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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

From common starting points to common process rules


From common starting points to common process rules The purpose of this paper is to investigate the possibility of creating communicational process rules in an organizational context, which does not lead to homogenization, monopolization and discursive closure (Deetz, 1992), but on the contrary can be a way to manage heterogeneity and nurture and (re)vitalize communicational and cultural diversity. This necessitates an organisation-wide sensitivity to diversity in voice, practices and perspectives and the ability to convey and incorporate such diversity across the organisational setting. Van Riel's (1995, 2003) notion of "common starting points" (CSP) is sometimes mentioned as a possible solution to the challenge of balancing integration and flexibility. CSPs are, according to van Riel, "central values which function as the basis for undertaking any kinds of communication envisaged by an organization. Establishing CSPs is particularly useful in creating clear priorities, e.g. to facilitate an eventual control and evaluation of the total communication policy" (Van Riel, 1995, pp. 19f). Leitch and Motion (1999) celebrate the CSP type of value integration because it does not pre-suppose consistency between and among all symbols and messages from the organisation. Rather, it assumes that organisational symbols and messages reflect and support, in a broader sense, the values which the organisation espouses and adheres to. An organisation that values "professionalism", for example, may allow its members to interpret and enact their roles in multiple ways as long as their behaviours generally reflect a professional attitude toward their job. While the CSP approach, in other words, calls for organisations to ensure consistency in value expressions, it allows for a variety of "tunes" to be sung under its general tutelage (Motion and Leitch, 2002). In line with Glassman's (1973) conception of tight and loose couplings, we can say that the CSP-driven organisation is tightly coupled to its core values, which are strongly internalized by its members, but more loosely coupled between work groups and departments (cf. Peters and Waterman, 1982; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2001). This solution, according to Leitch and Motion (1999), allows the organisation to be "lighter on its feet", to be more open towards new ideas, and to move faster when such need arises. Acknowledging that organisations cannot control how the organisation's identity is received by its stakeholders - a point that Van Riel (2003) has also recognized - Motion and Leitch (2002) have proposed a development of Van Riel's CSR model, a so-called "semiotic model of corporate identity", that combines the common starting points with the notions of "multiple identity enactments" (MIE) and "common end points" (CEP). Where MIEs refer to the multiple and unpredictable interactions between the organisation and its stakeholders, CEPs are the goals the organisation has set for itself. Motion and Leitch (2002) call for corporate identity managers to ensure that all MIEs are always rooted in the organisation's CSP and conducive to its CEP. Hoping for a less repressive type of management, Motion and Leitch suggest that this approach leads to a reduction of centralised identity control (see also Leitch and Richardson, 2003). In spite of their noble aspirations, however, these approaches tend to reinforce a vertical and thus hierarchical communication structure and ignore or downplay the importance of horizontal communication exchanges. While the CSP approach and the semiotic identity model seem to allow for multiple interpretations, they still assume the existence of a privileged (managerial) perspective from where corporate communications and corporate identities can be properly overseen and managed. In order for communication as a principle of organising, to be sufficiently complex to match the complexities of the environment, it needs to draw much more actively on the experiences, ideas and enactments of the organisation's rank-and-file members. While the spirit of the common starting points (CSP) and common end points (CEP) inform and shape a part of what the organisation does, it is the departures from this centralised and largely vertical structure that help the organisation's values, goals and practices stay vibrant and in tune with (changes in) the organization and the market. In addition to - or as an alternative to - a practice based on well internalised CSPs and CEPs, the organisation needs, we argue, a set of "common process rules" (CPR) that can (re)vitalize the communicational and cultural diversity and guide its members in the process of discovering new ideas and solutions. In situations where the organisation's principal agenda is to stimulate the exploration of new ideas and solutions common process rules may well be more important than CSP and CEP. While the CSP/CEP approach provides the buffer that helps the organisation absorb, on a short-term basis, unexpected and discontinuous changes that go beyond its level of requisite variety (cf. Lynn, 2005; Ashby, 1956; Ashby, 1958), the common process rules (CPR) allow the organisation to simultaneously stimulate and increase its requisite variety through practices that challenge established values and practices (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2001). To illustrate empirically the idea of common process rules we look at the municipality of Copenhagen, an organisation with approximately 15,000 employees. During the last couple of years, the municipality has been in the process of unfolding a corporate values programme designed to foster consistency in the municipality's messages and behaviours while simultaneously developing the quality of its services and interactions vis-à-vis the citizenry. The programme's ambition is to foster an open and self-reflective culture in which the values themselves - respect, equality, dialogue and trust - are only stepping stones in the process of developing a better city. While the values, thus, are not important in themselves, they provide employees and clients with an "authorized speech position" from which employees and citizens can challenge the attitudes, the decisions and the practices of the municipality. The managers of the programme are fully aware that such an approach presupposes a high degree of openness, reciprocity and trust that allows information to flow freely in the organisation. The municipality, therefore, calls its programme "License to critique" (Knudsen, 2004).
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Dates et versions

hal-00840326 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840326 , version 1


Lars Thøger Christensen. From common starting points to common process rules. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840326⟩


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