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Symbolic action here targets organizational members, especially operational leaders and those with customer contact, and it concerns the attitudes and behaviors of established, new, and potential customers. Symbolic action in general includes reports about customer trends, feedback gained about an organization in almost any light, and targeted communications with established, new, and potential customers. For my client, the following were key role-specific means for
gaining buy-in to performance:
VP Project Managers
- Bid list
- Current customer contacts 742
- New customer solicitations
- Net profit per labor hour Superintendents
- Labor hours supervised
- Net profit per labor hour Foremen
- Labor hours above/below estimate
- Material cost above/below estimate Administrative Office
- Volume (labor hours & billings)
- Call backs & adjustments The company-level and individual measurements would be assembled into management reports that will be run twice a month (bimonthly) so everyone can see how well they are doing along the way and not only at the end of the month when it’s too late to address matters. Such reporting will give us the best view of business performance (e.g., sales actuals and projections) over any period of time.Monthly performance targets will be established and adjusted up or down so they better reflect customer demand and projected sales.The specific targets for individual performance measurements will be defined together by each person and management, based on projected sales performance and the strategic plan’s objectives and goals. The results of performance measurements, as published in the regular management reports that you’ll also receive, will help everyone see how well we’re doing at any time.In this way, each of us can make adjustments to take advantage of new situations that come up or anticipate opportunities before they happen so we can make the most of them — all with the idea that we move closer to realizing the company’s vision and achieving our objectives and goals.
This understanding of the role of identification in organizational rhetoric clarifies the rhetoric of the four areas of the Balanced Scorecard. With his numerous publications, Cheney (and his coauthors) is without question the leading scholar of rhetorical identification. Indeed, Cheney’s (1991) Rhetoric in Organizational Society is perhaps the most extensive application of Burke’s concept of identification, and Cheney’s earlier work (1983a; 1983b) are among the very earliest, thorough, and systematic treatments of Burkean identification to organizational communication. His view of identification among members within organizations is key in the next section to my analysis of the Balanced Scorecard and the rhetoric of performance management.
Organizing and a Rhetoric of Form for the Balanced Scorecard All the symbolic action about managing performance through the Balanced Scorecard means that businesses engage in organizing more than they are organizations, as Weick (1979) argues. This perspective includes and takes us beyond Cheney’s view of organizational, even managerial, communication. Organizing, according to Weick, is an intersubjective activity where people try to reduce a perceived level of equivocality—the various possible interpretations we may have for a situation taken from a flow of events—through communicative action. Some strategies of organizing feature people arguing about which enactments should be selected and, later, which ones should be retained for organizational memory and prospective/proactive enactment. In this regard, sensemaking is a rhetorical process among people that involves (1) retrospective structuring about past and present events and actions from the flows of experience and, most important, (2) prospective structuring about events and actions from the anticipated 743 flow of future, planned experiences. As Weick (2004) says, “organizing viewed as acting discursively transforms a difficult and [intangible] reality into a resource that people can use” (p.
408). The upshot: Upon enacting an environment, people decide what discourse type to use about organizational performance and how to frame messages rhetorically to aid in management decision making and employee buy-in.
As the example of my client shows, the symbolic action stemming from the BSC is preserved in the form of selected documents that present data and analyses of the data. Lyles and Schwenk (1991) explore how organizational discourse is key to the creation and maintenance of organizational knowledge structures, which affects organizational learning and adaptability to change. Symbolic action may take any form and is rhetorical; whereas, Burke says that rhetoric “is rooted in an essential function of language itself... the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (Burke, 1950/1969, p. 43).
Identification between people results when the content of one’s statement appeals to someone through its form, i.e., a discourse pattern that “gratifies the needs which it creates [in someone]” (Burke, 1931/1968, p. 138). The forming of discourse involves action, from those fundamental principles of symbolic forming that are covert, primal acts of the mind through the acting of principles and ideas in repetitive, progressive movement, to the summing up act of perceiving the forming structure which encompasses all. At each level, the action includes inducement to participate; to participate is to act in terms of building expectancies and to be gratified by the fulfillment provided. The inducement... is rhetorical; invitation to action involves critical and evaluative faculties at every level and is therefore partisan in stance and tone. (Gregg, 1978, p.
10) In this way, rhetoric becomes “equipment for living”—albeit, in the case of the Balanced Scorecard, rhetoric is equipment for managing—because it helps us make sense of things for a business and represents a creative strategy for dealing with or solving problems within situations.
For example, although someone may act as the representative of my client or a document that was published by and about the company, organizational discourse is the sum of the many people’s enactments shared, selected, and retained according to organizing recipes during the sensemaking process. In the case of a technical document, like an annual report, the document’s development process includes writers, editors, photographers, graphic designers, management, and legal counsel (cf. Smudde, 1991). These people made sense of their enactments about the organization’s performance during the previous year, projected these enactments in particular frames of reference, and followed recipes to enact one discourse type that would induce cooperation between the organization and its publics, especially stockholders and investors.
Rhetorical choices about the form, content, and even frame of reference for enactments are the object of the creative process of sensemaking, which are in tune with Weick’s idea of organizing grammars. The rhetorical dynamics of organizing involves retrospective structuring about events and actions from the environment. Weick and Browning (1986) argue that the dynamics of argument and narration in organizational communication in any medium feed an organization’s process, structure, and culture. People argue about which enactments should be selected and, later, which ones should be retained for organizational memory. The Balanced Scorecard (and other performance management approaches) facilitates this argumentative process literally. In this regard, sensemaking can be viewed as a rhetorical, dramatistic process among people that involves retrospective structuring about events and actions from the flows of experience and fosters prospective structuring about anticipated future events in tune with a corporate strategic plan and other “forward looking” data about corporate performance and how it will be managed.
744 When describing Burke’s view of the creative process, Rueckert (1982) effectively reflects Weickian organizing, saying that process “starts with experience, moves to the abstracting of essences from experience, thence to the translation to that essence into some kind of progressive form, and then to the bodying forth of that form” (p. 170). Since communication is the nexus of organizing, the sensemaking recipes people use necessarily include those related to enacting certain frames of reference and particular kinds of texts, from Balanced Scorecard reports to press releases, that advance the selection and retention of enactments.
People bridge the divisions or loose couplings among each other within the order of organizations through identification and may adopt, as Burke prescribes (1937/1984, pp. 19-30;
92-105) one of three frames of reference about their situations: a frame of acceptance about the status quo of enacted environments and retained enactments (i.e. to do their duty in organizing);
or a frame of rejection, which is to enact alternative environments in response to those enacted or retained within the status quo (e.g. corporate restructuring [cf. Smudde, 1993] or labor strikes);
or a frame of passivity, which is to enact environments of inaction that are neither those that are accepted nor those rejected by others. Frames of reference and enacted environments are congruent with each other, because both establish contexts, even perspectives about what is going on that people share, select, and retain when organizing (cf. Weick, 1995, p. 51, 53).
So we can think of the texts generated through and reflecting the findings of the Balanced Scorecard as fitting specific genres of discourse that can be studied for their rhetorical and social dimensions, for as Burke (1941/1973) says, “to guide our observations about the form itself [of some discourse type], we seek to discover the functions which the structure serves. This takes us into a discussion of purpose, strategy, [and] the symbolic act” (p. 101). The Balanced Scorecard data are mostly internally generated according to management’s needs. Of course management has its own preferred set of reports about specific measured dimensions of the business’ viability in terms of is financial, internal, learning and growth, and customer dimensions. Management also must generate reports and engage prospectively and proactively in other symbolic action (e.g., meetings) about data and trends that matter to other internal stakeholders, like operations leaders (e.g., division heads, department directors, functional managers) and employees at large.
These internal stakeholders are key because it is they who are responsible for enacting the organization’s strategic plan and engaging in business processes in light of that plan.
The form and substance of the performance-focused communication with these stakeholders must establish a level of identification with target stakeholders so they see themselves in the situation in terms of their roles and spheres of control in an organization, and see themselves as part of the process to making the organization successful. Ancillary stakeholders, like shareholders, retirees, public policymakers, the community, mass media, and civic leaders, could be recipients of selected scorecard-based information that conforms to management’s communications needs and legal and ethical obligations through functional areas like public relations, investor relations, government relations, community relations, and so on.
Because discourse conventions for corporate texts that management could use to report organizational performance are broadly upheld, these discourse categories can be said to fit what Orlikowski and Yates (1994) call “communication genres,” which serve as “institutionalized template[s] for social action—an organizing structure that shapes the ongoing communicative actions of community members through their use of it. Such genre usage, in turn, reinforces that genre as a distinctive and useful organizing structure for the community” (p. 542; emphasis added). Orlikowski and Yates’ research explains how people in particular organizational functions (even whole organizations) routinely enact many kinds of discourse. The researchers 745 call this set of discourse types a “genre repertoire,” the study of which helps to explain established communicative practices and how activities are organized (p. 542).
====================== See Table 3 ====================== Institutionalized genres of organizational communication, like those in Table 3, are distinctive and “characterized by a socially recognized communicative purpose [i.e. being constructed, recognized, and reinforced within a community] and common aspects of form [i.e.
the readily observable features of the communication, including structure, medium, and language]” (Orlikowski & Yates 1994, p. 543, 544). The forming of performance-based discourse involves symbolic action that includes inducement to participate, where the inducement is rhetorical (Gregg, 1978). Management, then, chooses specific discursive forms because those forms make sense for and convey meaning about enacted environments about organizational performance.
Next Steps to Enacting Performance Measurement Rhetoric Making a rhetorical theory work prospectively for communications opportunities about corporate performance and making it work in synch with corporate strategic planning, execution, and measurement (qualitative and quantitative) is key. Although critique and rhetorical criticism is traditionally anchored in retrospective analysis (i.e., looking at an artifact to investigate it for what it was and is), there is no reason why critical methods like the one used here, cannot be used prospectively to the benefit of future discursive action. In this way we move from traditional critique (which looks back upon extant discourse) to prediction (which looks forward to planned discourse). Criticism and rhetorical theory, then, becomes something more strategically potent—a tool for planning and enacting more effective discourse rather than an exercise attaining 20/20 hindsight. This prospective view is especially relevant to business because spending too much time looking in the rearview mirror means the advantage from looking down and preparing for the road ahead has been lost and the opportunities that go with it.