During the interview, the Chief Executive Officer (Brad) and plant manager (Simon) devoted a considerable amount of time to our communication analysis of their plant. I hadn’t expected two executives to become so involved with a University case study, and to discuss their credo, mission statements, strategies, and—of critical importance to me—internal communication strategy, in so much detail.
Gerard & Ellinor (2001) stress that authentic leaders need to practise and execute dialogue, and to me, this was what Brad and Simon were doing: showing their authentic leadership through dialogue. I thought this may have been purely for our benefit, but after four hours, beginning with introductory meetings and followed by interviews and a shop floor tour, it became apparent that management was striving to develop a learning culture. I began to understand that management is about creating an environment to communicate through different mediums: verbal and visual in varying forums; formal meetings, face-to-face meetings, and graphical representations of key messages on the shop floor and around the offices.
This essay will reflect my case study experience of the role of dialogue as a tool within Huhtamaki for fostering dialogic communication and developing a learning culture within the organisation. Furthermore, I will highlight the limitations associated with dialogue and with resistive employees who refuse to engage.
I had a preconceived idea that management would have a top-down hierarchal structure, with a ‘closed door’ communication policy based on research from Swink & Way (1995), Downs & Adrian (2004) and Clarke (2006). On the contrary, I found management offered an ‘open door’ policy. For example, Brad and Simon understand that organisational effectiveness is dependent upon communication across subcultural boundaries. Therefore, they offer an open door policy, where any employee could approach them to discuss any issues without consequences.
Given the traditional hierarchal structure of a typical manufacturing plant with leading hands, supervisors and union delegates, I thought allowing shop floor employees to communicate directly with management an unconventional approach. Schein (1993) states that dialogue begins with creating a sense of equality, and this is what Brad and Simon are striving to achieve within their organisation. According to my understanding, they are creating an environment where employees feel comfortable in communicating, and moving away from the erstwhile problems associated with communication via union delegates, which has often caused industrial disputes and created subcultural differences between management and shop floor employees.
Amy (2008) states in her research study that management needs to adopt an informal and approachable communication style. I found it interesting that this is the strategy that Brad and Simon have adopted to aid in changing the organisational culture. In order to move away from a ‘them and us’ attitude, they focused on creating an open, trusting environment which fosters learning. Simon in particular encourages employees to be upfront, and to discuss problems or issues. However, he does not merely provide solutions: he fosters dialogic communication by engaging the employees with questions until they come to realise the answers themselves. I thought this might create awkward situations if the employees could not find answers. But my concern was dismissed; Simon coaches and mentors employees to think about issues or mistakes, and ensures they develop a solution for themselves, thus creating a learning environment.
Management’s ‘open door’ policy was not the only means for communication. Management scheduled a daily team meeting, weekly production meetings, and monthly ‘tool box’ meetings, where organisational issues were discussed in more detail. My first impression was that there were too many meetings. When...