Sustainable Strategic Communication: Balancing purposefulness, participation and process transparency
We identify major challenges and opportunities in strategic communication in the academic literature. Our review reveals that the field has experienced significant research growth. However, there is still no general agreement on how to understand strategic communication. Overlapping concepts and dimensions make operationalization difficult. Based on a review of the academic literature, we propose a three-pillar framework for understanding and studying what we call sustainable strategic communication. The empirical material we use for illustration are the letters from the CEO and the Chairman published in the integrated annual report from a Danish company which is well-known for its focus on corporate sustainability and accountability. These letters were selected because they function as a link of accountability between management and organizational stakeholders. Thus, they are good examples of strategic communication.
Keywords: strategic communication, sustainability, accountability, purposefulness, participation, transparency
The discursive role of employee activism in organizational change processes: How to catch the rising tide of exceptional passion by means of strategic communication?
Today, management, human resources and corporate communication practitioners as well as academics acknowledge the extreme importance of employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement. Some employees make their engagement visible, defend their organizations from criticism and act as active advocates to the extent that they can be defined as employee activists. These types of employees are powerful corporate resources, who can be used strategically by the organizations to generate trust, credibility and unity both internally and externally in relation to for example difficult change processes. In light of this, it is surprising that there seems to be a paucity of research on employee activism within corporate communication and public relations.
Our paper aims to fill this gap by conceptualizing employee activism as exceptional passion or engagement and applying a strategic communication perspective to advance our understanding of what organizations can do to capitalize on this phenomenon more effectively during change processes.
Hence, in the paper we pose the following research question: Which discourses characterize employee activism and how do organizations tap into these communicative resources in order to activate change?
With a theoretical point of departure in strategic communication, the paper discusses the potential of employee activism and how organizations strategically can benefit from integrating such employee activism activities and practices into their strategic communication efforts in relation to change processes. Based on exemplary discourse analysis of online employee activism, we will show the organizational potentials of tapping into such employee movements and suggest an outline for a conceptual/theoretical framework linking employee activism and strategic communication.
Key words: Employee activism, strategic communication, change management, employee engagement.
Materiality and interaction in collective leadership processes
Taking its point of departure in collectivistic approaches to leadership, the current paper proposes a process lens for understanding the collective nature of leadership. In specific, the paper seeks to empirically investigate how managerial responsibility as a central part of leadership is constituted collectively over time by means of multimodal, intersubjective, interactive practices.
The data for the current study comes from an extensive corpus of video-taped, authentic, face-to-face performance appraisal interviews. Methodologically, the study applies a multimodal conversation analytic approach, enabling to study organizational processes as both emergent and generative (Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville, 2011, pp. 421f.).
The analysis shows that the display of managerial responsibility is multi-modally accomplished over time since the PAI-participants show an orientation towards different intersubjective strategies related to managerial responsibility in response to the employee complaint. In our analysis these strategies relate to complaint acceptance, problem resolution and managerial agency.
Hence, the analysis reveals collective leadership processes as closely coordinated and stepwise emerging across time by interactional, multimodal micro-practices related to managerial responsibility involving multiple contributors (employee and manager). The study highlights the need to acknowledge the interactional and intersubjective nature of manager-employee encounters for the process of collective leadership, and thus emphasizes the importance of drawing upon novel methodologies related to micro-ethnographical approaches in order to fully capture the multiple resources and micro-social processes of collective leadership.
Key words: Collective leadership, processes, materiality, multimodality, conversation analysis
A micro-ethnographic approach to strategic communication
The purpose of this paper is to further develop our understanding of how micro-ethnographic methodologies may assist us in gaining a deeper understanding of the field of strategic communication. The paper uses empirical, micro-ethnographic data in form of video recordings of strategy meetings to investigate strategic communication through the prism of ethnomethodological conversation analysis (EMCA). By focusing on incidents of metaphor use in strategy meetings, the purpose is to show the importance of acknowledging the communicative micro-practices related to strategy work.
In the context of strategic communication, we understand strategy as not only limited to processes of analyzing and reacting to external contingencies (i.e. first-order strategies), but also to involve conscious attempts on the part of management to influence and shape its own organizational reality (i.e. second-order strategies) (Christensen et al., 2008). Strategy can be defined as the “situated, socially accomplished activity, while strategizing comprises those actions, interactions and negotiations of multiple actors and the situated practices that they draw upon in accomplishing that activity” (Jarzabkowski, Balogun, & Seidl, 2007, pp. 7-8). Strategy work is thus connected with particular types of practices, such as strategy meetings (Jarzabkowski & Seidl, 2008) and strategy workshops (Prashantham, Bourque, Floyd, & Johnson, 2010, Seidl, MacIntosh & MacLean, 2006, Schwarz, 2009), which can be understood as focal points for the strategic activities of organizational members (Jarzabkowski & Seidl, 2008). One recommendation for analyzing strategic communication as a situated, socially accomplished activity is to focus on managers and their communicative activities and practices in relation to strategy dissemination (Jarzabkowski & Seidl, 2008).
Recently, a number of calls for micro-ethnographic approaches to organizations in general and strategy in specific (Gylfe et al., 2015, LeBaron, 2008, LeBaron et al., 2018) highlighted the importance of acknowledging practice and process research as interactional accomplishments that can be captured by means of novel methodologies including video observations and multimodal conversation analytical methods.
These calls are of relevance for the current paper, as much of the literature on strategic communication seldomly clearly addresses, who actually communicates by means of these strategic communicators, and what is meant by “strategic” in the so-called strategic communication activities. These studies adopt a relatively static image of strategic communication, which largely neglects the micro-level processes through which strategic communication is actually accomplished. Consequently, insights into how individual managers on a micro-level in practice enter a conversation, make a statement, prepare a document, or deliver a presentation with a preset goal, a strategic intent, in mind” (Dulek and Campbell, 2015: 124) is still rather limited.
From a practice perspective the current paper suggests that the introduction of a micro-ethnographic perspective could successfully shed light on the relational, action-driven, micro-oriented and generative elements of strategic communication, and hence gives us a more enlightened understanding of the content of the black box called strategic communication. Hence, the paper addresses the methodological implications of an ethnomethodological perspective on strategic communication by matching the ontological stance of social constructivism with a video-ethnographic, multimodal conversation analysis, thereby documenting the locally situated nature of strategic communication as a relational and interactional process.
We will do so by means of exemplary authentic video data from an organization-wide strategy meeting, where we illustrate how to make use of a micro-ethnographic approach to study the relationship between institutionalized strategic management and the real-life strategic communication processes, thus advancing our understanding of the role of texts and discourses in the actual practice of strategic communication in an organizational context of strategic change processes.