Lack of productivity

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dis·si·pa·tion

noun \ˌdi-sə-ˈpā-shən\

: the process of slowly disappearing or becoming less

: the act of using all or a lot of money, time, etc., in a foolish way

: behavior that shows you are interested only in pleasure, money, etc.

pro·duc·tiv·i·ty

noun \ˌprō-dək-ˈti-və-tē, ˌprä-, prə-ˌdək-\

: the rate at which goods are produced or work is completed

1fo·cus

noun \ˈfō-kəs\

: a subject that is being discussed or studied : the subject on which people’s attention is focused

: a main purpose or interest

: a point at which rays of light, heat, or sound meet or from which they move apart or appear to move apart; especially : the point at which an image is formed by a mirror, a lens, etc.

 

Today was going to be a highly productive day. Vacation day from work. Spend the whole day getting ahead of school work for my master’s program.

Instead, I slept in late, took Betsy to the doctor, ate lunch, sat and looked at the same couple of pages for an hour before taking another nap. Woke up when the kids got home from school and set then to work on their chores (dishes, lawn, etc.), then sat back down to the computer to stare again.

The same sense of brain dull all day long. Lack of focus. Sense of sinus. More rest doesn’t seem to help.

I have burned the midnight oil and beyond recently to keep up with projects, and it seems the brain finally objects. It works more and more to produce less and less. Yet the demands do not change — they keep on requiring more.

An outside perspective would probably see things differently. Find a lot of wasted effort here and there. Find unnecessary activity. minor amusements.

What does it take to be and stay focused? At the moment I don’t seem to have it.

NOTE: Definitions at the beginning taken for Merriam Webster Online.

The six-legged spider

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Okay, Pictorial blog today.  Have a son who turned 15 this week, and Saturday was the birthday party.

Here in the family I make cakes with themes that the kids choose. Been a lot of interesting themes, which I blogged about previously, but this time the boy didn’t have an idea, so left it up to me:

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This is a cruise ship cake. A reminder of the cruise he will be going on with the North Kansas City High School vocal music department for their spring break in March. It is a very stylized cake, since I wasn’t up to those multi-layered cakes, or making a lot of portals for ship windows on a cake. It has the name of his cruise ship and music notes for the group he is going with.

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He also got one special gift: one of these hex bugs, or whatever they are called.  We all had a lot of fun watching it scurry across the floor.

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Then of course there was the usual candle blowing ceremony, and the playing and talking with family and friends.

 

It really makes all that house-cleaning worthwhile, if time-consuming.

 

 

 

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What sort of network?

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One thing this course does is attempt to point to the obvious and show us that we aren’t seeing it. Sometimes the obvious really is the obvious, sometimes it isn’t.

Like what is a network. A network is a strategy for organizing based on the need to balance integration and change.

Networks come in three forms: structural, information and communication technology, and legal. And we are familiar with more of them than we think we are.

The structural ones we know about, thought me might not thought of them as networks. They rely on the organizational structure to do the integrating. A liaison makes a network, as does a task force, “integrating teams.” and a matrix organization.

Communication technologies work in one of two ways: either it helps integrate work, or it manages knowledge (Knowledge management systems — shared databases of knowledge and experience — not sure I completely comprehend that one either).

Legal is basically contracts.  People think they keep people separate, but in networks they actually tell people how to get together.

These methods have limitations. Some work well for individual problems, some work better on whole organizations. Some, like the matrix, if they go on long enough, can become as inflexible as the bureaucracy they are supposed to be replacing.

The chapter lists four characteristics of networks:

  1. Flexible and modular
  2. team-based with emphasis on autonomy, self-management and initiative.
  3. Flat structures
  4. ICT integration across functions and geography

Networks do have challenges. It can be hard to discover causality in a network, in a system causality can be ambiguous. And they tend to get rigid over time, after the initial set up phase where things are being figured out. They can tend to centralized, which undoes some of the purpose of the network.

(not a very good end, but end.)

Organizational Culture (chapter 5)

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“The reality of the world hangs on the thin thread of conversation”

– Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman

Organizations have cultures. Someone came up with the bright idea that you might be able to use the culture to organize an organization, instead of the other way around. But to do so, you need to understand the corporate culture, the organizational culture. That isn’t easy,  As Conrad and Poole (2012) noted: “Cultures are complicated because they are both conscious and nonconscious , individual and collective, stable (thus comforting) and changing (thus exciting and frightening , constraining and enabling , and located in both our minds/perceptions and in our actions and communication” (Location 5555).

Cultures are contained, but they have cultural traffic from people entering and leaving, and subcultures within them of people who are a part of, yet different, from the mainstream of the culture. So how do you use these to motivate and control.

Usually it starts with socializing the newcomers. socialization introduces them to the expectations of the culture. From there the individual goes from externalization, to objectification, to internalization of the culture.

A person’s identity ends up getting tied to their society and its accepted assumptions. This creates a reality shock when they enter a new culture. People who move between cultures more often learn to adapt and regulate the reality shock better than those who don’t.

Organizations use symbolism as part of cultural organization. Metaphors take on meaning for the culture as it is associated with the organisation. Stories are told that help people feel part of the group. Myths and mythologies start to form that contain the cultural truths of the organization.

But they are also held together by rituals and ceremonies.  Rituals are informal individual acts that lend meaning, while ceremonies are formal group events. Ceremonies fall into five main categories: Ceremonies of Passage, Degradation ceremonies, Enhancement ceremonies, Renewal ceremonies, and Integration ceremonies.

The big difference between traditional or relational strategies and the cultural strategy is that the former require obtrusive motivational and control systems. The latter uses unobtrusive controls and self-serveillance.

So the question comes down, which is better, if any, and whether it is actually possible to control an organization’s culture successfully to achieve specific ends.

References

Conrad, C. & Poole, M. S. (2012). Strategic organizational communication in a global economy. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Focus focus focus

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Chapter 4 in my audit book is all about deciding where to focus.

The first recommendation of the chapter is to examine the tasks people have to perform, and see how those affect communication.  Are there tasks where people are expected to work together, and what communication will that require? If sections are interdependent, communication is essential, and should have an impact on work flows. If sections aren’t interdependent, then communication between them may not be essential, and may have no impact.

The second recommendation is to see how well information is circulated. There are three pieces to this: Type of information, time and load. The first two items relate to whether people get what they need, and get it when they need it. The last of the three is most interesting to me. Load can be under, over or optimal. Many times people say there is a lack of communication while at the same time being overwhelmed by it. They are buried under a flood of e-mails, for example, only a portion of which they actually want. Going through the extraneous communication leaves less time to go through the vital communication.

A third thing that the chapter mentions is assessing the use of media technologies. Obviously you need to start by listing all the available methods. Once that is done, you can see how people respond to each. Certain environments expect certain types of messages to come through certain channels. For example, if people feel that “all important messages are delivered via memos,” they may ignore certain messages and complain they aren’t being communicated with if the information is coming through e-mail instead.

At this stage the chapter turns to another focus — detailing the various functions that communications serves. Communication method might vary depending on which function(s) you are trying to achieve: Task/work function, Social/maintenance function, Motivation function, Integration function, Innovation function.

To that we can add examining the quality of the various types of relationships: Superior-subordinate relationships, Coworker relationships, Manager relationships, Unit relationships.

All of these work through the various communication networks that develop, both formal and informal.  Plotting these networks, and how smoothly they work can also give a lot of detail. One way to study networks is to emphasize roles such as: Isolates, group members, bridges and liaisons.

You can also link communication to the organization outcomes it is intended to achieve: satisfaction, profitability and cost, productivity, organizational commitment.

And finally, the chapter recommends viewing all this as part of a system, a communication system where each part influences, rather than single points of occurrences. As part of that system, is internal communication linked to organizational strategies or used as a defensive mechanism.

I can see from reading this chapter that it is easy to spread the focus very wide, or very narrow. If you spread it narrow, you can find interesting data, but mistakenly think you have found the most important piece.  Whatever you focus on is “most important.” But if you spread the focus too wide, you won’t have any focus, and get lost in a sea of data.  Careful analysis and decisions are needed, and guidance of the goals of the people you are auditing is critical in making those decisions.

References

Downs, C. W. & Adrian, A. D. (2004). Assessing organizational communication. New York: The Guilford Press.

Big Terms and small details

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(My goal is always to write bright observations on my class readings, but by the time I am falling asleep at the books around midnight the sentences lose their wittiness.)

Today’s blog is about a stand-alone chapter we got to read, pulled out of a book titled Organizational Communication Diagnosis and Change. We got to read chapter 10 — Implementing Organizational Communication Diagnosis: The Communication Audit. From this chapter I learned that audits fall into different areas or field of communication studies, something I did not realize before. They are:

  1. Homophily Studies
  2. Credibility Studies
  3. Contingency Theory Studies
  4. Network Studies
  5. Communication and Organizational Effectiveness Studies

The text obviously expects a higher knowledge of the genre of communication studies than I have acquired. “Homophily”? I can make a guess, but I’ve never heard the word before this. The paragraph on homophily keeps on asking if having more or less homophily with various people in the organization increases or decreases communication needs.

The paragraph on apprehension studies mentions a lot more terms, but at least I read them before (was it only yesterday?) with definitions. Do isolates have higher apprehension than centrals, than liaisons, than group members, than bridges? Does apprehension predict frequency and importance of interactions? Talk about jargon and lingo! I am not certain I understand what they mean by apprehension — I think my brain keeps trying to think of it as comprehension — but there must be some reason to say apprehension.

The chapter discussed two phases of the audit: one studying structure related to the overall communication system, and one studying structure related to specific communication activities.  The former is the phase for examining the means of maintaining and developing the system. This can be answered by examining the organizational structure, background, and leadership.

Using those two phases, the chapter ther presented a work plan for a communication audit. It looked something like this:

Section A: Overall Communication

Stage 1: Fact Finding

Stage 2: Analysis

Stage 3: Evaluation

Section B: Specific Communication Activity

Stage 1: Fact Finding

Stage 2: Analysis

Stage 3: Evaluation

I noticed a pattern in the structure. Each phase has the same three sections.

In doing fact-finding, there are measurement tools that can be used.  They include:

  1. Questionnaire Survey
  2. Interview
  3. Network Analysis
  4. Communication Experience
  5. Communication Diary

There was also a whole section on logistics and planning a time-table.

Data gathering an analysis is a key part of the process, as the above outlines make clear.  So the chapter discussed techniques. It gave

  1. Definition of the technique
  2. Examples of its use
  3. Strengths and weaknesses of the technique
  4. Description of nature of data generated by the technique and list of appropriate analysis techniques

Techniques include:

  • Observation Techniques — these include duty studies (studies of self) and trained observer (of others).
  • Questionnaire-Interview Techniques — Questionnaires collect a lot of information in a little time; interviews allow interaction between auditors and respondents
  • Episodic Communication Channels in Organization Analysis
  • Network Analysis
  • Content Analysis Technique
  • Communication Gradients

The chapter followed that by discussing  some Practical Problems in Gathering Data

  • To gain entry
  • Guarantee of confidentiality of data
  • Costs of the research
  • Poor Interaction with the organization’s gatekeeper
  • Not all members in the organization being aware of the study
  • Time pressures
  • Researchers’ need for information about field study
  • Lack of group cooperation during the study

It then wrapped by talking about writing the report.  You put all this time and effort into collecting data, and you write this report, and management may not even look at most of it, so you need to organize your data in a way to get the most punch. What will they look at the most? Put the most important content there.

(Okay, maybe a little more punch to today’s blog. Still, a lot of academic yawning — at least that’s what it was like reading and writing after a long day’s work and then a long evening’s study.)

Organizations are Relational

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Chapter 4 in my organizational communication text is Relational Strategies of Organizing. It discusses the relational aspects of organizations, and organizational structures that take advantage of them rather than try to control them. The USA, it seems, doesn’t generally fare well with relational themes — we have too much distrust between management and employees.

Relational Strategies of Organizational Design

Relational strategies are compared to traditional strategies  of organization. The key distinction is relational strategies are decentralized, while traditional strategies are centralized and hierarchical.

Decentralization and Participation

Decentralization leads to participatory decision making. With fewer managers, employees have to make the decisions closest and most important to them.

Necessary Features for Successful PDM

Various PDM methods include:

  • Delegation
  • Management by objectives
  • Quality improvement programs
  • Self-managed teams

But PDM isn’t a guaranteed success. It takes more effort, and buy-in from employees, to be effective:

  1. Subordinates must want to be involved in decision making
  2. Supervisors must be willing to let employees participate
  3. The issues being discussed must be important to the employees
  4. Participants must have relevant information and expertise
  5. Managers must encourage the attitudes required for participatory systems

Resistance to PDM

Just because the society is democratic, doesn’t mean the workplace is.  A sense of worker/management antagonism in US culture makes the level of trust necessary in PDM difficult. Then some people just don’t want to participate, based on their skills. Since PDM requires everyone to communicate, people with communication anxiety don’t like it, and people with good communication skills sometimes come to monopolize the process. But even for good communicators the process can sometimes lead to communication overload.Finally supervisors may resist, since it encroaches on their power, or use their ability to communicate to unduly influence others and control the process.

Informal Communication Networks

Networks can be uniplex or multiplex, i.e. single topic or multi-topic. Multi gives increased support, but can also increase stress by its increased demands. Informal communication networks tend to be multiplexed.

Cliques are set of tightly interconnected people. One important property of cliques is closeness — not having to go through too many other people to reach the ones you want.

Centrality is another network trait — The more that passes through a particular group or point increases centrality. Centrality often leads to prestige — being contacted by others instead of being forced to contact them.

A liaison is someone who links cliques but is not part of either, while a bridge links cliques and is part of both. An isolate is someone with few links to other networks. Each of these plays a different role in network communication dynamics.

Relational Strategies of Motivation, Control and Surveillance

Job Enrichment and Enlargement

Abraham Maslow and Chris Argyris posited a hierarchy of needs:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Belongingness
  4. Esteem or Ego
  5. Self-Actualization

While not supported consistently in follow-up research, this hierarchy has been the basis for several ideas for increasing worker satisfaction by enriching their jobs.(Note, people like hierarchies and charts like these. They take on a certain “truth” for them, whether or not they work in practice.  People so often follow the theory over reality.)

Argyris made such a strategy. He said traditional organizations continued to routinize tasks to keep employees controlled, with causes people to react in counterproductive ways: defensive, apathetic, etc. Managers deskill jobs to make them segmented, simplified and routine. Deskilling in done to “increase efficiency” but it also alienates workers while increasing supervisory control.

The alternative, Argyris stated, was enriching jobs, which enables organizations to decentralize. It also enables employees to get more upper level (self -actualization) rewards and thus need less lower level (monetary) rewards. But it requires a lot of relational communication. Too simple is bored, too complex is frustrating. Only in the middle is the job satisfying.

Principles for Team Effectiveness

  1. A clear, elevating goal
  2. A results-driven structure
  3. Competent team members
  4. Unified commitment
  5. A collaborative climate
  6. Standards of excellence
  7. External support
  8. Principled leadership

To create a group that follows these principles requires work and cultivation over a long period of time.

Besides these internal group activities, there are also boundary-spanning activities

  • Scouting or scanning activities
  • Liaison activities
  • Campaigns
  • Buffering

These groups tend to exert concertive control over their members, control exercised through the peer pressure of the group

Relational Strategies of Leadership

Leadership and Group Decision Making

Leaders can guide decision-making three ways: Make the decision, consult with the group then make the decision, or have the group make the decision. When the group is making the decision, the leader has three functions, to make three forms of influence: on members’ perception of self, on members’ perception of the group, on pace and direction of discussion.

Information and Communication Technology and the Relational Strategy

ICT can support the relational strategy. E-mail, for example, is a fast and effective linking mechanism. It encourages communication between people at different levels, locations, on different schedules, without the need of any formal relationships. Unified messaging and wikis are other communication devices that foster additional relationships.

Relational Strategies and Employee Job Satisfaction

PDM and transactional leadership are shown to increase job satisfaction in a small, but consistent measure. It decreases the costs associated with job turnover.

PDM and Individual/Organizational Performance

Participation doesn’t ensure the best decisions. Usually decisions are better than average, but not as good as the best person in the group.  A supervisor might or might not make a better decision, depending on whether he is the best expert in the group.

PDMs exist in a paradox. It is a participation system, usually encouraged by management, which delivers a message to “be spontaneous — our way”. Be democratic — but make decisions fast. And self managed groups can be even tighter on regulations than a traditional organization — the “paradox of control” where the group self-censors and squelches its own creativity. This last paradox is one that successful groups have to learn to avoid.

Transactional Leadership and Individual/Organizational Performance

Studies haven’t found a strong link between job satisfaction and individual performance. They do have a positive effect on service-related business where customer service is key.

Thinking Critically About Relational Strategies

Thinking Critically About Interests

Owners, Managers and Workers have many interests in common, but not always as common as it seems. Workers are interested in the company keeping itself profitable and their jobs in a specific locale. Managers look for bonuses based on short-term performance.  Laying workers off through technology can boost their pay-out.

Thinking Critically About Empowerment

To be empowered, everyone must have an equal chance to communicate. Management can shaped the forum of discourse to give the lllusion of participation while preventing active involvement, or it can create opportunities where everyone can participate and feel empowered.

Reference

Conrad, C., Poole., M. (2012). Strategic organizational communication in a global economy. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.