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Communication
Communication management as a management
second-order management
function
127
Roles and functions of the communication
executive – results from a shadowing study
Howard Nothhaft
Institute for Communications and Media, Science University of Leipzig, Leipzig,
Germany

Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide young communication managers with a theoretical
framework to better understand what they are doing.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper combines theoretical reflections with empirical
material from an observation study, a “shadowing study” of eight communication managers in
German companies undertaken by the author.
Findings – Communication management is explained as a second-order management function, i.e. a
function which not only coordinates organizational performance by planning, organizing, controlling,
but also institutionalizes certain concerns in the organization. Drawing on the shadowing study, the
paper describes how communication managers “manage the management of others” by acting in
certain roles, e.g. the missionary (not the guru), the agent of common sense (not the enforcer), the
buck’s stop (not the CEO’s darling). Communication management, it is argued, is not predominantly
concerned with power in the organizations, but with influence.
Originality/value – Based on week-long observations of eight experienced communication
executives’ everyday activities, the paper argues against concepts which implicitly or explicitly
debase “soft”, “influence-based” and “people-oriented” approaches and portray “proper”
communication management as “hard”, “power-based” and “system-oriented”.
Keywords Communication management, Management roles, Research, Influence
Paper type Research paper

1. Introduction: planting the seeds


One seldom has the opportunity to see the communication executive of one of
Germany’s largest companies repeating the same 45 minute talk several times in a row.
In the course of his shadowing study, the author experienced this during an
“information day”. Seven times in a row the author witnessed the communication
executive explaining the brand values of the company to new employees, most of them
natural scientists in background, and entering at lower middle-management level.
Giving the talks, answering questions and engaging in discussions took the whole day.
Mingling with the participants during the 15minute coffee breaks, the author could Journal of Communication
not fail to note that many of the new entrants were impressed. Not only were they Management
Vol. 14 No. 2, 2010
impressed by the forceful and passionate talk the manager gave, but also with the fact pp. 127-140
that a real organizational heavyweight had been dispatched to talk to the “newbies”, q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1363-254X
and about a thing like brand values. Other departments had sent deputies and DOI 10.1108/13632541011034583
JCOM assistants, but seldom the boss. “He’s level 3”, the author heard one participant explain
14,2 to the other, “he’s talking to the CEO every day”.
After the occasion the author walked back to the office with the manager. It was late
and the manager had decided to put in some extra evening hours, trying to catch up
with the work that had been left during the day. As the author had been accompanying
the person for a couple of days by then, he knew what a day meant and asked: “Can
128 you afford to be away from your office for a whole day just to repeat the same talk
again and again to new entrants you will probably never see again in your career?” The
answer the manager gave was not surprising at first. He repeated what he had told the
author a couple of times – his credo that a well-run communication department should
run smoothly without the boss being around. But then, having second thoughts, he
added: “This is my foremost task. I did my job today. Occasions like these provide me
with the opportunity to plant the seeds of my understanding of the company’s brand
values, of our philosophy, at the earliest possible moment. What I invest in time and
effort now, will be repaid a dozen fold. What I sow now will be reaped in three or five or
ten years.”
The anecdote, among others, inspired the themes the author wishes to discuss in the
following pages. The core idea is simple and by no means new: communication
management, the author agrees, is direct, immediate management, yes – but it also
involves influencing the management of others, often with a view to long-term effects,
often with a view to very soft, untraceable results, often in a way which could be
considered “unmanagerial”. Based on his observations during eight weeks of following
communication executives’ in their daily work, the author argues that communication
managers need to be careful not to strive to become “managerial” in a way
incompatible with communication management’s higher and more subtle functions.
Students of communication management and aspiring communication managers need
to be very aware of the fact that they will often operate in a mode the author labels
“second-order management”.

2. Putting management in communication management


“. . . public relations researchers appear to have largely ignored the extensive body of
management literature”, Moss et al. (2004), conclude at the turn of the century (2000).
Eight years later, PR research seems to be well on its way in communication
management research (for a retrospective overview of this particular theoretical
“edifice” see. Grunig, 2006; also Heath, 2006; Zerfaß, 2007), pursuing an agenda which,
as Moss and Green (2001, p. 121) point out, has been outlined by researchers into public
relations roles such as Larissa Grunig and Elizabeth Toth: Namely that practitioners
should not only demonstrate their capability of advising and counselling, “. . . but also
to plan and manage budgets, supervise others, evaluate research etc.”. The debates
about “communications controlling” and “communication strategy” represent
management concepts here, placing communication manager’s managerial
capabilities in a broader, systematic context.
Concepts of organizational functions and the economic contribution of
communication are only one side of the coin, however. Despite a long tradition of
PR-specific role research (see. Toth et al. 1998), and recent management-research
inspired projects (see. Moss and Green, 2001; Moss et al., 2000; Moss et al., 2005;
Gregory, 2008), the day-to-day-work of communication executives as managers still
seems inadequately analyzed. How does communication management look like in Communication
“real”? Which functions are performed? Which roles are taken? management
2.1 Shadowing as structured observation
Management as well as PR research has employed a whole range of methods to throw
light on the work of general managers and PR practitioners. Actor-focused research, as
the author calls it, has relied on questionnaires, diary studies, covert interviews, 129
simulation games, and even essay-writing (for management research see. Hales, 1986;
1999, 2001; Fondas and Stewart, 1994; Schirmer, 1992; for PR research see. Toth et al.,
1998; Moss et al., 2000). St Gallen management scholar Malik (2006, p. 40) argues,
however, that observation is the only scientific method which allows meaningful
insights when it comes to understanding what managers do, and why. As Malik puts it
(translated by the author):
For that reason, I have stopped asking managers about their management practices long time
ago. Interviewing but also other forms of questioning are hopeless. The manager’s responses
either are useless or they tell you what they believe you want to hear. Some of the managers
instruct their assistants to prepare the current literature on what is en vogue. That is seldom
important.
Although the author believes that other methods do have their merits, and conducted
interviews himself apart from the shadowing, Malik points to an important tendency in
management research: Managers – and communication managers, too – want to be
seen as up-to-date with the latest scholarly concepts. But it remains highly
questionable whether the scholarly concepts are really at the core of their managing.
Consequently, the author opted for a research design inspired by Henry Mintzberg’s
(1970, 1973) famous study The Nature of Managerial Work. In order to find out what
managers “really” do, Mintzberg observed five CEOs for a week each, employing a
method he dubbed “structured observation” or “shadowing”. The author, in turn,
observed the work of eight communication managers in various German companies
ranging from regional in size to global player. The data collected can be described as
qualitative data with a quantitative skeleton.

2.2 Functions and roles


In actor-focused research of managerial work there have been three major approaches
of how to describe what managers do:
(1) Activity data means logging outward behaviour such as observing whether the
manager is talking on the telephone, reading a publication, giving a speech etc.
It is a basic, descriptive, but hard and “behavioural” approach which makes do
without the observer second-guessing the purpose of a manager’s actions.
(2) The performing of functions.
(3) The taking of roles presupposes that the observer ascribes a purpose to an
activity. Scholars like Mintzberg have made much of the distinction between the
functions and roles – however, as the differences are often blurred and vague, a
short explanation seems in order.

2.2.1 Fayol’s functions. Addressing management functions represents one of the


earliest strategies of coming to grips with what management is about. The so-called
JCOM analytical-function school dates back to early management scholar Henri Fayol. In
14,2 Administration Industrielle et Générale (1916), Fayol (1966), a Frenchman who had been
director of a mining company, outlined the five functions of the management of an
organization:
(1) Prévoir. Prediction and planning.
130 (2) Organiser. Organising.
(3) Commander. Directing.
(4) Coordonner. Coordinating.
(5) Contrôler. Controlling.

In the wake of Fayol, management scholars have proposed a plethora of varying


functional analyses, ranging from very simple to very advanced. However, as
management scholars Carroll and Gillen (1987) conclude, management research during
the twentieth century did not add much to Fayol’s functional analysis. Taking a look at
management textbooks up to 1986, the authors point out that 17 of 21 use at least four
of Fayol’s five functions to structure the respective works. Some authors, with good
arguments, extended Fayol’s five classics and ended up with acronyms such as
POSDCORB (Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, COordinating, Reporting,
Budgeting) or PRINCESS (Planning, Representing, Investigating, Negotiating,
Coordinating, Evaluating, Staffing, Supervising). Others went in the opposite
direction and reduced Fayol to three functions, namely Planning, Organizing,
Controlling (see Steinmann and Schreyögg, 2002) or Create, Develop, Guide[1]. Again,
others tried to find the one and only “true” management function. As Mintzberg (1994,
p. 11) puts it:
Tom Peters tells us that good managers are “doers” (Wall Street says they “do deals”).
Michael Porter suggests that they are thinkers. Not so, argue Abraham Zaleznik and Warren
Bennis: good managers are really leaders. Yet, for the better part of this century, the classical
writers – Henry Fayol and Lyndell Urwick – kept telling us that good managers are
essentially controllers.
2.2.2 Mintzberg’s roles. As perhaps is widely known, Mintzberg’s own shadowing
study resulted in a set of ten management roles, with the titles being largely
self-explanatory:
(1) Figurehead.
(2) Leader.
(3) Liaison.
(4) Monitor.
(5) Disseminator.
(6) Spokesperson.
(7) Entrepreneur.
(8) Disturbance handler.
(9) Resource allocator.
(10) Negotiator.
What made Mintzberg’s (1990, p. 163) study enormously influential is that he pointed Communication
to a fundamental flaw in Fayol’s concept, at least from the view of empiric research. “If management
you ask managers what they do, they will most likely tell you that they plan, organize,
coordinate, and control. Then watch what they do. Don’t be surprised if you can’t relate
what you see to these words”. In contrast, Mintzberg claims the ten roles he himself
suggests are easily observable, clear and distinct.
131
2.3 Clarifications: functions and roles
The author, although inspired by Mintzberg’s work, disagrees. The author believes
that both functions and roles are observable, but they reflect different aspects of what
managers do, why and how they do it. Mintzberg is right insofar as roles are far more
easily observable, as they represent “pre-fabricated” sets of behaviour, either
recognized by the manager himself, by other parties or both (for reflections on role
theory in management research (see Fondas and Stewart, 1994; Hales, 1986). Note that
each and every one of Mintzberg’s roles could be preceded by the sentence “the
manager is perceived acting as . . . ” Functions, on the other hand, are far more abstract
and generic and thus one has to much more careful and alert when observing. Note that
one could conceive of maybe a dozen functions as generic as “coordinating” but not
much more, whereas it would be easy to conceive of three times as many roles.
As the author sees it, Mintzberg misrepresents the classical management functions as
if they were labels for roles. Viewed as such, being “the planner”, being the “organiser”,
“coordinator” or “controller” is, indeed, extremely difficult to observe in organizational
reality. The author nearly made the same mistake when, during the shadowing study, he
observed a very informal meeting of a communication manager with his heads of
department. The four men were leisurely distributed all about the director’s office, one
playing with a football, another trying out a miniature-size scooter. They were using
rapid-fire sentences, hinting at something, dismissing it, turning to something else.
“What about doing it via the association?” “You’re joking.” “No way since Mr. Smith
left.” “Do you remember what happened last time?” “Sure I do.” The director of
communication, meanwhile, was just sitting at his desk, hands crossed behind head,
listening, from time to time muttering one or two interjections. The author, admittedly,
was quite at a loss about what to make out of the strange happenings. Then he realized
that what happened clearly and distinctly was planning. Planning, of course, is an
activity defined by the purpose of thinking about future action, alternatives, possibilities,
be it alone or in presence of others, be it in a discussion or be it by drawing up a
PowerPoint presentation. The role the director took in the planning might be described
as moderator. The important fact, however, is that it could have been entirely different
without changing the fact that planning was going on.

3. Communication management as a second-order management function:


its respective roles
Explaining the concepts of function and role, apart from the concept of activity,
illustrates the difficulties of capturing what simple straightforward management is
about. The author argues, however, that capturing communication management is
even more difficult. Fayol’s classical functional perspective explains a great deal, but
when it comes to communication management it does not explain everything.
Comparing the bare quantitative data and the wealth of subjective qualitative
JCOM impressions, the author felt that a vital part of a communication manager’s job was left
14,2 out. The same holds true for a glance at Mintzberg’s ten management roles or, for that
reason, any other catalogue of management roles: Mintzberg’s roles are there, of course,
but they do not fully reflect the specifics and peculiarities of communication
management. To return to the example in the beginning: With a view to functions,
what was the executive doing? Organizing? Coordinating? He might have been
132 directing the new entrants as to the brand values of the company, but directing, at least
in the narrow sense of the word, involves directing people under one’s authority, which
was clearly not the case. Regarding roles, the communication executive was
representing the communication department during the “information day”, either as a
spokesperson or as a figurehead, of course, but the concept of representing alone
hardly captures why the manager claimed with such emphasis that he did his job,
sowing the seeds of shared brand values in the company.
The theoretical reason the author detects behind the problem is quite simple. The
author argues that communication management involves a significant amount of what
might be dubbed second-order management or influencing (see also Reber and Berger,
2005).

3.1 Second-order management function: institutionalization of a concern


In order to understand the concept of what the author dubs second-order management, it
is helpful to view it against a clear background of the contrasting concept of first-order
management. First-order management might be visualized in the way management
scholars Steinmann and Schreyögg do in Figure 1, namely as a cross-sectional function
which pervades the organization’s performance functions. Second-order management –
labelled “CM” for Communication Management in Figure 1 – might be visualized as
pervading management, planning, organizing and controlling.
Thus, in short, first-order management means influencing work (of subordinate
workers) by “managing” it – for example by planning, organizing and controlling.

Figure 1.
Second-order management means influencing the managing of others, but not Communication
subordinate managers – it means influencing the planning, organizing and controlling management
of others. It is important, in this line of thought, not to confuse
second-order-management with a top-management that is out of contact with actual
workers and concerned with managing mid-level managers. The difference lies in the
fact that mid-level managers are subordinate to the top-managers. Second-order
management, however, means influencing the management process of your peers over 133
which you have no or, at best, functional authority. One of the managers expresses the
very same thought in one of the preparatory interviews (translated by the author):
And what differs in communication management is that you always depend on others. You
depend on others to be provided with the right information on time. You depend on being able
to lead and be respected by others in a multi-functional team. You must be able to do that.
That is a core competence you’ll need to bring to the job: an informal way of being in charge,
so to say. Although you are not the one who is formally in charge.
The quote makes clear why the concept of second-order management did not surface in
studies of CEOs such as Mintzberg’s: For CEOs there is no such thing as
second-order-management because they have authority over every member of the
organization. That does not mean that CEOs could not prefer influencing or
questioning or challenging as a management style in contrast to directing,
commanding and ordering. The difference is, however, that normally – at least
within the organization – they have both options at their disposal.
Second-order management does not do much to further our understanding of
communication management. Moreover, as it has been described so far, second-order
management seems dangerously close to organizational politicking (see Mintzberg
et al., 1998, chapter 8, for an overview). So the question is: Why is it an important
concept and how does it differ from politicking? Or, to put the question differently:
What is the function of second-order-management functions?
The author believes that the foremost function of second-order management is to
institutionalize certain concerns in an organization. As such, second-order
management is quite an ordinary thing, and as such communication management is
on a level with the work of the data protection commissioner, the equal opportunity
commissioner or the fire-safety engineer. Institutionalizing a concern in an
organization by making someone responsible for it is a common organizational
strategy, and maybe the only working one in the long run. The difference is, of course,
that communication concerns are inseparably bound up with everyday management
decisions as well as with corporate strategy. A wise, smooth and sensitive
institutionalization of communication concerns is infinitely more important for
organizational success, legitimacy and survival than that of others which are, to put it
harshly, “only” ensuring an organization’s legality.
Institutionalizing a concern is also what differentiates second-order management
from politicking. In a way, second-order management is the exact opposite of
politicking although on the surface level, when observed, it looks very similar. The
difference lies in the fact that politicking is done primarily with a view to serving the
interests of those engaging in it; second-order management is done primarily with a
view to serving the company’s interest by institutionalizing the respective concern.
The author himself is the very first to admit that this is, prima facie, a naı̈ve criterion,
and those adept at playing the game of politicking will always make it look as if it is
JCOM played in the interest of the company. The fact that it is difficult to tell the difference
14,2 does not mean, however, that there is no difference.

3.2 Second-order management roles


In order to avoid misunderstandings the author wants to make clear that
communication management by no means consists exclusively of second-order
134 management. Communication executives do manage departments and subordinates
which are under their formal authority and directly handle affairs; and, in addition, the
executives themselves often handle affairs directly, too. The author argues, however,
that communication management on a higher and more subtle level has a lot to do with
second-order management, with institutionalizing certain concerns in the organization
– and practitioners should see that clearly. The question which concern public
relations and communication management institutionalizes, leads to the very core of
what communication management is about, and is the object of ideological debates, but
cannot be pursued further here – it certainly has something to do with
institutionalizing the concerns of the general public, of society or of particular
stakeholders (for a thoughtful debate see Heath, 2006).
What is interesting apart from functions, are the roles which communication
executives take when performing second-order management. It has to be remembered
here that roles, other than functions, are mutually known sets of behaviour, which need
to be recognized in a social situation (see Fondas and Stewart, 1994; Hales, 1986; also,
of course, Katz and Kahn, 1978). However, one should not place too high demands on
mutual recognition, role-sending and role-taking. The fact that roles are social
constructs does not mean in the author’s opinion that every participant in the social
situation needs to identify the manager as clearly taking the role of figurehead or
disturbance handler or liaison in order to speak taking the respective role. But there
has to be some vague acknowledgement that the manager is acting in a
manager-typical, recognizable way. If the manager acted outside of a typical role,
the participants of the social situation would consider his behaviour “unmanagerial”,
even “strange” or “disturbing”.
In his shadowing study, the author identified three roles which clearly had to do
with second-order management, i.e. influencing the management of others. There
might be others, of course, but here are three that surfaced in at least two cases, with
two different managers:
3.2.1 The missionary. When the communication executive explained the company’s
brand values to the new entrants, he acted in a role one might describe as missionary.
The missionary might be the most common, most easily identifiable role of
second-order management, and it is, of course, strongly related to Mintzberg’s role of
figurehead. Furthermore, it is strongly related to the concept of the Champion, which is
sometimes employed in certain practices of change management. It differs from both in
one important respect, however: both the figurehead and champion are stage-managed
in a prominent position to be seen as identified with something, an idea or concept. If
the idea or concept succeeds, they will be seen as winning. The missionary, per contra,
is not stage-managed as a person himself, but propagating a somewhat higher credo. If
the credo succeeds, he will not be necessarily seen as winning, but as an early advocate
of a good and sensible course. It is, furthermore, important to note that the author chose
the label missionary over others which might have suggested themselves, like guru or
mastermind. The crucial point is that a missionary is a normal person inspired by a Communication
great idea, while the other labels suggest a special person. The executive cited did not management
pose as a champion, and neither did he pose as a mastermind or guru.
3.2.2 Agent of common sense. Another role the author witnessed is the role labelled
agent of common sense. It can be considered a derivative of Mintzberg’s role of
disturbance handler. In three different cases, with three different managers, the
respective executives were dispatched, by the CEO, to talk some common sense into 135
parties quarrelling over some petty matter which might or might not leak to the public.
As the author observed the discussions, he realized that the communication manager
was chosen for two reasons. First, because communication managers often are, by
nature common-sensical, communicative and consensus-oriented people, diplomats so
to speak. Second, and more importantly, the communication manager is the one to
bring a new and different argument to any quarrel, namely the PR-question: Think
about the effects on the climate in the company! Think about how it will look like to the
outsiders of the organization! Think about what the media will make of this! One has to
remember that in organizational logics it is risky to challenge the opinion of the
assigned expert because by doing so one either infringes on his authority, or takes
responsibility for the consequences. You can safely argue against a line manager that
the media will not care, but you cannot argue against the head of communication.
3.2.3 The buck’s stop. “The buck has to stop somewhere”, the Americans say,
meaning that wherever true responsibility may lie, in the end someone has to shoulder
the blame. The buck’s stop is a more passive role, and more often than not it is imposed
on the communication manager than actively taken by himself. The author witnessed
that role several times but it was most clearly and distinctly perceived in a three-hour
meeting of a steering committee which dealt with the company’s involvement in a large
national event. The person in charge was a level-2-manager, and thus one level higher
than the communication executive the author was shadowing. The shadowed manager
sat through the meeting without saying a word, although most of the matters
discussed were very clearly of supreme relevance to communications. The author, thus,
concluded that a lot of the matters had been decided beforehand, in other meetings or in
smaller circles. In a short conversation with the author afterwards, the manager
complained about the length of the sessions and how boring and tedious “nodding
things through” is, but never did he contemplate on staying away. That conversation,
in addition to the experience with other, similar situations, led the author to believe that
the manager’s presence had a very vital function, and that function is that someone in
the company has to take ultimate responsibility for complicated, unforeseeable
communication matters. Of course, the ultimate responsibility always is taken by the
board of management. The highest-ranking communication director, however, takes
the ultimate functional responsibility and thus, against the backdrop of organizational
logics, performs the highly important function to give assurance to others that they
have covered their backs here: The head of communication was in the loop, he had his
say, others can claim, should anything go wrong.

3.3 Second-order management, a look at metaphors, context control


A good deal of modern PR theorists, the author believes, will consider the aforementioned
roles of missionary, agent of common sense and the buck’s stop rather weak roles
belonging to another age. A communication executive dispatched by the CEO to settle
JCOM a petty quarrel by pointing to what the public will say is a sorry sight, they might
14,2 argue. Nowadays, as they see it, the communication manager should not only enjoy
influence in the organization, but actually wield power – and the difference, to make
matters short, lies in the fact that influence means arguing, counselling and advising
while power means directing, commanding, ordering. In fact, a lot of the concept- and
theory-building, especially the formal systems such as Communication Scorecards etc.,
136 may be critically seen as rather obvious strategies to transform influence to power,
changing the tone of the discourse from “should” to “must”.
The author does not deny that expanding power is a legitimate strategy for both
practitioners and scholars of any discipline, but he wishes to draw attention to one
possible consequence: namely, that trading in influence for power might, in the end,
strengthen the communication manager, but weaken communication management. Or,
to put it in another way: the communication manager’s life might be easier on the
surface, but his deep effect on the organization might be curtailed. Let us reconsider
what the communication executive of one of Germany’s largest companies, a highly
regarded person in the trade, said in the beginning:
This is my foremost task. I did my job today. Occasions like these provide me with the
opportunity to plant the seeds of my understanding of the company’s brand values, of our
philosophy, at the earliest possible moment. What I invest in time and effort now, will be
repaid a dozen fold. What I sow now will be reaped in three or five or ten years.
It is interesting to compare the manager’s language and its underlying metaphors with
what economist Friedrich von Hayek (1975, p. 21) wrote over 30 years ago:
As far as humans want to do more good than harm in their striving to improve social order,
they have to realize that it is illusionary to go after knowledge which would allow full control
over phenomena of inherent organizational complexity. Whatever humans know about
society should thus not be employed to shape social order in a way the craftsman shapes his
work. When it comes to social order, humans should model themselves on gardeners instead,
cultivating an environment of growth.
With a view to communication management, and without necessarily embracing von
Hayek’s ideas in general, Nothhaft and Wehmeier (2007) have pointed out that von
Hayek’s metaphor of gardening, of cultivating, is a far more adequate concept to
capture the higher and more subtle functions of public relations and communication
management than common technomorph metaphors of management (Malik, 2003).
Instead of constructing, the adequate term is cultivating (for “cultivation strategies”,
albeit with a different focus, see. also Grunig, 2006, pp. 167-169; Hon and Grunig, 1999).
On a more theoretical, less metaphorical level, system theorists such as Willke (1999)
have captured the very same idea by the concept of “context control”. Instead of
working towards a certain clearly defined result, context control means working
towards achieving conditions for favourable results to develop by themselves, in
accordance with their own self-dynamics. Context control, Nothhaft and Wehmeier
(2007, p. 162) argue, is in fact the only way to achieve higher-level public relations
objectives: “We propose that this alternative paradigm has a kind of a natural fit to
what is often regarded as core functions of communication management, namely,
gaining (and not demanding) credibility, trust, loyalty, and legitimacy.”
4. Résumé: taking it seriously Communication
Returning again, to the example at the beginning and the executive acting in a role the management
author described as the missionary, one might argue it is a matter of personality. The
person shadowed simply was not the type to pose as a guru or mastermind, but one
preferring subtler tones. Others would have definitely styled themselves differently.
That, the author proposes, is exactly the point. It is the point because that would have
been out of touch with the occasion, the audience, the company’s culture and, 137
ultimately, the way true and genuine institutionalization of a concern works.
Second-order management does not only mean influencing the management of others
in any way, but doing it in a way which is soft and diplomatic rather than hard and
managerial, at least in the sense the word “managerial” is employed in
Anglo-American countries and Germany. That leads to two consequences, and the
author believes that students of communication management and aspiring
communication managers should be made aware of them.
First, when operating in the mode of second-order managing, one should be very
careful with using power (for reflections on power see. Berger, 2005; Edwards, 2006). If
the missionary is not perceived as such but as a enforcer of the brand strategy,
whatever he does will not produce “true believers” but disciples doing lip-service. If the
agent of common sense is not actually perceived as genuinely common-sensical but as
the powerful envoy who has the CEO’s ear and speaks softly, but carries a big-stick –
to quote Roosevelt – , then the communication executive adds nothing which could not
have been provided by the regular chain-of-command. The same holds true for the role
of the buck’s stop, only the other way round: the other members of a task force or
steering committee need to trust in the fact that by having the communication
executive in the steering committee or task force or work group, they have their backs
covered to proceed with agreed plans and programs. If the communication executive is
known for having the CEO’s ear and passing the buck when something goes wrong, he
might have extended his shelf-life with his boss, but he is, to put it in a naı̈ve but
idealistic way, simply not doing his job.
Second, in second-order managing one has to be very careful not to steal the
limelight from others. There is nothing against excellent communication managers
enjoying the good professional reputation they have worked for, but there is a lot to say
against communication managers posing as gurus, masterminds – even the champion
of the communication concern: it is a dangerous role. “Savvy” in-house executives give
that part, should they be in need of it, to a consultant. The reason, as the author sees it,
is that communication managers need to have influence (for influence see Reber and
Berger, 2006, who have conducted 162 depth interviews with practitioners)
everywhere – which means, in turn, they should not only curb their use of power,
but also restrain their personal egos.
The author’s ultimate own concern is not to urge a return to the old-style public
relations practitioner who was friend with everybody, had his say in everything, but
had no clue what management, let alone what the business is about. The author’s
concern, however, is to urge young communication managers – especially those with a
background in economics or business administration, and those inspired by modern
concepts of communication controlling and communication strategy – not to start their
professional careers with the idea that one day “proper” communication management
will do away with subtle influencing, advising and counselling in favour of setting up
JCOM grand architectures, making the big decisions, outlining brilliant strategies, and then
14,2 relying on “the system” to make it work. That did not work in general management,
and it is even more unlikely to work in communication management.
At the same time, the author wants to give the next generation a theoretical
framework to better understand what they are doing. First, communication managers
need to be aware of the mode they are operating in: are they first-order-managing the
138 area under their direct and immediate responsibility, or are they
second-order-managing the area of responsibility of others? As communication
managers, at least in an ambitious setting, are tasked with institutionalizing the
communication concern in the whole organization, they will always need to trespass
into the area of responsibility of others, but they can do it in one way or another. The
author argues, that relying on the “old” style of advising and counselling – in short,
influencing – often remains far preferable to the “new” approach of exerting power or
claiming authority.
In the end, the true challenge is to develop a style suited to the needs of the
organization, the setting and the concern in question. One way of adjusting one’s own
approach, the author argues, is to reflect on the roles undertaken in performing
second-order management and the metaphors used to describe what is being done.
Whether this self-managing of one’s own approach is zero-order-management or
third-order-management might be left to another discussion.

Note
1. For communication management as viewed by St Gallen management scholars see
Schmid/Lyczek, 2005.

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Corresponding author
Howard Nothhaft can be contacted at: nothhaft@uni-leipzig.de

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