The third and final segment of my Organizational Textual Analysis Project:
(An imaginary memo to the owner of a small but successful local brewery)
TO: John Whitney – President and Brewmeister, Whitney’s Gold Brewery
FROM: Adam Bernstein, Innovation Impact / Creativity Consultants
SUBJECT: Creativity & Innovation Initiative
John – It was a pleasure meeting with you last week and discussing a more intentional effort to integrate creative and innovative thinking into the internal culture of Whitney’s Gold Brewery. After reviewing your business plan and notes from our conversation, as well as interviewing several staff members, I have the following initial comments and recommendations.
Whitney’s Gold Brewery has achieved tremendous financial success and its personnel seem to be, by and large, satisfied and committed to their work. However, as you contemplate the next phase of growth, including opening a second location and expanding your product line, it is vital that you endeavor to create a truly “learning organization.” This is an academic term made famous by a management theorist named Peter Senge, who studied systems theory to determine how complex organizations function effectively. Senge believed that to have such an organization, management must create an internal culture characterized by holistic collaboration, active participation and sharing in decision-making. For this process to be effective, all workers must be committed to learning and self reflection (“personal mastery”); a common vision and understanding of their respective roles in achieving it (“concertive control”); and team learning (Eisenberg, E., Goodall, H., Trethewey, A., 2014, p. 109).
I recommend the following three activities designed to help your company become a learning organization:
Broadening Our View – You have a great and highly competent staff in many ways, but their collective perspectives and insight are limited to their work functions. In other words, they may make the city’s best beer but your workers have a limited view of the broader business and social environment in which Whitney’s Gold operates. Another systems theorist, Karl Weick, called this an “enacted environment” and described it as potentially dangerous to an organization, since this scenario would leave you vulnerable to unseen or misunderstood developments. To combat the effects, I recommend getting a subscription to the local business journal for employees and adding a standing agenda item to weekly staff meetings where you discuss broader economic trends in the region (Eisenberg et al., 2014, p. 111).
Say “No” to Silos – Weick also examined why teams fail when facing adversity. (He wrote a very interesting case study about the Mann Gulch Fire Disaster in Montana in 1949, which you may find interesting.) One reason is a lack of personal connection among team members, something another theorist called “nondisclosive intimacy” (Weick, K. E., 1993). To overcome this problem requires thinking beyond explicit job functions and inspiring senses of mutual respect, trust, looser control over decision-making and strategic communications. I suggest creating cross-disciplinary teams within the brewery to address operational challenges. This would build teamwork and rapport by exposing workers in different areas to each other, showcasing respective talents and interests, and giving them a common challenge to attack together.
Personal Mastery – Another academic term coined by Senge, this means that each employee is committed to learning and self-reflection (Eisenberg et al., 2014, p. 109). I recommend that with my assistance, the company facilitates each employee reading “The Artist’s Way; A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron. This is an excellent resource for unleashing creative thought and expression.
My research on your behalf verifies that these three activities reflect the most current thinking about how to cultivate innovation within successful companies. Many experts recommend assertive and intentional efforts to communicate and achieve common vision, establish personal roles and accountabilities, and encouraging risk taking and nontraditional ideas and actions (Pitra, Z., & Zauskova, A., 2014, p. 14). As the leader of the company, you will play a key role in establishing credibility and instilling the confidence and support of your staff in this initiative. Following is great quote that I found from a recent journal article on the subject:
A good leader can do much to challenge and inspire creative work in progress. People are highly attuned to organization management’s engagement with and attitude toward an innovation project. Employees doing creative work are more motivated by managerial behaviour, even by seemingly little things like a sincere word of public recognition, than by financial rewards. Managers must decrease employees’ fear of failure that seems to rise with the scale of business. Any business that experiments vigorously will experience failure – which, when it happens, must be analyzed and dealt with to improve creative problem solving, team learning, and organizational performance (Pitra, Z., & Zauskova, A., 2014, p. 62).
John, I am confident that this scope of work will help transform Whitney’s Gold into a learning organization that is poised to overcome challenges and seize opportunities ahead. Look forward to discussing next steps.
QUESTION: What are the reasons that an organization might deliberately choose NOT to become a “learning organization?” Is this approach sustainable? What are the potential negative effects of becoming a learning organization?
Eisenberg, E.M., Goodall, H.L., Jr., & Trethewey, A. (2014). Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint (7th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. (ISBN: 978-1-4576-0192-7).
Pitra, Z., & Zauskova, A. (2014) Communication in Knowledge Transfer Management, Communication Today, 5(2), 50-65.
Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The mann gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly,38(4), 628. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/203920836?accountid=38688
A crisis striking an organization can be analogous to a person having a heart attack; what happens immediately following will profoundly affect the patient’s ability to recover, if not survive.
When an organization makes a mistake, far more is at stake than a brand or reputation. The nature of the response could have real implications for public safety and wellbeing. A massive data breach compromised the private financial information of millions of Target customers. Manufacture and installation of defective Takata airbags jeopardized the safety of millions of drivers. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill threatened the
environment in the Gulf of Mexico and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people who lived and worked in the region.
To be effective, the organization’s response to the crisis, in word and deed, must be timely, decisive and credible. Typically, it will convey an apology and acceptance of responsibility, acknowledgement of those adversely affected, explanations of what happened and why, reassurances as to the public’s safety, and steps to be taken to make sure the problem does not happen again.
Accepting responsibility for mistakes has been proven to be beneficial to the organization. The University of Michigan Health System reduced the incidence of medical malpractice suits filed against it in half after adopting a policy to proactively disclose known medical errors to patients who may have been harmed, and offering them corrective treatment or compensation (O’Connor, E., 2011, p. 9). Addressing the public’s safety and wellbeing and describing decisive action to correct the error and ensure that it is not repeated are also established best practices in crisis communications (Piotrowski, C., Gray, R., 2010, p. 97).
Portraying sincerity and integrity is also vital. In the aftermath of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989, the company received widespread criticism for downplaying the severity of situation, waiting ten days after the incident to apologize, and signaling its intent to raise gas prices to pay for the clean-up. Despite management’s efforts to demonstrate good faith and sincerity, the public did not trust Exxon’s motives, which contributed to huge and long-term legal, financial and reputational damage to the company (O’Connor, E., 2011, p. 11).
Organizations may signal their acceptance of responsibility for a mistake and response plans in myriad ways. For prominent corporations, a tried and true tactic is publishing a full-page advertisement in mass print media. Leaf through a copy of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times on any given day and you are likely to see an example directly linked to a breaking story of high public interest, such as an industrial accident, act of corporate malfeasance, or product recall.
Full-page ads are primarily intended to reach external audiences that are key to the organization’s viability such customers, elected officials, regulators, investors, commentators, and even competitors; hence, placement in media outlets with large circulations and reach. But there is more to this organizational communications form than meets the eye.
Beyond conveying what the company wants external audiences to know about a situation, this mode of advertising has symbolic and rhetorical meaning for employees. It is a highly visible means for management to reassure workers about the integrity and the viability of the organization, and why it is important for these workers to remain loyal and committed. Clarke Caywood, a public relations professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said: “Some of these ads are more for internal purposes than you might think. They take out frustration and they tell employees that the company is defending them” (Boyd, C., 2003, p. 2).
In his foundational Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow theorized that each worker’s evolution from satisfying basic psychological needs to self-actualization has beneficial effect for the organization. A crisis damages the internal culture by disrupting employees’ sense of wellbeing. In other words, a crisis knocks employees back a rung or two on the Maslow ladder. The organization will not fully recover unless management restores their confidence and sense of purpose, which realigns the goals of individual employees with that of the organization (Eisenberg, E., Goodall, H., & Trethewey, A., 2014, p. 82).
My paper (posted below) applies Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a theoretical framework to demonstrate this concept, and introduces the format for a content analysis of the designated texts: three full-page newspaper ads placed by Duke Energy in response to the coal ash spill into the Dan River in North Carolina from one of the company’s coal fired power plants.
When you see an example of one of these full-page “mea culpa” ads, what is your reaction? Do you find it credible or just the organization’s attempt to “spin” the story to its favor? How do you think its employees perceive the information?
Boyd, C. S.,Staff Writer. (2003, Jun 21). Mea culpa ads become new trend; Martha Stewart’s company is part of a wave of corporations to take out newspaper ads for Damage Control. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/279880059?accountid=38688
Eisenberg, E. M., Goodall, H. L., & Trethewey, A. (2014). Organizational Communication: Balancing creativity and constraint. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins.
O’Connor, E. O. (2011). Organizational apologies: BP as a case study. Vanderbilt Law Review, 64(6), 1957-1991. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/914724861?accountid=38688
Piotrowski, C., & Gray, R., (2010). Cost/Benefit of Toyota’s media campaign during the recall crisis of 2010. Organization Development Journal, 28(3), 95-99. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.progquest.com/docview/749237609?accountid=38688