Organizational Communication

The Nature of Communication

There are three important elements in the process of communication: symbols, noise, and channels. In the most formal definition, communication is the process of sending and receiving symbols with attached meanings. Noise is anything that interferes with the effectiveness of communication. Channels are the pathways through which messages are communicated.

It’s important to understand that there are always gaps between the intended meaning from the source and the perceived meanings by the recipient. For example, the message that is intended to be polite and helpful can be perceived as unpleasant or even hostile. One way to identify the gap is to send or ask for feedback. Feedback communicates how one feels about something another person has done or said. In practice, it often means that one person communicating an evaluation of what another person has said or did.

Essentials of Interpersonal Communication

The most common communications are the interpersonal communication. And we used two metrics to measure the interpersonal communication.

  • Effective communication is when the intended meaning equals the perceived meaning.
  • Efficient communication is low cost in its use of resources.

An efficient communication might not be effective. For example, relying only on the email communication for an important organizational change might not be that effective.

Besides the verbal communication, nonverbal signals are equally important. Nonverbal communication occurs by facial expressions, body motions, eye contact, and other physical gestures.

For anyone who’s large part of the work is communication, the ability to listen well is a distinct asset. Everyone in the new workplace should develop good skills in active listening: the ability to help the source of a message say what he or she really means. Active listening encourages people to say what they really mean.

Communication Barriers

There could be different barriers about the communication process:

  • Physical distractions
  • Semantic problems: the poor choice of words and mixed messages.
  • Mixed messages: mixed messages occur when words say one thing while nonverbal cues say something else.
  • Cultural difference
  • Absence of feedback: one way communication flows from the sender to the receiver only.
  • Status effect: Status differences create potential communication barriers between persons of higher and lower ranks.

It is important to know that the information flow upward are often biased: the subordinates may filter information and tell the supervisor only what they think their boss want to hear. And therefore, the high level decision making is may end up being taken based on the biased and inaccurate information. This is generally called the MUM effects. The MUM effect occurs when people are reluctant to communicate bad news.

In order to overcome this issue, the managers and group leaders need to develop trust in their working relationship with their subordinates and team members.

Organizational Communication

Organizational communication is the process by which information is exchanged in the organizational settings. There are two types of channels in the organizational communication:

  • Formal channels follow the official chain of command.
  • Informal channels do not follow the chain of command.

Besides, there are informal channel called grapevine. A grapevine transfers information through networks of friendships and acquaintance. Grapevine can help transfer the information quickly and efficiently, it also brings social satisfactions to the person who is involved, but is can also transfer dysfunctional rumors. The key is to make sure the key person on the grapevine gets the right information to begin with.

Organizational Politics

Another overused but not fully understood term is: Politics. We used this word to describe some working place phenomena:

  • When we say the managers fight with each about the ownership of certain projects, we say these are politics.
  • Many people expressed their preference to work in an environment with less politics. So it sounds like politics are often treated as a bad example for many people.

But what is organizational politics?The formal definition of organizational politics is the management of influence to obtain ends not sanctioned by the organization or to obtain sanctioned ends through non-sanctioned means and the art of creative compromise among competing interests.

There is less formal definition: organizational politics refers to a variety of activities associated with the use of influence tactics to improve personal or organizational interest. The key elements in the organizational politics is: it is about personal interest.

How does people think about organizational politics? There has been two traditional point of views:

  • The first tradition defines politics in terms of self-interest and the use of non-sanctioned means.
  • The second tradition treats politics as a necessary function resulting from differences in the self-interests of individuals.

Organizational Political Activities

We can use two dimensions to map the political activities:

  • The level of political activity: individual level or organizational level.
  • The extent to which the source of power is soft(informal) or hard(formal).

According to the two dimension above, Michael Jarrett could classify the organizational political activities into four types:

  • The weeds

In this level, the political activities are mainly through the informal power, for example, the influence and informal networks.

A typical example can be, a manager used his personal influence to convince a member of another team to make the decision that is better for the manager’s team. Such was of influence or manipulating is very common. As a manager, developing informal channel where you can use your influence is important.

The question for us is: how do we deal with weeds political activities? First of all, trying to understand how the informal networks works. Identify the key brokers so that you can increase your own influence. And you could develop a counter-narrative and strengthening connections with other networks.

  • The Rocks

In this quadrant, the political activities are mainly about individual interactions and the formal power, such as title, role, expertise, or access to resources.

A typical example of such political activities is that a executives might constantly question the decisions agreed with the management team, just because of the potential conflicts with his personal interest. In such activities, he used his personal power to defend his personal interest rather than the company interest.

The best way of handling such political activities is to redirect the entry of a dysfunctional leader, through reasoned argument or applying to their interests.

  • The High Ground

The high ground activities are to combine the formal authority with organizational systems. This term is used to describe the rules, structures, policy guidelines, and procedures that form the basis of political activities.

How much procedure we want to introduce to the organization has been an essential question for managers. The procedure provides a check against the whims of individual level, however, it might also be used as a politics device to challenge the interest that are not aligned with the bureaucrats, or to prevent the innovations.

In order to overcome the procedure, you might declare that a special working group needs to be set up in order to solve an issue or bridge the silos. These special working groups would help overcome the producers.

Formalize a special working group or committee can often speed things up. Managers sometimes attempted to use this approach, however, it could be disruptive to the current team, and might result in overly relying on the special group.

What else can you do to overcome these politic procedures? You might try to convince people that not making change is more riskier than trying something new.

  • The Woods

The woods refer to the informal normals, hidden assumptions and unspoken routines. How do you overcome these political activities? You might do that by bringing the hidden assumptions to the surface: it is totally okay to ask stupid question on the first place.

As management team member, we need utilize the positive dynamics of the politics, while avoid the traps in the political terrains. For example, if we are able to influence the decision making on other team to move the project, we should definitely use it. On the other hand, we also need to be aware of the politics traps, for example, the long procedure to get the project approved by certain team.

Introduction to Organizational Behavior

Why do we study OB?

Organizational behavior focus on the invidious and groups in organizations. Studying OB helps us develop a better understanding about how people and gougers works in the organization. My primary goal is to better understand how organization works, then learn how to develop a more effective and productive organization, and as a return moving to higher place in the organization and achieve bigger success.

Wait, what is an organization?

Before we dive into OB, let’s first understand what is an organization first. In the context of a work setting, an organization is a collection of people working together in a divine of labor to achieve a common purpose.

There are a few important elements about the working organization:

  • Purpose

The purpose of an organization may be stated as the creation of goods or services for customers. The important part about the organization purpose is to understand that all the corporates are created for some economic purpose. True that many organizations are able to create cultures that make the employees feel like it is a home, to make friends, to explore their potentials. But after all, all the cultures are created for the purpose of creating a more effective organization to better achieve the economic purpose, either directly or indirectly.

  • Mission

The mission statement focus the attention of organizational members and external constituents on the core purpose. For example, the mission of my current company is simply stated as: to grow and empower local economies. Many times, mission statement are written to communicate a clear vision in respect to the long term goals and future aspirations.

Vision provides a North Star for the organization member, while challenging visions also help attract attention and help draw the members together in the quest for high performance.

  • Strategy

Organization pursues action strategies to accomplish the purpose and mission. For example, the following is the mission of my current company in order to achieve the mission above.

To grow an economy, we believe you must start with the merchant, the local businesses of all sizes and from all industries that provide 60%+ of a city’s GDP.

To help these merchants and achieve our North Star, we will build three things:

  • Last mile logistics platform
  • Merchant services
  • Membership program for the physical world

The organizations today

We must understand that organizations are not static, the organization today are totally different from he organizations 50 years ago. To better understand the organization, we need to:

  • Understand the overall trend of the organization
  • The typical organization in your industry
  • The sub organization of your own team

Overall, there are three important concepts about the modern organizations:

  • Intellectual capital is the sum total of knowledge, expertise, and energy available from organizational members.
  • Human resources are the people who do the work that helps organizations fulfill their missions.
  • Open systems transform human and material resource inputs into finished goods and services.

Organization can be viewed as an open system. It obtains resources from the environment and transfer them into outputs. Tech industry is different from other industry that intellectual capital is the most important part of the overall working competitive.

Organizational Culture

One clear signal that a term is abused is that everyone is using it, but no one really understand it. Culture is one of such terms.

We use culture to describe all types of social and organizational phenomenas:

  • When we say Facebook expects significant deliverables from their employee, we say Facebook’s culture is competitive.
  • when the interview candidate displays certain traits that are not directly align with the company values, we say they don’t fit our culture
  • When the interview candidate cares about how the company and the team works, they often ask: what’s the culture of the team?
  • When the company leadership wish to influence how people make their daily work decision process, they try to build the culture by setting an explicit value guide, sometimes they call it culture playbook.

It seems that culture can be anything: how the company recognize and reward their employee’s impact, the way that the daily work is organized, the values the company uses to guide the employee’s daily work and decision making process. But what is a company culture?

What is organizational culture?

By definition: organizational or corporate culture is the system of shared actions, values and beliefs that develops within an organization and guides the behavior of its members.

Two things stand out from this definition:

  • It is the shared actions, values and beliefs that are developed within the organization.
  • It is to guide the behavior of its members.

Too often we hear about build the culture for an organization: we mostly focus on the part of the culture that can be built or influenced by us directly. But just like the society culture, large part of the shared values and beliefs are developed naturally. In this situation, we use the term culture as a description to these shared actions, values and beliefs.

On the other hand, we also have to realize that all the culture building are for one purpose: the guide the behavior of its members. And in most of the time, it is to make the organization more productive.

Before we proceed to more details about the function of the corporate culture, I also want to define the boundary of corporate culture: corporate culture is an important element for the organization to successfully deliver the result, but is not the only element, there are other ones like the organization structure. We will continue to discuss the different function of these elements in later posts.

In order to understand the function of organizational culture, we must first understand what problem it tries to solve. There are two important problems the culture wants to solve: the external adaption and the internal integration.

The external adaption is about to answer the following question: what precisely needs to be accomplished, and how can it be done. While the internal integration process is to answer: how do members resolve the daily problems associated with living and working together.

How does culture solve the internal integration problem? For one example, how does the team members decides the statue of themselves on the team? While some company set title to indicate the level of seniority of the employees, and these titles in general will be transferred to the authority. While in other companies, there are way less titles, and they in general believe that the absent of titles would foster a more creative discussion. This is an example, how the corporate level culture would help shape the way the team member decide their status: how the team members should work together.

External adaption

The external adaption involves reaching goals and dealing with outsiders. And it involves a few concerns including: tasks to be accomplished, methods used to achieve the goal, the methods of coping with success and failure.

As a manager, it is critical to constantly think about this two process: does my team member knows what precisely needs to be done? Do they know how each should be done? And do they know how these activities will be rewarded? It is important to keep reinforce the mission of the whole team and to help them understand where are they in terms of the overall progress.

Internal integration

The internal integration is the process and flows how the team members should work together. Imaging the time you join a new organization, the first thing you want to know is: how people work, the goal of the organization, which part I am responsible for, who are my team members, what they are doing, how does my work related to theirs. The new team member will gradually figure out the answers to all these questions.

This two process applies to any level of organization. For a company or corporate, it is mainly to achieve the economic goal [try to find an example about the company culture]. For small teams, like one single engineering team, it is to help the bigger team to be successful.

Culture analysis

The goal of learning corporate culture is to be able to constantly change the culture so that the organization is in high performance. The first step is to be able to analyze the current culture, then to utilize the organization development skills to change the culture.

There are three levels of organizational culture: the observable aspect, the values, and the underlying assumptions.

The first level is observable culture, which means the way we do things in the workplace, it includes stories, ceremonies, and corporate rituals. In the start up company I am working on, the CEO will share the funding stories at the orientation: why he started this business and where the mission of the company comes from. These stories become a very important part of the company culture, and they will be told at many places by different people. This part servers the external adaption purpose: what goal does the organization want to achieve.

The second level is the shared values. This is also the most common seen part of the corporate culture. Organization for many times publish their shared values. And the company would invite the executives to share their story about these values as an example for the regular employees. The company also build the rewarding system: the performance evaluation system based on that. So in both the culture part and the rewarding system part, values is an essential part.

In the deepest level of culture analysis, is the common assumption. It is hard to tell what are the common assumptions, especially after people joining the organization for a while, these assumption becomes the basis for our daily work.

Company Values

Imaging that you are the founder of a company, how do you plan to run your organization? You must have questions like: what’s the mission of the organization? How do I make sure the entire organization is running effectively? On the early days, you might be able to achieve the goal by verbally talking to all the people in the team, but soon you will find out that the team grows outpace your capability to directly interact with everyone. And one of your solution will be: setting up a values that would help align the daily work and the decision making process of all the team members, and make sure the company’s rewarding system aligns with these values.

As a manager, it is important that you also make sure the team’s value align with the company’s value, though there could be different focus within each of your own domain.

Manage organizational culture

In general, there are two strategies for the managers to build the culture, the first one is to modify the observable culture, shared values, and common assumptions directly. The second is to use of organizational development techniques to modify specific elements of the culture. Managers can help foster a culture that provides answers to important questions concerning external adaption and internal integration.

So why should we understand how the organizational culture works? As a manager, it is critical to be able to build a high performance team. Except for setting the right talent level, building a good team culture is an important approach to influence the decision making process of the team. And through the influence, the manager an use the culture to shape the organization effectiveness.

Organization Behavior: Motivation Theory

Organization Behavior is the study of individuals and groups in organizations.

This blog introduce the basic concepts of the Motivation Theory.

What Is Motivation?

Motivation is the desire to act and move toward a goal. In the workplace: motivation refers to forces within an individual that account of the level, direction, and persistence of effort expended at work.

  • Direction refers to an individuals’s choice when presented with a number of possible alternatives
  • Level refers to the amount of effort a person puts forth.
  • Persistence refers to the length of time a person sticks with a given action.

Why Managers Care About Motivation?

One question that all managers think about the most is: How can I motivate my employee?

Why managers care so much about employee’s motivation? Because Managers’s success depends on the success of his subordinates. And the employee’s motivation level determines the quantity or quality of their work or service.

Can I Motivate My Employee?

You can’t directly change people’s motivation, just like you can’t control people’s mind. But you can build a better culture and environment to influence people’s motivation. Motivation is a result of your managerial work rather than an approach. As a manager, you should focus on understanding the factors that influences your employee’s motivation, on identifying the motivation structure for each individual employee, and continue to build a better environment and motivation plan for each individual employee.

Three Type of Motivation Theories

So, what motivates people in the workplace and how to change their motivation?

In general there are three types of motivation theories, they try to answer the question from three different perspective:

  • Reinforcement theory emphasizes the linkage between individual behavior and some specific outcomes to show how managers can alter the direction, level, or persistence of individual actions.
  • Content theory focus primarily on individual needs. It suggests that motivation comes from the individual’s attempt to satisfy needs.
  • Process theory focus on thought or cognitive processes that take place within the minds of people and influence their behavior.

Reinforcement Theory

Managers often seen themselves as coaches: to teach and assist the employee to achieve a better results. The coaching process often means the manager need to encourage certain behavior and discourage other behaviors. How to change people’s behavior? In the reinforcement theory, it is about the stimuli and the outcome.

Reinforcement is largely based on the theory of the classic and operant conditioning. The classic conditioning is focus on the stimuli that influence behavior and tries to link the stimuli that indirectly influence the behavior with the behavior directly.

In the classic experiment conducted by Pavlov, he “taught” dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by ringing the bell when feeding the dogs. The trick is to associate one neutral potential stimulus(ring the bell) with another stimulus(the meat) that already affects behavior. However, the classic conditioning is not quite practical in the workplace, it is hard to find out the stimuli in most cases, not to mention to associate them with the behavior.

However, it is often easier to associate the consequence with the behavior. Operant conditioning controls behavior by manipulating its consequences. The basis for manipulating consequences is E. L. Thorndike’s law of effect. The law of effect is simple but powerful: behavior that results in a pleasant outcome is likely to be repeated while behavior that results in an unpleasant outcome is not likely to be repeated.

Then how do we reinforce the desired behavior and nonreinforce or punish the undesired behavior? The first strategy is positive reinforcement. This strategy is generally interpreted as rewards: it can be a pay increase, a recognition, or a better opportunity.

Remember that your reinforcement must be contingent and immediate. And it often take times to change the behavior to a desired level, you should be ready to gradually shape the employee’s behavior to the desired level. In the meantime, you can also utilize negative reinforcement, where you discourage, punish or extinct the undesired behavior.

Content Theory

The content theory is built based on some physiological studies: for example, Maslow’s study about people’s need. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, human beings have lower order needs such as physical, safety, and social needs, in the meantime, they have higher order needs such as esteem and self-actualization.

While Maslow’s theory is powerful, it is often too complex to be applied to the workplace directly. A more practical theory is the ERG theory, it divides the needs into three major components:

  • Existence needs: desire for physiological and material well-being
  • Relatedness needs: desire for satisfying interpersonal relationships
  • Growth needs: desire for continued personal growth and development.

ERG theory is different from Maslow’s theory in that is allows multiple theory to be activated at one time.

The third important theory is Acquited Needs Theory:

  • Need for achievement (nAch): the desire to dosomething better or more efficiently, to solve problems, or to master complextasks;
  • Need for affiliation (nAff): the desire to establish and maintainfriendly and warm relations with others
  • Need for power (nPower): the desire to control others, to influence their behavior, or to be responsible for others.

The theory is particularly useful because each need can be linked with a set of work preferences.

Process Theory

Equity theory posits that people will act to eliminate any felt inequity in the rewards received for their work in comparison with others. The equity theory is based on the phenomenon of social comparison.

Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory posits that motivation is a result of a rational calculation: my effort will yield acceptable performance and performance will be rewarded.

  • Exceptancy: How possible it is for the person to achieve that performance:
  • Instrumentality: Probability assigned by the individual that a given level of achieved task performance will lead to various work outcomes.
  • Valence is the value attached by the individual to various work outcomes.

Expectancy theory predicts that motivation to work hard to earn the merit pay will be low if expectancy is low—a person feels that he or she cannot achieve the necessary performance level.