Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Organizational Communication (originally written for school)

I recently worked for an organization that was falling behind in their customer satisfaction ratings. Clients told us that they felt that our competition was listening to them more effectively than we were. Management grew very concerned, when customers were started taking their money elsewhere. We worked in a very competitive business, and in order to keep the shareholders happy, we’d have to keep our stock value up. This was something we could not achieve if our customers did not believe in us. Management tried to address this problem by developing mandatory staff training programs with messages of "putting customers first" and "enhancing the client experience." They enforced a stricter dress code, and they insisted that all employees limit personal effects to only five items per office. They said that if we followed these guidelines we would appear more professional and thus improve our customer service reviews. Staff however, didn’t understand why these measures were necessary. We felt that we were already offering superior customer service, and we wondered whether the clean office guideline was really a good solution to the problem. We knew that customers were not leaving because they got poor service from the employees. Nor were they leaving because we had messy offices. They were leaving because they felt that the organization did not listen to them. During this same time period, management decided to lay off hundreds of employees and move an entire processing center from Vancouver to Toronto. This move slowed transaction time considerably which annoyed our clients further. These cost-cutting measures kept the organization on top, but did not offer a long-term solution.

Communication theorist Stanley Deetz would tell us that this company’s failure to listen to both their customers and their employees indicates a larger systemic problem. Corporations are a dominant force in our society, but decisions in how corporations are run are made only by a privileged few. Deetz says that our quality of life is compromised when corporations "control and colonize" our lives. Corporations achieve control because they control language, and language has a profound influence on the way we think. Any information we receive from corporate communications is suspect because corporate information is created by undemocratic processes which are put in place to protect managerialism. Managerialism, according to Deetz, is logic, practices and ideology that value control. This desire for control can overcome even a desire for money, performance, or in my company’s case, customer satisfaction. My company put money into a training program in what they said was an attempt to solve the problem, but Deetz would tell us that this was only the company trying to avoid a public conflict. Conflict avoidance is present in any company desiring managerial control. In my company’s example, if any of the dissatisfied customers asked what the company was doing to fix the situation, the company could show the clean offices and the training budget in order to diffuse potential conflict. The training programs were also a good way for the company to shift responsibility for the service problem to the employees, as part of their conflict avoidance strategy. Staff, for our part, was unknowingly helping the company scapegoat us. Through a process Deetz calls consent, we were working in the best interests of the company in a faulty attempt to fulfill our own interests. In other words, when we cleaned out our offices we were allowing the corporation to retain control over our working lives. Deetz tells us that managerial control of workplace language is to blame for this seemingly nonsensical employee compliance. When management told us that empty offices were more "professional" and "enhanced the client experience," we believed them, and in turn that language created our workplace reality. The more people take for granted corporate control of their lives, the more consent occurs. In our situation, employees started to feel that the company was regressing. We used to have involvement – a place we could go to post suggestions about how to make things better at the company. A few months ago, management discontinued that program, and didn’t tell us why. Perhaps management wanted us to feel that we weren’t qualified to discuss how to improve the organization. This discursive closure is another example of distorted communication within my company.

Deetz proposes a better solution to our customer service problem than the one my company initiated. He suggests that this problem, along with many others could be solved if the company was accountable not just to shareholders, but to six groups of stakeholders, each with varying interests. These stakeholders would have a say in any decision the company makes, and managers in the company would act as mediators to ensure a balance between everybody’s diverse interests. The investors, workers, customers, suppliers, host community, and world at large should have a say in how my company is run. In the problem described above, we can imagine how the act of just giving employees and customers a voice in corporate decision making would have changed the situation. If we also took into account the needs of the community where the hundreds of employees were laid off, and the investors who value long-term performance and security for their investments, the final decision would be more democratic, and the company would soon be working in everybody’s best interest. I think that if my company had been run this way, it would have received high client satisfaction ratings. The customers and employees would have justifiably felt that their voices were heard. In Deetz’ proposal, accountability is not just lip service, or a good PR word. It becomes a reality


Blogger Target Market said...

Shabam! Good one. I completely agree with you.

Gotta run to class, but very impressed with this latest post, keep it up!


12:24 PM  

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