Finally, as new technologies enable formerly separate functions to be integrated at a single cross-functional location, the streams of information at that location multiply. The specter of information overloads rears its head. To deal with all this information, organizations must “manage by exception” and employ computer-aided tools to help them do so. For this reason, a key aspect for modern organizations in writing formalized rules is the codification of statistical norms and what constitutes deviations. With that, organizations can set their computer systems to automatically monitor norms and instantly flag deviations and resolve them by predetermined rules. In this way—to continue with our example of the corner gas station—the vice president at chain headquarters is swiftly alerted when a fuel storage tank is low, a gas pump is out of paper to print receipts, the car wash is jammed, and sales of coffee for the past week are down. The computer can even respond automatically: e-mailing an order to the wholesaler for another fuel delivery, texting the station manager to replace the receipt paper, faxing an emergency request to the car wash repair company, and lowering the price for a cup of coffee.
Finally, new technologies are impacting horizontal differentiation—the division of labor—within organizations. To describe how new communication and information systems are shaping organizational forms, Fulk and Desanctis prefer the term to horizontal differentiation. We have already seen how organizations today outsource activities, often through horizontal market-based alliances, that they once performed themselves. Also, organizations that once had separate offices to monitor each of their activities now use technology to monitor multiple functions through a single office. Because of computers and digital connectivity, the vice president of that independent gas-station chain can sit at a desktop computer screen and—like looking at the dashboard of a car—see at a glance how the chain’s one hundred locations that day are performing: at fuel sales, at snack and drink sales, at car wash sales—as well as how much fuel remains in each station’s underground storage tanks and when, based on average sales, the wholesaler must deliver more fuel to fill the tanks. If any of these variables deviate from normal parameters, the vice president can set the system to flag the deviation and send instant e-mail and text alerts to all personnel concerned. This is an example of what Fulk and Desanctis called , since the computer system can be set to automatically place an order with the wholesaler when more fuel is needed. Thus, the gas station owner orders only what is needed, when it is needed, and (at current gasoline prices) avoids spending thousands of dollars on product only to have it sit useless in the underground storage tank for weeks.
Earlier in this chapter we asked, “What do you do with a degree in organizational communication?” We provided a couple of ideas to think about with regard to your answer; however, you should start thinking about how you will answer that question for yourself and your potential employers. One of our coauthors always asks this question at the beginning of a senior seminar in organizational communication. It always amazes our coauthor how few of his students have really worked through their answers (and most of them are on the verge of graduating and are already interviewing for jobs). In the business world, you’ll hear the term , or a concise presentation describing a person, profession, project, service, or organization covering only the critical aspects in under thirty seconds. It’s basically a sales pitch that can be completed in the length of time it takes to ride an elevator. You just have to sell yourself as the product in question. If you google the term , you will find countless websites designed to help you craft your elevator pitch. There is no right or wrong way to do this. However, the goal should be conciseness and clarity. Here’s a quick template that can be somewhat helpful:
Second, you need to think about the organization’s messaging strategy. The messaging strategy includes everything from crafting specific messages to determining the best possible outlets for these messages. For entry-level, minimum-wage applicants, you may create simple, straightforward descriptions of the job and post them on local job websites or in the newspaper. When attempting to hire a senior-level executive, you may work with a consultant known as an external corporate recruiter during this process. An is an individual (or group of individuals) with specific expertise in searching for and recruiting potential job applicants. Because corporate recruiters have specific expertise in the recruitment process, they can help an organization in a number of specific ways. First, they can help an organization decrease the amount of time that it takes to search for and eventually hire a new employee (commonly referred to as the ). External corporate recruiters often specialize in specific industries or types of positions, so they already have a network of potential applicants or know how to target potential applicants. Second, they can increase the quality and quantity of the candidate pool. Next, they can help an organization keep its recruiting costs down because of the focused nature of the job search itself. Lastly, they can ensure that all governmental regulations associated with recruitment and hiring are met. Although most human resource personnel can also accomplish this function, sometimes a second pair of eyes not related to the organization can be important to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
Jason Wrench (yes, one of our coauthors) examined the world of modern organizational communication jobs and attempted to develop a competency model to help guide discussions on the professionalization of the field. The notion of competency dates back to 1995, when a group of several hundred HR managers came together in Johannesburg, South Africa, to determine the specific skills needed for a range of different jobs. As part of this discussion, they defined a competency as “a cluster of related knowledge, skills, and attitudes that affects a major part of one’s job (a role or responsibility), that correlates with performance on that job, that can be measured against well-accepted standards, and that can be improved via training and development.” However, most occupations do not rely on one specific competency. Instead, they rely on a set of interrelated competencies that are often called competency models. Anntoinette Lucia and Richard Lepsinger defined a competency model as describing “the particular combination of knowledge, skills, and characteristics needed to effectively perform a role in an organization and…used as a human resource tool for selection, training and development, appraisal, and succession planning.” You may be wondering why competency models are useful. According to the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the United States Department of Labor, there are four reasons competency models are helpful for modern organizations:
The second question raised by Mintzberg’s model is a fundamental issue that organizational scholars today are wrestling with. He envisioned each organization as a self-contained entity; his theory proposed that the configuration of any organization can be determined by examining its internal logics. How organizations coordinate their own activities, rather than how they interact with their environments, is the key to his typology. However, today’s communication and information technologies obliterate time and distance not only between an organization’s various components but also between an organization and other organizations. As we saw earlier, vertically integrated companies are increasingly giving way to companies that focus on a core activity they do best and then forming strategic alliances with other companies. Today, an organization can actually be an “organization of organizations.” Further, such an organization of organizations need not be permanent but can shift or change or dissolve as needed.
The last channel through which a source can send a message is a channel. A mediated message is any message that is sent using some kind of technology such as print, audio, or video. Some of the earliest studies of organization communication explored the use of employee newsletters. Today, we increasingly depend at work on computer-mediated communication via e-mail, Skype, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, vlogs, and who knows what comes next.
Recall that the traditional dimensional view of organizational structure focuses on three issues: pattern, formalization, and centralization. An organization’s pattern is, first of all, determined by its size, vertical hierarchy (chain of command), and horizontal differentiation (division of labor). A second component of organizational structure is formalization of its rules and procedures: some organizations emphasize formal written documents, and others work more informally through verbal agreement or unwritten rules that are taken for granted. The third component of structure is the degree to which authority is centralized; that is, whether coordination and control functions are concentrated at the top or dispersed throughout the organization. Janet Fulk and Gerardine Desanctis reviewed the literature on communication technology and its impacts on organizational forms, and their analysis can be broken down according to the three dimensions of organizational structure.
The link between technology and work has in many ways driven the career of our coauthor, Mark Ward. As a novice newspaper writer in the 1970s, he composed articles on a typewriter and sent them downstairs to be typeset. Writing and production were then organized into separate functions. In the 1980s, as US companies downsized in response to globalization, outsourcing became common. Mark began freelancing for magazines to supplement his income—first typing and mailing his articles, then faxing them, then sending floppy disks, then e-mailing his stories. By the 1990s, desktop publishing became the norm. Computerization allowed publishers to outsource writing, editing, and production, saving the overhead cost of an in-house staff. Mark lost his day job but prospered as a freelancer. And the old divide between writing and production had blurred, so that Mark now wrote stories, located photographs, and created packages for both print and online publication. After the new century dawned, he had enough clients to freelance full time and earn more than his old staff job ever paid. Yet he missed the sense of belonging that came with a permanent job for a single organization. So Mark socked away some of the money he was making, put himself through graduate school, became a professor, now teaches both traditional and online classes—and coauthored a textbook on organizational communication that is available in printed and electronic versions!
As you can see from this competency model, a wide range of both skills and necessary knowledge are needed to be a competent communication professional today. Thankfully, there are organizations like the International Association of Business Communicators () designed to help people solidify their skills and knowledge even after they graduate from college. You may be wondering how you can best use the competency model to further your education and eventual career. Think of the competency model as a career development plan. Obviously, you cannot be an expert in every facet of the competency model—no one is. As such, you need to determine which skills and cognitive areas are the most important for the types of jobs you may be interested in pursuing in the future.
Recall that a communicative view of organizational structure starts with the premise that structure is a product of communication. This assumption leads us back to structuration theory, which we encountered in Chapter 4. To resolve the dilemma of structure—does human agency create structure, or does structure determine human actions?—the theory posits a . This concept holds that human actions create structures through repeated social practices, while that same agency validates and reproduces structures by acting within what the structures enable and constrain. Thus, structures are simultaneously an of, and a for, social action. Following this logic, Wanda Orlikowski proposed that a operates within organizations. Her theory advances four propositions: technology is (1) an outcome of and (2) a medium for human action, even as the organization (3) is a context for human interactions with technology and (4) is impacted by those interactions.