Dennis Tourish and Owen Hargie
The temptation to tell a Chief in a great position the things he most likes to hear is one of the commonest explanations of mistaken policy. Thus the outlook of the leader on whose decision fateful events depend is usually far more sanguine than the brutal facts admit.
(Winston Churchill, 1931)
Communication in organizations involves the transmission of information (messages) between senders and receivers (sources), utilizing a variety of means (channels). Such information can flow horizontally (across similarly placed levels in the organizational chart), vertically (from managers to non-managerial staff, or vice versa) or diagonally (from non-managerial staff to managers, bypassing intermediate layers, and vice versa). The meanings of the messages are affected by the cognitive set of the individuals who receive them and the context in which they occur. Organizational communication research has therefore often been construed in terms of an information exchange cluster, involving information, networks, uncertainty, messages, load and (more recently) technology (Conrad and Haynes, 2001). The purpose of this chapter is to suggest that important issues involving information transmission from those without managerial power to those with such power have been insufficiently explored in the literature. Power itself is a frequently unacknowledged variable in organizational science (Clegg, 2000), while it has been argued that, whatever other changes have occurred, ‘corporate organizations have remained largely autocratic in form’ (Deetz and Mumby, 1990:19). In particular, the need for upward communication that is critical of organizational goals and management performance has been little recognized, or researched. Primarily, researchers in the general area of feedback have been concerned with the nature and efficacy of appraisal systems. Here, we argue that this is no longer sufficient.
Feedback and knowledge of results have long been known to be essential to effective human performance in any task (for example, Annett, 1969). The more channels of accurate and helpful feedback we have access to, the