Communication Structure Proposal
Communication Structure Proposal
Multiplex is a fictional startup operating in automated motorcycle helmets. The helmets, an instant market success, are patented and are now rolled out in markets well beyond initial, niche market of "dedicated riders," particularly in mountain areas. The unexpected success has, however, resulted in a communication problem at Multiplex. Notably, as operations expanded, Multiplex appeared to express internal corporate communication problems (not PR and external communication problems per se). Specifically, having been used to predictable customer profile, Multiplex staff has now to handle customers of all walks. The common conventional communication pattern at Multiplex has been one marked by simple sales and performance reporting to direct line managers. Made up of fifty employees, Multiplex has, moreover, a fairly simple organizational structure of four levels: senior management, middle managers, sales and marketing and support. Multiplex staff, including senior management, would meet up regularly each month in an off-site venue voted for four days in advance. The company's ad hoc reporting of business outcomes, particularly in sales and marketing unit, has been but a straightforward process since existing and potential customers are self-motivated, loyal and, not least, predictable in consumption and complaint behavior. The recent expansion in customer portfolio has, however, created internal communication problem across all organizational levels. For example, in contrast to direct (ad hoc) reporting of sales and marketing activities (in which sales and marketing staff, mainly, reported to middle managers on weekly and monthly performances), growing customer portfolio has but made reporting (let alone a host of communication issues addressed in proposed communication structure) more complicated as new communication channels needed to be in place for more input of different (expanding) business units each handling a different customer need (including, for example, product knowledge orientations for non-professional riders; new mobile applications for updates on repair services, distributor locations and accessories; and, notably, possible sponsorships by major motorcycle manufacturers.) The company's startup organizational structure has shown increasingly ineffective in handling external customers. For current purposes, focus remains on internal customer (i.e. staff) communication. Given current communication situation, Multiplex lacks a proper corporate communication structure. In order to help address current gaps in communication across business functions, a detailed communication structure should be proposed. This paper aims, hence, to propose a structured communication blueprint for Multiplex in order to address present communication problems and, more significantly, to steer staff across a critical growth phase as corporate culture evolves.
This paper is made up of three sections in addition to introduction: (1) Corporate Communication: Concept & Context, (2) Communication Structure Proposal, and (3) Conclusion. The Corporate Communication: Concept & Context section offers definitions and conceptual background for main communication in reference to Multiplex case. The Communication Structure Proposal section is paper's central body and offers a detailed communication structure for Multiplex informed by main communication concepts and strategies. The Recommendations section offers further suggestions for proper application of proposed structure. The Conclusion section warps up argument and offers insights into future directions.
The case for corporate communication cannot be overemphasized. If anything, corporate structures are increasingly becoming reliant on how staff communicates (and, for that matter, are organized) for more effective individual and group performance as opposed to a conventional focus on hierarchical structures per se. Moreover, discourse, as an organizer of social reality in corporate contexts, has assumed more significance in corporate communication and behavior literature (Marin, 2015). Specifically, by placing participants in mutual relations, contexts, goals and objectives, corporate discourse / language becomes an organizer of communication in a corporate context (Marin). This approach to corporate communication has been further refined in literature. Notably, as "institutionalism" (i.e. social and cognitive functions of institutions at business unit level) has come to assume an increasingly significant position in corporate communication research (Cornelissen et al., 2015), analyzing corporate behavior has come to be increasingly approached from a communication perspective. For current purposes (i.e. proposing a corporate communication structure for Multiplex), accordingly, five key communication concepts are applied in proposed structure: (1) Formal Communication, (2) Informal Communication ("Grapevine") (3) Non-Verbal Communication, (4) Corporate culture, and (5) Corporate Cross-Cultural Communication (TEXTBOOK).
Informal communication (grapevine) is, in contrast to formal communication, a casual form of corporate communication developed for corporate and non-corporate purposes including, for example, romantic or friendship relations (TEXTBOOK). Significantly, informal communication, or grapevine, is usually employed by staff members for more information on news not communicated formally by managers or senior management (TEXTBOOK). Interestingly, "liaison" workers are staff members capable of gathering a lot of information from multiple sources and hence particularly important for informing peers of corporate and non-corporate news (TEXTBOOK). The managers and leaders of an organization are recommended, accordingly, to offer important information for company's internal and external stakeholders for more effective information dissemination (TEXTBOOK) and, not least, to avoid "noise" resulting from communicating incorrect information.
Non-verbal communication is a significant concept employed in proposed communication structure with a particular focus on proxemics (TEXTBOOK). In a nutshell, proxemics refers to usage of space between workers and/or moveable objects in a corporate space (TEXTBOOK). Typically, space is negotiated at workplace (TEXTBOOK) based on numerous variables including for example, power distance, office space layout and design and, not least, management style. This dimension of non-verbal communication is particularly relevant in current case given company's status (i.e. startup) and growth phase company experiences.
Fourth, corporate culture represents a critical communication concept in current business ecosystem. By corporate communication is meant an organization's underlying "underlying beliefs, logics, and legends concerning organizational life that organizational participants learn and use to guide their behaviors" (TEXTBOOK). If anything, used language, communication styles and company's evolving history all combine to create a corporate identity unique to one given organizational context. For current purposes, corporate culture is selected as a particularly significant communication concept since Multiplex is experiencing a critical phase of corporate identity development and evolution by which success can be sustained.
Fifth, corporate cross-cultural communication has come to occupy an increasingly important standing in business management (TEXTBOOK). If anything, globalizing business functions in physical and virtual contexts has, if anything, made cross-cultural encounters a regular experience in corporate life. For current case, Multiplex is experiencing rapid growth. This common growth pattern for startups often fails to accommodate cultural differences as company expands. Therefore, as part of proposed communication structure, cultural diversity is incorporated early on in order to buffer against possible miscommunication in future growth opportunities in international markets.
Communication Structure Proposal
Given current communication situation, Multiplex needs to adopt an increasingly more sophisticated communication structure (compared to current one marked by a rather flat communication structure). Notably, as Multiplex grows – and will continue to grow – into more business functions internally and business activities externally, Multiplex should put in place a communication structure based on more hierarchical communication style combining formal and informal modes in a corporate culture crystallizing into more identifiable identity.
The direct communication channels now adopted by staff and management for reporting sales and marketing should be replaced by well structured communication channels mediated by middle managers (now being hired increasingly to fill in gaps in an expanding organizational structure). These channels can be implemented in numerous forms (in addition to existing weekly and monthly regular staff meetings) including, for example, standard and/or customized communication software (e.g. e-mail client services, staff dashboards or on-wall smart bulletin boards), webinars and/or video-conference platforms for international staff and meetings in non-conventional venues, e.g. mountainous area (in which group photos can be posted on corporate website for branding purposes).
Further, given company's startup status, a combination of formal and information communication styles should be in place. Typically, startups enjoy "casual" and informal settings in which senior management and staff mingle during business hours, breaks or after a working day. The company's expanding structure mandates, however, more systematic and formalized communication styles. By maintaining company's initial casual communication style (particularly between senior management and staff) and using more formalized communication forms (e.g. e-mail memos, mobile notification apps and desktop alert applications). The formalized (impersonal) communication modes are meant to systemize communication styles, particularly across business functions (as opposed to personal, face-to-face encounters in meetings and hallways).
For upward communication, Multiplex should incorporate a dual operational / strategic reporting system in order to buffer against lack of proper reporting of operational problems by subordinates and to promote generating strategic ideas. This dual strategy is based on striking a balance between strict implementation of executive functions and flexible accommodation of idea generation. Communicationally, Multiplex should promote a corporate culture of responsible innovation. This can be achieved by showcasing achievements in particularly highlighted corporate events (e.g. annual meetings and KPI company-wide appraisal announcements) and accommodating "pitfalls" and "wrongdoing" reporting by, for example, setting up one-on-one meetings for more confidentiality.
Structurally, communication channels should be kept as much flexible as possible in order to accommodate for possible, future change. This is particularly significant since a more accommodating communication channel is apt to bridge chronic gaps between announced plans for change and actual changes (Kitchen & Daly, 2002). Not least, given company's current growth pattern, change is, for one, a corporate reality and hence paramount significance of change management communication.
The proposed communication structure can be represented as follows:
The above figure shows a schematic representation of proposed communication structure. One critical component remains to be emphasized: multi-channel communication across business functions. Put differently, by opening up communication channels between all business functions in new, expanding organizational structure, information dissemination is more effectively disseminated among all concerned stakeholders. Moreover, as a formal and informal communication style is proposed, by opening up communication channels, more fixed, hierarchical communication structures are "relaxed" into a flexible, structured, multi-channel communication system. This open, multi-channel structure is particularly significant given company's rapid growth phase, a phase marked by dynamic changes in business functions and communication modes as company expands internally and externally.
The case for a communication structure for Multiplex cannot be overemphasized. Given company's rapid growth in an initial corporate lifecycle phase, a communication structure marked by flexibility is one which best suits company's current needs. Tapping into one main strength of startups, i.e. simple and direct communication channels between all business functions, a communication structure is proposed as to build on informality of communication between management and staff members but also to accommodate more formal needs of corporate communications for relations and behaviors becoming much more impersonal. This proposed structure is not but a minimal effort in setting up a more comprehensive communication structure as company matures and is better able to develop a concrete corporate identity. If anything, internal communication strategies and structures should be subject to regular audits not only for more effective corporate communication but also, more significantly, for a well-developed corporate culture.
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