Part 1: Case Study
School was out for the Summer. Tim, who had just finished 11th grade, was indulging on his seventh episode of The Office that day. His daily routine during the Summer months consisted of rolling out of bed past noon, making the twenty-five-step trip down the stairs to the living room, and planting himself there to watch his favorite shows. High school football cut Tim’s break in half, so he tried to enjoy the shortened Summer freedom as much as he could.
“Son, you best get your ass off the couch and find a job,” said Tim’s father. “Wasting your days inside watching T.V. under my roof just isn’t gunna cut it anymore.”
Living in a small New Hampshire town, the employment options weren’t exactly vast. He knew about a tent company located just in town and saw a sponsored ad on Facebook that read “Lots of Tent Crew Members needed: Good pay and lots of work opportunity.” Tim heard of the company a couple months back through family friends. He remembered knowing that the days were long, and it was very tough work, but the pay was good and was well known for its quality of products. After exchanging a few emails with the owner, Tim went to an interview at Nashua Party Rental. Tim arrived at Nashua Party Rental and met with the owner, Mike. The interview, or lack thereof, was very short and it was clear they were struggling to have enough workers. Mike also outlined the company’s rules and what they expect Tim would deliver for the customers; high quality products to make any event exactly what the customer dreamed of.
Mike hired Tim on the spot. After signing some forms, watching an OSHA safety video and issued company t-shirts, Tim was an official employee. Being the CEO as well as owner, Mike worked the office handling clients and accounts. The manual labor is left to the foreman and workers who set up everything from ginormous tents, tables, chairs, party supplies and more. Tim heard horror stories of a college graduation the required setting up 15,000 chairs.
The 5:45 a.m. alarm came way too quick for a Saturday morning. “Who even works on a Saturday?” Thought Tim. With a large iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts in hand, Tim walked into his first day of work at 7:00a.m. sharp. The common area smelt like musty old beer. His brand-new boots them and a mom packed lunch made him stick out in this blue collard crowd.
“Hey, you’re the new guy, right? Tim is it?” Questioned Scott, long time employee and scheduler for the warehouse. “You ever put a day’s work in those boots?” He joked.
“Yup, Tim Johnston, nice to meet you,” replied Tim. “And no, brand new.”
“Ok Tim, you’re with Brian today,” Said Scott.
Tim’s first day went by like a blur. Harvard graduation. The contract sheet of items ordered was pages long. Confused on what to do, the lack of guidance from superiors left Tim watching other people do and then follow. He tried to prove he was a hard worker but felt down when the foreman would crack jokes about the crewmembers. Most who took the brunt of the joke weren’t laughing but would never say anything back. Stacking chairs and rolling tables isn’t as easy as it sounded, but the foreman harassed Tim about his poor technique.
“Hey, roll them in-front of you and it’ll be easier,” said a older crew member.
“Thanks. A lot harder than it looks.”
“Names Dax, you? Where you from?” He said, shaking my hand. The sandpaper texture on his hand told his life story, compared to Tim’s untouched, unworked hands.
“Tim, nice to meet you,” Tim replied. “And Hollis.”
“Never met a rich boy from Hollis working here,” Dax replied.
Tim didn’t like being called “rich boy,” but held back to show he had a thick skin.
After making one friend on his first day, Tim went home and was so sore he could barely make it up the stairs. Mentally he was drained as well after receiving crap all day.
Months passed since Tim’s first day of work. He started to get the rhythm of the job. Crew chiefs delegated tasks poorly and were borderline ruthless with the jokes. Chalking it up to the blue-collar environment, Tim developed some thick skin. The jokes about his weight got to him the most, but felt it’d become worse if he took it personal.
Nashua Party Rental was a seasonal business, which meant all income was mostly made in the Summer season. Big clients like Harvard, MIT and NASCAR were very important. Jobs sprung up out of nowhere, which meant employees didn’t have a routine schedule. The classic “9-5” wasn’t the case here. Lots of employees complained about this but seasonal work also meant that employees made most of their income during the busy season. Turnover was frequent for high-school and college aged kids not cut out for the type of work. Nashua Party Rental struggled for an adequate number of employees. The saying “we’ll hire you if you have a pulse” was tossed around quite frequently amongst the guys.
Tim went into the scheduler’s office.
“Tim can you do this for us on the 10th? We think you’ll be assisting MIT in rearranging the tent setup,” Asked Scott.
The board read “MIT TENT ATTENEDNT, FRIDAY 7/10 6AM-6PM.” After having heard that a tent attendant was a brand new exclusively for MIT, Tim was hopeful to sign up to impress the foreman. Mass. Institute of Technology was just about the most important client Nashua Party Rental had. Tim noticed that Mike buttered them up often with Bruins tickets, concert tickets and vacations up to his lake house.
“Sure, would love to,” replied Tim, realizing by working more meant a lot to the crew chiefs. He wanted to do well for the big client.
A lot of logistics was involved for being a tent attendant. Changing layouts between events, speaking with various vendors and doing whatever the event manager asks. After talking with Mike regarding what to do along with a sticky note of everything. Mike sent MIT and Tim an email with the specifics, to which MIT replied with a full itinerary and what they expected to be done. Doing each task with care, Tim worked his butt off. Arriving back at the warehouse that day, the Mike came up to Tim to tell him he had received a call from MIT and were extremely pleased with my help.
“Good job, rich boy,” said Rich, one of the more senior foremen.
“Call me it all you want but I ain’t no rich boy,” Tim shouted back.
Weeks went by of grueling work. The harassment kept coming but Tim tried to fit in to make it stop. It was only at the end of the Summer and the start of the football season that it did, which Tim found strange and felt relieved.
Question 1: Imagine you are an organization communication scholar who utilizes a Constitutive Approach in order to understand your case study’s organizing process.
The co-orientation of conversation and text occurs on many different levels at Nashua Party Rental. The Montreal Schools Communicative Constitution of Organizations (CCO) theory defines co-orientation as the process through which people coordinate activity though interaction (Miller, 2015, p. 85). Co-orientation is achieved through text and conversation. Conversation involves an interaction through people versus text which comes in many forms, such as an email. For example, co-orientation occurs when Tim is searching for a job. After seeing the job ad on Facebook, Tim emailed Mike the owner. The text influenced the point of writing the email as well as influenced the conversation in the interview. Both text and conversation organized Tim getting the job and refers to Montreal School of CCO theory “Text is the product of conversation process, but it is also its raw material and principal occupation. Together, then, conversation and text form a self-organizing loop,” (Miller, 2015, p. 85). By stating the company needed a lot of employees for the busy season influenced how short the interview was. Tim struggles starting his new job at Nashua Party Rental by the lack of conversation. Without a formal written training program and lack of current employees taking the initiative to help Tim, co-orientation of text and conversation is weak at Nashua Party Rental. Organization would be improved if management and employees implemented better communication techniques. Understanding the difference between discourse and Discourse is important when looking at the co-orientation of text and conversation. Conversation involves an interaction or discourse while text that has meaning or structure is Discourse (Miller, 2015, p. 85). Employees at Nashua Party Rental leave new employees out to dry when first starting out, letting the new person try and figure it out on their own. The way they act towards new employees is the norm, which hints to the notion of Discourse. It is important to note that not all interactions are the same and people can act away from the norm. Agency, which is defined as the possibility that people can act otherwise in a situation, occurs when Dax interacts with Tim on the job site, (Miller, 2015, p. 86). Dax, an employee of Nashua Party Rental for over 15 years, went away from the norm of not conversing with the new guy Tim. Through the various types and styles of text and conversation at Nashua Party Rental, the company some organization through co-orientation.
Nashua Party Rental orchestras company goals, enforces their rules and workplace values through segments of degrees of separation in the “scaling up” process. The Montreal Schools key component of their approach to CCO is through text and conversation combined resulting in co-orientation process. Looking at the larger picture of organizing is the term “scaling up.” The important parallel between text and conversations meaning created can be codified and therefore can be changed past the initial interaction (Miller, 2015, p. 86). This is the concept of distanciation, (Miller, 2015, p. 86). “Scaling up” happens via six steps called degrees of separation. The Montreal School defines degrees of separation as “the process through which the original intent of a speaker is embedded in conversation then distanced from that conversation through its transformation into text,” (Miller, 2015, p. 86). An example of “scaling up” was Tim’s effort to get a job at Nashua Party Rental. Tim heard of the job months prior through a family friend recommendation, then during the Summer finds the job ad online. From there Tim emailed the owner, received an interview and ultimately offered a job. A more thorough look at how Nashua Party Rental achieves company goals through all six steps of the degrees of separation can be analyzed by the MIT Tent Attendant job Tim got assigned. The first degree of separation is “the intent of the speaker is embedded in conversation,” (Miller, 2015, p. 87). Tim heard about the new service of being on sight throughout MIT’s events called the “Tent Attendant.” The second degree of separation regards “the conversation is given a narrative representation,” (Miller, 2015, p. 87). Crew scheduler Scott asked Tim if he was available for the job but seemed unsure of the specifics but had a general idea. Analyzing the third degree, which is when conversation turns into text that is written down, (Miller, 2015, p. 87). After conversing with Mike regarding the tent attendant, Tim received a short list of tasks to be done. Organizations use four, five and six degrees of separation to implement formally the initial ideas. The fourth degree, which involves a unique language specific to that idea, can be seen when Mike emails MIT and Tim with specific party rental tasks that were to be done, (Miller, 2015, p. 87). After the correct language was set out, MIT progressed the tent specific tasks in Mikes email by creating a list of tasks as well as the final itinerary for the tent attendants schedule. The fifth degree of separation, which defined as “the texts and conversations are transformed into material and physical frames,” can relate to the final itinerary and list of things MIT expected, (Miller, 2015, p. 87). The final degree of separation standardizes the fifth degrees outcome for distribution to desired population, (Miller, 2015, p. 87). Being the first time Nashua Party Rental offered this to their most important client, logistics were standardized for future need of a tent attendant. Through the six degrees of separation, the initial idea of an on-call assistant became a standardized service Nashua Party Rental Party provided to MIT. The company’s goals, one being to provide customers with an event they dream of, were met to impress there most lucrative client by taking an idea to an tent assistant there to make the event seamless. The tent attendant idea was “scaled up” through the degrees of separation and met company goals and values.
Utilizing Robert McPhee’s and colleagues Four Flows theory analyzes Nashua Party Rental’s communicative constitution at a “bigger picture” scale. The Four Flows theory describes the transitions, or flows, of communication between four functions that ultimately change and create an organization. The functions reciprocate together enabling communicative constitution in an organization. One of McPhee’s colleges describes this as “… four communication flows encompass what are typically seen as internal and external matter that, taken together, perform essential organizational functions,” (Miller, 2015, p. 90). The four functions are membership negotiation, self-structuring, activity coordination and institutional positioning, (Miller, 2015, pp. 90-94). Analyzing Nashua Party Rental’s ability to perform essential functions can be seen through these four flows. Membership negotiation, which describes not only employees entering and exiting the company, but also crossing a boundary such as connection, knowledge or legitimacy, (Miller, 2015). Due to the amount of contracts Nashua Party Rental signs for work during the busy season, crew members are needed in large quantities. With workers coming in, also turnover is high for scheduling conflicts and the manual labor required. Becoming an employee also crosses a boundary of knowledge; Tim had to learn company policies, watch safety videos and sign legal paperwork. Also, Tim seemed to cross a boundary of connection as well by being provided the crew member t-shirt. The second function, self-structuring, “considers processes that serve to design the organization, provide guidance about resource allocation, institute policies and procedures, and create rules about how work is accomplished, (Miller, 2015, p. 91). Self-structuring is the meant and bones of how a company does what it was designed to do as well as norms. There was a board that Tim signed up for extra shifts on, work started at 7:00a.m. sharp, the norm of new guys struggling for guidance as everyone else is in what seems to be a “heads down, work hard and shut up environment.” There were policies and videos Tim had to watch prior to his first day. Activity coordination, the third flow, deals with how a company relies on each other to accomplish a task. The company relies on Mike, owner and CEO, to bring in and sign new business. Foreman to delegate and ensure job completion and crew members to follow orders or to like Tim figure it out himself. Lastly, the fourth function, institutional positioning, focuses on organizational coordination with other companies, (Miller, 2015). For example, Tim had to deal with other suppliers while being the tent attendant. The success of that job relied on the communication with vendors. The Four Flows are critical to Nashua Party Rental as an organization success and the four functions must interact to benefit the company.
Question 2: Imagine that you have developed a radical frame of reference for the Critical Approach
Looking at Nashua Party Rental through a radical frame of reference, it would be most appropriate to analyze it from a critical approach. A radical frame of reference is defined by an organization that is seen “as a battleground where rival forces strive for the achievement of largely incompatible ends,” (Miller, 2015, p. 100). There is clearly a lopsided divide between full time foreman employees versus the crewmembers. The imbalance of the two groups creates a profound line where the foreman holds the power against crewmembers who can’t defend themselves.
Many powers are at play for the foreman at Nashua Party Rental. Power, the most important aspect to a critical theorist, is described by “a defining, ubiquitous feature of organizational life,” (Miller, 2015, p. 101). Some sources of power at Nashua Party Rental control of decisions and knowledge and control of boundaries. It is evident that the foreman of Nashua Party Rental control the decision-making process by a few ways. First the general nature of a leadership position out in the field makes the decision, but they also don’t allow others to make decision therefore holding the power. Controlling information and knowledge is more apparent during Tim’s first few weeks. Being new to the job, zero knowledge of the logistics that needs to happen to get the job done is apparent. It can be implied that the foreman holds this information to dominate power as well to make one feel stupidly in-front of coworkers. As a critical scholar, this creates an alienated means of production. To the outside eye, insubordination doesn’t appear to happen at Nashua Party Rental. Many sources of power are at play in the organization that effects employee and managerial relations as well as means of production.
Organizations and structures of power and domination control their workforce and shape both ideology and hegemony. Ideology, defined as “the taken-for-granted assumptions about reality that influence perceptions of situations and events,” has a few important pillars (Miller, 2015, p. 105). To start, ideology changes ones understanding of something that exists, what’s good or what is possible (Miller, 2015). Next, these understandings are rarely questioned and can influence people’s behaviors (Miller, 2015). Nashua Party Rentals ideology that no matter what a foreman says, it doesn’t cross the line nor should the subordinate talk back. This creates the concept of hegemony. Hegemony involves a dominant group (the foreman) leads a subordinate group (the crew members) to believe this is the norm (Miller, 2015). Clearly the atmosphere at this organization is very power driven, but it is seen as the norm. Tim tries to fit in with the foreman because he thinks that is normal. As a critical scholar power is the key and hegemony is a key part to the approach. Ideology and hegemony are present in Nashua Party Rental.
As a critical approach scholar, resistance is a concept that isn’t just boycotts or strikes. Resistance is how workers put pressure on people or groups who dominate the power (Miller, 2015). Although there isn’t any evidence of public events of resistance at Nashua Party Rental, there are some assumptions that can be made. First, turnover is quite frequent of new crewmembers. Turnover costs companies a lot of money as well as in this case, the organization struggles to find enough workers. This a form of covert resistance. Covert resistance is undermining “behind the scenes,” unlike overt resistance which can be best exemplified by a strike. Resistance can be a huge benefactor in creating a more level playing field type organization.
...(download the rest of the essay above)