Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Effect of Hierarchical Level and Receiver Status on Managerial Communications

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Effect of Hierarchical Level and Receiver Status on Managerial Communications

Article excerpt

Communication represents a significant managerial task (e.g., Mintzberg, 1973; Rice and Shook, 1990), yet we know little about how communication processes differ for managers at different organizational levels. Organization structure represents the network of durable and formally sanctioned organizational arrangements and relationships (Khandwalla, 1977: 482). Structure reflects decisions concerning departmental specialization (horizontal dimension), and the broad pattern of arrangements by which departmental tasks are coordinated (vertical dimension or hierarchy). In particular, the vertical dimension (or hierarchy) of organization structures is believed to affect managerial processes because it represents the arrangement of managerial roles and is an efficient information-processing system (Fulk and Boyd, 1991; Galbraith, 1977). Most of the prior research has either: ignored the role of the hierarchy in managerial communication (e.g., Courtwright et al., 1989); examined communication at only one hierarchical level (e.g., Jones and McLeod, 1986); or focused only on the hierarchical level of the sender of communication (e.g., MacLeod et al., 1992; Schnake et al., 1990; Smircich and Chesser, 1981). While these studies have provided valuable information concerning managerial communication, they have not been able to highlight differences in communication processes across different hierarchical levels. Moreover, in a review of the literature on organization structure and communication, Jablin (1987) observed that few studies on the topic have been conducted among business organizations. Thus, the intent of this research was to expand on the knowledge base by examining the effect of the hierarchical level of both the sender and receiver of managerial communication on selected communication processes among a sample of business organizations. While it is acknowledged that informal structures and communications co-exist with formal ones, this study focuses only on the latter.

In the following section we first identify the communication processes and managerial hierarchy examined and then discuss and offer hypotheses regarding their relationship. In subsequent sections, we describe the research methods employed, present the findings, and draw conclusions and discuss the implications of the study.


Managerial Communication Sources and Processes

This research examines the effect of both the hierarchical level of the sender and receiver of information as perceived by one of the participants (versus both) in the communication process. Since this is the first study to simultaneously examine the effect of these hierarchical levels, it was felt that this investigation should initially examine these hierarchical effects on basic managerial communication processes. Both the literatures on organizational communication (e.g., Roberts and O'Reilly, 1974; Wilson and Malik, 1995) and information processing (e.g., Huber, 1982) identify the summarization and dissemination of information as fundamental communication processes in organizations. To these we added the sources of information communicated since this is essentially the starting point of managerial communication, and there is evidence (discussed subsequently) that the sources of information used for communication vary by hierarchical level. Prior research (e.g., O'Reilly, 1978) has shown that communication processes vary by the general type of information communicated; therefore, this study focuses on the sources, dissemination, and summarization of task-related information. Task-related information is defined as that which is necessary for the accomplishment of the manager's responsibilities. By examining communication processes related to this type of information, it was felt the study would better capture communications essential to the functioning of the organization.

Managerial Hierarchy

Managerial work is largely defined by the characteristics of the organization and its setting including the organization structure (e. …

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