,
including organizations such as Canadian Business for Social Responsibility and the
Canadian Centre for Ethics and Corporate Policy, among others.

As suggested by media coverage of corporate scandals, communication plays a vital

role in the handling of such crises once they become public. In Unit 4, we discussed
crisis management, and concluded that the effectiveness of communications-based
issue management depends on the integrity of the communication plan in place and
the nature and severity of the fundamental issue at hand. However, an organization
that adopts a conscious approach to CSR seeks to prevent the adoption of unethical
practices, and consequently the necessity of managing ensuing issues.

As are most dimensions of organizational management, CSR is multi-faceted.

Fundamentally, CSR means that an organization is committed to influencing the
people and places it affects in positive and constructive ways. A socially responsible
organization identifies itself as a stakeholder in all of the processes it embraces, and
recognizes that its success depends on the success of other stakeholders. Thus, CSR
can refer to many organizational acts and commitments: the establishment of internal
ethical codes designed to prevent contract awarders from accepting gifts from
suppliers; the implementation of transparent and open accounting practices and
documents; an organizational commitment to building environmentally sensitive
facilities or to financial sponsorship of community-based service organizations, or
both; and so on. CSR permeates an organization and affects all business units, so
accountability for CSR is potentially widespread and context-specific.

Corporate Irresponsibility
The media coverage of corporate scandals (e.g., the Enron, Nortel and Parmalat
scandals) generates intense public scrutiny. Key questions generally posed by the
media within such contents are How does an organization end up in such turmoil?
and How were such results allowed to be produced? The answers to such questions
are meant to serve as admonitory lessons to other organizations and as cautionary
tales for other stakeholders, such as alliance partners and investors. These answers
also indicate why and how corporate social responsibility emerged as a progressive

102 Corporate Communication

concept in the context of organizational management. Other factors contributing to
the emergence include stakeholder demands for greater environmental and
community responsibility, and the realization, by organizational strategists that CSR
can be a profitable way of doing business.

In their article, Corporate social responsibility: Why good people behave badly in
organizations (2004), Bansal and Kandola acknowledge that is it challenging, even
through research, to determine why the individuals who are responsible for
corporations facilitate questionable practices within their organizations. They suggest,
however, that the following two factors are essential to the deterrence of corporate
social irresponsibility: a set of strong and consistent organizational values that
espouse corporate social responsibility, and employee empowerment that permits and
encourages individuals to express their concerns to senior management (p. 4).

Clearly, it is imperative to the functioning of a socially responsible organization that

organizational values are clear and easily recognizable by all members. Furthermore,
members must be committed to the fundamental values of the organization. Channels
of communication among all levels and facets of the organization must be opened
and maintained to encourage accountability. This accountability is essential when the
stakes are so high: employees, investors, alliance partners and suppliers, among
others, rely on the integrity of others for their own well being.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 8Social Responsibility, Article #1.

Questions for Thought

1. What makes good people behave badly in organizations? Refer to the

perspective of social psychology described by Bansal and Kandola (2004,
p. 3) as well as your own ideas. Remember to support any ideas you propose.

2. Identify some organizations that you know to be socially responsible. How do

they achieve social responsibility? How are their missions communicated to
internal and external stakeholders? Critically examine their websites, if

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 103

Environmental and Community Responsibility
Increasing environmental and community awareness are characteristic of social
thought in the twenty-first century. The principles of environmental and community
movements, which include preservation, sustainability, holistic planning and
inclusion, have found a place in organizational theory and strategy. Organizations
have found that the incorporation of such principles into their core values has allowed
them to enhance their accountability and responsibility to all stakeholders, from
entry-level employees to members of the communities they serve. For non-profit
organizations, such as universities and other learning centres, the emergence of CSR
has created many opportunities for the exploration and study of related concepts,
while accomplishing core objectives. In for-profit organizations, CSR approaches to
business have, in many cases, resulted in enhanced profitability. In both contexts, the
adoption of CSR has allowed for new forms of communication in marketing and
organizational positioning.

A notable example of a non-profit organization that has committed to CSR in a

tangible way is the University of GuelphHumber, located in Mississauga, ON. The
installation of a plant wall biofilter in a common area of the main campus building
demonstrates a concrete commitment to the well-being of stakeholders inside and
outside of the organization. This plant-covered wall provides an interior plantscape
that removes common indoor contaminants and improves the living environment
(University of GuelphHumber, n.d.). As a non-verbal statement of commitment to
research in action, this biofilter brings together science and art to deal with real
problems of indoor air quality in an aesthetic and sustainable manner, thus
challenging the paradigms of architectural form and function while improving the
immediate physical environment.

Many for-profit organizations are recognizable by their environmentally and socially

minded efforts. On a multinational scale, Smith & Hawken, Starbucks Coffee, The
Body Shop and carpet manufacturer Interface Inc., each incorporates different
environmentally and socially progressive precepts into its mandate. The marketing
and other communications of these organizations promote such commitments; as a
result, consumers and other stakeholders can readily identify the nature and intention
of these commitments, and make associations accordingly. In the Canadian context,
notable organizations with similar commitments are HBC, the VanCity Group of
Companies, the Mountain Equipment Co-operative and Lululemon Athletica.

When consumers and other stakeholders recognize that an organizations values and
commitments are comparable to their own, they are more likely to solicit the services
and products offered by that organization. Likewise, when consumers and other
stakeholders recognize that an organization is working to better the community in
which they live and work, they are more likely to support the mission and overall
objectives of the organization. Management professor Michael Russo of the
University of Oregon states that
Greener companies tend to promote innovation, conserve valuable
resources in their production systems and enhance their reputation for both
prospective employees and potential customers. They go beyond the
minimum required by law, and their shareholders reap the rewards. (quoted
in Priesnitz, 2003, p. 11)

104 Corporate Communication

All stakeholders benefit when commitments of organizational social responsibility
are made and maintained.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 8Social Responsibility, Article #2.

Questions for Thought

3. Do you think the motivation for organizations to become socially responsible is

primarily economically or socially motivated? Explain, and support your
position with examples.

4. If an organization declares itself to be socially responsible, is it necessarily so?

Why or why not?

5. Can coffee bean production ever be a socially responsible corporate endeavour?

Consider facts with which you are already familiar as well as content from
Wendy Priesnitzs (2003) article.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 105

The Organizational Place of CSR
With the significance of CSR established, it is essential to determine where the
responsibility for its coordination rests within organizations. CSR is a far-reaching
and multi-faceted organizational undertaking, and the coordination of CSR efforts is
an indispensable function. If an organization acknowledges the paradigm of the new
triple bottom linesocial, environmental and economic performance (Mees &
Bonham, 2004, p. 11), the responsibility for the execution of related efforts must fall
under the jurisdiction of an individual or department comfortable with change
management. As you will read shortly, Adine Mees and Jamie Bonham (2004) of the
organization Canadian Business for Social Responsibility argue that CSR
responsibilities should reside primarily with the human resources (HR) department:
A company can talk all it wants about the importance of CSR to business,
but if employees are not engaged, the endeavour will inevitably fail.
Because of HRs skills in people management, it has the ability to cut across
all departments in instituting systematic change. (p. 11)

The authors identify the following five characteristics of an effective CSR

undertaking, and argue why such characteristics lend themselves well to HR.
Managing change: The two most important characteristics a company
needs to possess to advance a sustainability agenda successfully are the
capacity to lead and manage organizational change and the ability to
innovate. HR is all about managing change within an organization and
helping employees to learn and adapt to organizational shifts.
Delivery: The integrity and effectiveness of CSR is dependent on delivery
against a clear and engaging corporate mission, not on flowery mission
statements. HR houses many of the systems and processes that effective
delivery depends on, such as recruitment, training and communication. HR
people have the skills to engage employees from all facets of the
organization, across all departments.
Performance: Just like financial performance, CSR needs to be integrated
management into employee performance management and performance
objectives. Making people accountable is essential to success, and HR has
the tools and skills to make this happen.
Relationships and trust: So much of CSR is built upon creating and
maintaining trust in relationships with stakeholders. Building relationships
and trust is intrinsic to the daily functioning of HR departments, and as such,
HR can use the people management skills it has developed to its advantage.
Cultural shift: CSR has to be embedded in the culture of the organization.
HR can lead change within the company by engaging problem-solvers and
working with a team across the full spectrum of the organization. Corporate
culture is largely defined by the role of HR, and thus HR has the greatest
ability to effect a change in that culture. (Mees & Bonham, 2004, p. 11)

Depending on its internal structure, an organization could choose to house CSR

responsibilities within an area or department other than HR. A designated
communications department could be appropriate, as could a separate and distinct
committee of people from different levels and departments. If the size of the
organization of the project undertaken are appropriate, designation of responsibility

106 Corporate Communication

to a single individual could also be a feasible choice. Although Mees and Bonhams
arguments (2004) in favour of a correlation between HR and CSR are compelling,
CSR decision makers must analyse the breadth and scope of organizational objectives
in this context before making a definitive decision about responsibility.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 8Social Responsibility, Article #3.

Questions for Thought

6. Where do you think socially responsibility organizational endeavours should be

housed within an organization? Does this decision differ depending on the size
of the organization, the project, or both? Offer examples from your own
experience, if possible.

7. Do you agree that the bottom line in contemporary economies is now three-fold:
economic, social and environmental (Mees & Bonham, 2004, p. 11)? Can an
organization prosper if it is not succeeding in one or more of these areas? Explain.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 107

Ethical Compliance and CSR
As suggested by its name and definition, corporate social responsibility is founded on
an ethical commitment to maintaining and improving the quality of life of
stakeholders. For any CSR endeavour to begin and to be effective, ethical
considerations must be firmly entrenched within the organizations culturethrough
policies, procedures, mission statements, vision statements and tangible acts that
demonstrate organizational commitments. As we have indicated, the organizations
members must be aware of these values, which must be recognizable within the
organization before they can be made recognizable to external stakeholders.
Communications practitioners must be cognizant of the organizations ethical
precepts and CSR undertakings. If CSR is to be truly authentic and effective, ethical
considerations must assume a significant role in decision-making processes.

Laura Bogomolny (2004) of the Institute for Business Ethics comments that
establishing widespread ethical compliance is challenging to achieve; this
compliance, however, is essential to the effectiveness of corporate social
responsibility efforts. Bogomolny notes that
Executive leadership is the most important feature in creating a company
that integrates ethical considerations into its business decisions. . . .
Once staunch support from the executive level is established, two distinct
initiatives should also occur. Begin frequent discussions with staff groups
about real-life ethical dilemmas that take place (or may happen) at the
office. . . .
As well, proceed with an ethics review. Honestly determine your companys
ethical strengths and weaknesses. . . .
After a thorough discussion and review, the ethical values and principles to
which a company aspires should be more evident, and a meaningful code of
conduct and ethics can be drafted. . . .
Code completed, continued training, reinforcement, and compliance
monitoring are critical. (2004, p. 88)

An effective CSR undertaking should be based on the fundamental values and

principles of the organization. Without such correlation, the organization risks wasting
resources on a cursory public relations activity, the superficiality of which will be
noticeable to the stakeholders the organization is trying help, or win over, or both.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 8Social Responsibility, Article #4.

108 Corporate Communication

Question for Thought

8. Are codes of ethics part of the decision-making process in your organization? If

so, is this an effective strategy for social responsibility? If not, do you think that
such consideration would help the social accountability of the organization?

9. According to Bogomolny (2004, p. 87), why is it difficult to ensure

organization-wide compliance with codes of ethics? Do you agree? Explain.

Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 109

Measuring CSR
As the market expects and demands social responsibility from the organizations it
supports and makes successful, the call for mechanisms designed to monitor the
execution and results of CSR becomes more pressing, particularly for large
organizations. At the time of writing, the most prevalent tool for accomplishing such
measurement is the sustainability report. Such reports are performance reports
that take into account a companys economic, social and environmental performance,
the three factors that make up what is known as the triple bottom line (Vu, 2004,
p. 3). These elements are defined by Vu as follows:
[E]conomic performance is not just a measure of a companys financial
well-being, but also its contribution to human capital development,
particularly in local economies. . . .
Environmental considerations take into account a companys energy
consumption, waste disposal policies and the like. . . .
[S]ocial performance refers to a companys commitment to equality,
diversity and human rights. (Vu, 2004, p. 3)

There are many different standards and systems for the measurement of these aspects
of organizational performance. It is the responsibility of CSR coordinators within an
organization to determine which standards and systems best suit their particular
needs and agendas. The Canadian Centre for Ethics and Corporate Policy, or Ethics
Centre CA, is an organization dedicated to the promotion of organizational ethics
resources and information, and could be of significant value to an organization
developing, expanding, or managing a CSR program. Take this opportunity to visit
the Centres website (see Canadian Centre for Ethics and Corporate Policy, n.d.)

It is also important to note that the measurement tools chosen for a particular
organization or project must be context-specific. A firm embarking on a local
community service project, such as offering employees work time to volunteer in a
local classroom, may find that measurement in the form of the children and teachers
appreciation is all that is required.

Reading Assignment

In the DRR, read Unit 8Social Responsibility, Article #5.

Question for Thought

10. Should all social responsibility efforts within organizations be measured?

Should the all be measured in the same way? Explain.

110 Corporate Communication

Note: URLs have been provided for online versions of some of the articles listed
below. You may be able to retrieve other articles through the journal databases held
by the Athabasca University Library. Please see the Library Services section of
the Student Manual for information.

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Albrecht, K. (1992). The only thing that matters. New York: Harper Business.

Alinsky, S. (1971). Rules for radicals. New York: Random House.

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Bridges, W. (1991). Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Reading,

MA: Addison-Wesley.

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Communication Studies 380 / Study Guide 111

Byers, P. Y. (1997). Organizational communication: Theory and behavior.
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cultures for tomorrows workplace. Portland, OR: Productivity Press.

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by John Higginbotham. London: Faber.

Clampitt, P. G., Berk, L. & Williams, M. L. (2002). Leaders as strategic

communicators. Ivey Business Journal, 66 (5), 50-55.

Cohen, W. (1986). Winning on the marketing front. Toronto: Wiley.

Collier, J. & Collier, M. (1957, January). An experiment in applied anthropology.

Scientific American, 37-45.

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controversy. Victoria, BC: Development Press (Connor Development
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real world. Sloan Management Review, 30 (4), 31-50.

Creighton, J. (1995). Trends in the field of public participation in the United States.
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Drucker, P. F. (1989). The new realities. New York: Harper and Row.

112 Corporate Communication

Drucker, P. F. (1993). Post-capitalist society. New York: Harper Business.

Drucker, P. F. (1994, November). The age of social transformation. Atlantic

Monthly, 53-80. Retrieved June 28, 2006, from

Drucker, P. F. (1995). Managing in a time of great change. New York: Truman


Fallows, J. (1995, January). A triumph of misinformation. Atlantic Monthly, 26-37.

Fishman, C. (1997, January). They write the right stuff. Fast Company, 6, 95-99,
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York: Fawcett Columbine.

Fried, L. (1995). Managing information technology in turbulent times. New York:


Gale, B. T. (1994). Managing customer value. New York: The Free Press.

Garvin, D. (1997, December). Competing on the eight dimensions of quality.

Harvard Business Review, 65 (6), 101-109.

Ginsberg, B. (1986). The captive public: How mass opinion promotes state power.
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Supplementary Reading List
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Petersen, D. (1996). A better idea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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the knowledge society. New York: McGraw-Hill.

120 Corporate Communication