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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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734 Corporate Performance Rhetoric: Essential Balance for Effective Internal Public Relations

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Business and industry have over-privileged positivistic attitudes and methodologies to managing performance. A shift is apparent from positivism to humanism in the measurement and management of business performance. My paper presents rhetorical “correctives” for performance management discourse that balances positivistic and humanistic needs. Top-down discourse about organizational performance, as a matter of internal public relations, should inspire employees to identify with management’s enacted dramas of the environment so employees/members see themselves in the way things are and, especially, the way things must be for organizational success.

Corporate discourse about organizational performance can rely too much on positivistic messages at the expense of more holistic and humanistic ones, which are also important to success. Rhetorical-organizational analysis of performance measurement discourse can account for why employees’ identification with management’s messages must be more bottom-up than top-down to be truly effective. My paper applies a discourse analytical approach to analyze the simultaneously rhetorical (per Kenneth Burke) and organizational (per Karl Weick) dynamics of a selected performance management approach used in myriad corporations today, the Balanced Scorecard.

The simultaneously rhetorical and organizational nature of performance management approaches can affect the study and enactment of organizational discourse. This paper focuses on only one approach for managing performance, but it does so to indicate a direction for correcting the imbalance of positivism and humanism when measuring and managing corporate performance. Other performance management approaches could be tested as well.

This paper reveals more about the discourse and practice of managing organizational performance and it analyzes how one performance measurement approach is both rhetorical and organizational in nature. Accordingly, this paper provides a foundation for improving the rhetorical and organizational dynamics for other performance management approaches.

Ultimately, the rhetorical and organizational nature of corporate performance rhetoric reveals the essential need for and implications of balancing the positivistic and humanistic dimensions of business in internal public relations.



An old saying in business is, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” The positivistic attitude behind this adage has deep roots. Those roots extend at least from Frederick Taylor (1911/1998), include the very influential thinking of W. Edwards Deming (1986) for statistical process control, and add management gurus like the late Peter Drucker (1993) and even Jack Welch (Slater, 1998). Surely the vast volumes on effective management could be chronicled and analyzed for the presence of positivistic perspectives on managing organizational performance, but I think such work would prove the obvious: that organizations can overprivilege “hard,” quantitative measurements of their performance. With the need for organizations to keep their stakeholders “in the know” about how viable they are and will likely be in the future, it is no wonder that quantitative approaches to measuring and managing business performance have been created, advanced, and employed across industries.1 The issue, however, is not whether performance measurement approaches, which have tended to be positivistic in design and substance, are appropriate or which ones should be used.

The issue, rather, is how to properly balance the positivistic (i.e., quantitative) orientation for measuring performance with a humanistic (i.e., qualitative) perspective for managing performance among employees. This paper does not to take a stand on any particular performance-management method, but it does analyze how one performance measurement approach is truly both rhetorical and organizational in nature, which thereby helps us to learn more about the discourse and practice of managing organizational performance.

I believe there is a shift (albeit a slow one) in business culture from positivism to humanism, signaled by deWaal (2002), who argues that “Performance management information is specifically intended to be used to support decision-making processes to control the organization (not decision-making processes in general)” (p. 5). This shift is in line with Kenneth Burke’s view of such an evolution in human social development (Brock, 1990). With this shift to a more humanistic approach to business management, I predict an increasing need to blend quantitative (“hard”) and qualitative (“soft”) attitudes and methods more systematically so that management obtains and enacts a more rounded, holistic view of the business. Indeed, the simultaneously rhetorical and organizational nature of performance measurement approaches has profound implications for the study and enactment of related organizational discourse.

Rhetorical-organizational analysis of performance measurement discourse, as this paper proposes, can (1) account for why employees’ identification with management’s messages must be at as much bottom-up as top-down to be truly effective and, therefore, (2) be essential in effective internal public relations (a.k.a. employee communications). (Effectiveness in this context concerns how well communication helps or hinders employees at all levels to understand what is going on and, especially, attain organizational performance goals based on performance information.) More specifically, top-down discourse (i.e., all texts, written and oral) about organizational performance should inspire people to identify with management’s enacted dramas of the environment so employees/members see themselves in the way things are and, especially, the way things must be for organizational success. This paper explains one dominant approach to measuring business performance, and it presents rhetorical “correctives” for performance measurement discourse that can be integrated in the arenas of scholarship and, especially, practice.

736 A Performance Management Approach Performance management approaches involve more than merely informing internal stakeholders about meeting organizational goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). They also involve more than stating whether the organization is going in the right direction or is on the wrong track or a bit of both. There is a subtle but important distinction between “performance measurement” and “performance management.” Very basically, the former is subsumed by the latter; whereas, performance measurements are the quantitative and qualitative methods (tools) used to evaluate progress toward/against organizational goals. Performance management applies a combination of leadership skills and performance measurements to inspire people to attain or surpass goals.

Performance measurement tools concern tracking performance to show how much people add (or subtract) value to the organization and, by reporting and analyzing performance, inspire cooperation among individuals to act more like business owners no matter what their role is (cf.

Shaffer, 2000).2 Over the long term, the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) (2002) says, performance measures have critical benefits to an organization. A performance measurement system “can justify corporate support for capital request, create an enduring focus, and justify capital allocation. Most important, performance measures are leading indicators of long-term health and consequently, represent a long-term planning asset” (APQC, 2002). A company’s own performance measurement approach can live up to these principles and, especially, accrue specific benefits that will help inspire organizational members to work toward success.

The Balanced Scorecard (Kaplan & Norton, 1996, 2001) is one dominant performance management approach that focuses on the organizational dimensions of financial performance, business growth and learning, internal processes, and customer perspectives. The Balanced Scorecard (BSC) is arguably among the most holistic and potentially the most accommodating of rhetorical concepts, although other approaches may be worth investigating for a similar synthesis. Some key benefits of a Balanced Scorecard performance management system are those shown in Table 1.

====================== See Table 1 ====================== These benefits have been visually organized in Figure 1, which illustrates that the company vision and strategy are at the center with the four key areas of any business radiating out from it. This way of representing the relationship among the business, customer, financial, and learning/growth perspectives of a business—as they support the company vision and strategy—is called a “Balanced Scorecard”, and it was developed by Robert Kaplan of Harvard Business School and David Norton of the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative. A company’s scorecard about its performance is said to be “balanced” when each of the four business perspectives support one another equitably, especially the financial perspective. More specifically, the balance that performance measures should achieve is possible because they encompass dimensions that are financial and nonfinancial, leading and lagging, internal and external, quantitative and qualitative, and short-term and long-term.

737 ====================== See Figure 1 ====================== The BSC gives us a way to structure relevant measurements in each of the four business perspectives. The Balanced Scorecard is also a management system that helps an organization to clarify its vision and strategy so they can be communicated to employees and translated into action by them in the work they do. The scorecard also establishes internal and external feedback mechanisms to ensure focus on both business outputs and outcomes through close examination of data from specific performance measurements and other sources. So this model is a useful way for organizations to measure and manage performance on financial and nonfinancial dimensions.

All four areas are critical because they each help to manage discreet areas of a business in more-effective ways. That is, when taken together, all four perspectives help a company stay focused on where it wants to go, not dwell on what it has been through, which is what financial measures tend to do as they tell the story of past events. As use of the scorecard implies, financial measures by themselves, then, are inadequate for information-age companies to create future value through investment in customers, suppliers, employees, processes, technology, and innovation. Such value creation is spurred through the communication that the organization has

with employees. As Kaplan and Norton (1996) put it:

The scorecard provides a framework, a language, to communicate mission and strategy; it uses measurement to inform employees about the drivers of current and future success.

By articulating the outcomes the organization desires and the drives of those outcomes, senior executives hope to channel the energies, the abilities, and the specific knowledge of people throughout the organization toward achieving the long-term goals. (p. 25) Kaplan and Norton (1996, 2001) discuss communication, as do many who have argued for the Balanced Scorecard’s usefulness and power in managing organizational performance. The focus on communication, however, is linear—an application of the sender-message-receiver model or, worse, the “empty vessel” theory of communication (i.e., if you tell them, they will understand). Kaplan and Norton (and those who adhere to their perspective) have given realworld examples about how communication must be part of the Balanced Scorecard. Those examples are, indeed, useful and illustrative of the process only. What is missing and is vital is a deeper understanding of why communication works (or not) when managing organizational performance. Indeed, Malina and Selto (2002), in a probing empirical study about the effectiveness of the Balanced Scorecard, begin to scratch the surface of the BSC’s rhetorical dimensions when they discuss process and messages developed from performance data. There is a rhetoric of performance management; whereas, within the context of organizing, management uses language about performance to inspire cooperation between itself and employees/members.

The key, then, is establishing identification among employees/members with a business plan using the information and insights gained through the BSC.

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