The Corporate Communication Culture Project: Studying the Real World of Business

Article excerpt

OUR COMMUNICATION STUDENTS joke anxiously each semester about finding a job "in the real world" after graduation. Their banter assumes that working out there will be different from the experiences they've had in college. And, of course, their intuitions are right. The world of work is different from the classroom.

Two of the most important tasks we face as teachers of business education courses are to help students understand the assumptions and expectations of the business culture they are about to enter and to help them develop the skills they will need to make the transition smoothly and effectively. In this article we describe an assignment that contributes to both these objectives: The Corporate Communication Culture Project.

Discovering the Assumptions and Expectations of Business Culture

Students are assigned to teams of four or five. Each team is instructed to select a local business or a not-for-profit organization and conduct a case study. They are to describe and critique the corporate communication culture of the organization they've chosen, using a mixture of interviews, library, and Internet research. Teams are given five weeks to complete the project.

During the research phase, teams report to the instructor weekly, via e-mail, on the status of their progress. About halfway through the project, each team prepares a formal management briefing for the instructor. When its research is complete, each team prepares a written report and an oral briefing for the class summarizing and critiquing the corporate communication culture of the organization they have studied.

The theoretical underpinnings for the project include the seminal work on corporate cultures by Deal and Kennedy (1982, 1999), Peters and Waterman (1982), and Schein (1999). Our discussions of the ways in which corporate culture is developed and sustained through communication are grounded in the work of Bantz (1993), Meyer (1995), and Pepper (1995). Students who have been introduced to this array of theoretical constructs are often eager to use them to sort out their impressions and data on the firms they've chosen to study.

Working through the project, students discover the reality of class lecture materials and readings. Management theory becomes more meaningful as they find variations or elements of Theory X, Theory Y, Theory Z, or other styles of management in the organizations they're investigating. Interpersonal problem solving takes on new significance as students hear employees talk about how it works (or doesn't work) on the job. Advertising, corporate reports, and other forms of public communication are seen as instrumental messages designed to influence public perceptions and attitudes toward the organization.

Developing the Skills Needed for the World of Work

In addition to engaging students with the content of the course, the Corporate Communication Culture Project provides them with opportunities for skill development in at least four areas:

* Team skills

* Time and project management skills

* Use of technology to research, prepare, and present the project

* Networking with local businesses

Team Skills

The initial stages of teambuilding involve getting acquainted and deciding on a business to study. Brainstorming, leadership, division of labor, and inevitably, problem solving, become real skills to be exercised rather than merely textbook topics to be studied. As the group negotiates busy schedules, levels of commitment, and divergent interests, they find that what we've taught them about functions and roles in groups really does have relevance, and that their success and satisfaction depend on how well they manage their group relationships. They must overcome difficulties--personal differences, interpersonal conflicts, and scheduling problems with their companies--and find ways to make decisions quickly about what to do, how to divide the labor, and how to pull the project together to a successful conclusion. …