Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Organizational Communication: Development of Internal Strategic Competitive Advantage

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Organizational Communication: Development of Internal Strategic Competitive Advantage

Article excerpt

We all sense that the changes surrounding us are not mere trend but the workings of large, unruly forces: the spread of information technology and computer networks; the dismantling of hierarchy, the structure that has essentially organized work since the mid-19th century. Growing up around these is a new information age economy, whose fundamental sources of wealth are knowledge and communication rather than natural resources and labor (Stewart, 1993, p. 66).

Whether one labels it revolution or evolution (Mezias & Glynn, 1993), evidence suggests the occurrence of a basic global shift in the organization of work. An editorial essay in Organization Science succinctly characterized this shift: "As we contemplate the cataclysmic changes occurring in the environment of organizations, and as we observe the organizational revolution sweeping one industry after another, it is altogether clear that the management of organizations is undergoing a paradigm shift" (Daft & Lewin, 1993, p. i). Fundamental to these seemingly discontinuous changes is the compelling mandate to reduce barriers of understanding for managing the monumental challenges of global competitiveness (Jackson, 1993; Porter, 1990; Thurow, 1992; Tyson, 1992).

There are numerous examples of organizations which have created new approaches to knowledge creation and reduction of barriers to understanding. McKinsey and Company, the major worldwide management consulting firm, works with client companies to design and implement "horizontal organizations" (Ostroff & Smith, 1993). Such "new organizational forms" (NF) create management technologies (MT) (new ways of managing people and processing work) which allegedly are barrier reducing and therefore more efficient. Xerox, for instance, now organizes "around lateral, end-to-end workflows, instead of around vertical functions, departments, or tasks" in new product development (Ostroff & Smith, 1993, p. 153). Motorola utilizes these new horizontal forms in its supply management as does Apple in integrated logistics. Other companies who are utilizing new forms (NF) rather than the functional/vertical are GE and Kodak in manufacturing operations, American Express IDS Division in mutual fund processing, and Knight Ridder newspapers in advertising sales and service.

The primary new management technologies (MT) now evident are participative team-based processes. McKinsey claims that "the basic organization module always remains a team-based work flow, not an individual task. These workflows can then be linked to others, both upstream and downstream, through a variety of methods" (Ostroff & Smith, 1993, p. 154). Thus the organization communication system (the total cross-functional, up-down, and lateral information and knowledge flow - OCS) is more boundaryless. Knowledge (what people know about product and process strategies, work flows, and others' performances within these flows) creates the basis for efficiencies and/or competitive advantages utilizing the new organization forms and management technologies (NFMT). Fortune Magazine cites the comments of the CEO's of General Electric, Allied Signal, Ameritech, and Tenneco, to illustrate how widely applied are NFMT experiments (Stewart, 1993, pp. 82-90). Jack Welch of GE emphasizes these changes in terms of sharing and teamwork: "We want you to share this problem with us. We lay out all of the data . . . When you make a value like teamwork important, you shape behavior" (Stewart, 1993, p. 83). And Lawrence Bossidy of Allied Signal sees their experiment in NFMT such that: "We're breaking down the walls that separate finance and manufacturing and engineering and marketing, and putting all these functional disciplines into process organizations" (Stewart, 1993, p. 84).

Thus, it is apparent that the "ubiquity of change" (Stewart, 1993, p. 72) includes experiments with a set of new organizational forms and management technologies (NFMT). The rationale for barrier reduction within these NFMTs is that for companies to create and sustain competitive advantage into the 21st century, they must become "fast and agile" and "boundaryless" (Welch, 1993, p. …

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