Friday, February 24, 2006

Monday Notes in Action

While conducting research for my organizational imperatives position essay, I encountered an article that mentions Monday Notes in a different setting. I thought you guys might find this interesting.

In the American Communication Journal’s Winter, 2003 issue, there was an article titled “A "Worldview" of Disaster: Organizational Sensemaking in a Wildland Firefighting Tragedy” by Gregory S. Larson. It mentions that the Monday Notes could be implemented to better deal with crisis situations.

The article addresses crisis situations, such as firefighting disasters. It suggests that crisis situations provide opportunities to study organizational decision making and provide lessons for organizational theory and practice. It focused mainly on accounts of a Colorado fire in 1994. One of the main points it talks about is that employees and managers need regular communication relationships with those people they might need to depend on in a crisis. For instance, the firefighter digging a fireline on a mountain in Colorado depends on the scientist studying the burning patterns of fuels in Montana or the weather forecaster predicting a cold front moving through California.

They also discuss that the discipline of regular communication forces individuals to consider other perspectives. They address the idea of when employees communicate only with people in their specialties, the odds of seeing the world only in terms of that specialized activity increase. It’s not practical for every wildland firefighter to have a daily conversation with the weather forecaster. But, something can be done to help both realize their interconnectedness in the process of fighting a fire.

They found that the routine of "Monday Notes" at NASA established a system of organizational communication. They realized that the notes focused on the status of various jobs throughout the organization. The notes were then reproduced and distributed to all. As a result, managers throughout the organization were better prepared to anticipate difficulties.

The article implies that employees would need to change who they communicate with in order for a system like Monday Notes to be implemented successfully. The firefighters would then feel comfortable, confident and supported in contacting the scientist he is depending on. If that sort of a supportive climate is not in place though, using a system like Monday Notes could ultimately be counterproductive because the information in the notes could be rendered useless if there is no trust between the two communicating. The firefighter and scientist would need to have a healthy climate where they have the same goals in mind, have support from their managers and give each other the credibility needed to trust the information being relayed. Then the Monday Notes can become a trustworthy communication system, as it once was at NASA.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Have you heard?

Your own Professor Carl of Northeastern University is being recognized nationally in places such as The Wall St. Journal and Advertising Age, as well as Management Communication Quarterly for his research. The research, for those of you don’t know, is about “word-of-mouth” (WOM) marketing. Out today in the Northeastern Voice publication is a colorful article regarding the research he has been laboriously working on. So for those days when we didn’t have class, Dr. Carl has been sharing his research with the world. Reading the article, (which unfortunately was not availabe online yet from NU Voice, but can be picked up by students in those nifty NU newspaper shelves throughout campus), I discovered there is a Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association, as well as the implications of such marketing tactics. In terms of Organizational communications and this class WOM, informal networking would be a great channel to facilitate this advertising.

Reading through the article, I thought blogging definitely has a place within all of this, and sure enough, (although I would have been a little disappointed had Dr. Carl not thought of this already) there is a blog “to facilitate dialogue”:

Furthermore, as I was reading the article, I thought to myself, “Hmm, could blogging become a new avenue for WOM advertising?” Once people develop a relationship or dialogue in a particular blog, wouldn’t it be a great space to share thoughts about products, brands etc? This could also become a dangerous space, since users are “anonymous”, the intentions of such agents could be suspect.

PS- word of the day: “serendipitous” a word used in the Voice article to describe Dr. Carl’s partnership with BzzAgent Inc.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Proven wrong!

For once in class I thought I knew it all. I saw in the description for Chapter 9 that Thompkins was going to try to correlate organizational communications and Spiderman. Now first, you're listening to one of the biggest comic book geeks around; I did stand in line for 8 hours to see Batman Begins, have been spotted at national comic book conventions, and could explain the works of Loeb, Miller, and Quesada much more than I could Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, or Twain. So I'm reading through Chapter 9 and it gets to the much anticipated portion dealing with Spiderman, the movie.

How surprised was I when the chapter cited the actions of one Norman Osborne! I'm not trying to belittle the knowledge garnered from this example. It is a simple and clear demonstration how government pressure can lead to a shift in organizational culture; from creation, invention, and most importantly safety to schedules, deadlines, and ultimately bureaucracy. Here we see the absence of such crucial organizational concepts such as automatic responsibility, penetration, and Monday notes. It drove its well-intentioned leader and CEO to take radical action and inject himself with a poisonous syrum just to please his employers. Just like with NASA, we see that organizational communications can have disasterous results as he transforms into the Green Goblin and reaks terror to New York City.

Now that whole anecdote may be all well and good, but how could Tompkin be so blind? He must not have watched the whole film nor seen its succesful sequel, because he clearly forgot to mention the film's most famous (and in this case extremely relevant) quote from good ol' Uncle Ben; "With great power comes great responsibility." We can see how this anecdote applies to organizational communications. With Tompkin's discussion of Enron, Wal-Mart, Tyco, and the McWane corporation, he revealed the importance of speaking truth to power and individual accountability. The question of if these corporations are just a few "bad apples" or if its becoming a cultural issue shows the need for these concepts in today's organizational leaders. If these people can recognize the power they yield and respect the responsibility that they have, perhaps we wouldn't bear witness to so many organizational transgressions and corporate scandals. I believe this anecdote by ol' Uncle Ben is much more relevant and forecasting to organizational communications than the events of Norman Osborne. Maybe it's me trying to prove I should have been right but I thought bringing this up with a current Spiderman-mindset may be helpful to you all. Hope this helps.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Calling All Successful Corporate Bloggers! Invitation to Participate in Academic-Industry Research Collaboration

The Advanced Organizational Communication class at Northeastern University is collaborating with John Cass from Backbone Media to better understand the reasons, conditions and factors it takes to make a successful blog, and in the process help a company to determine if they should blog and how they should blog. To this end students will interview several corporate bloggers with a view to determining how the blogger's company started blogging and what makes their blogs successful.

If you are interested in participating in the project contact John Cass at Backbone Media (his email is john AT backbonemedia DOT com) or you can contact Dr. Walter Carl (my email is w.carl AT neu DOT edu). When the students have transcribed the blogger interviews, Backbone Media will analyze the student interviews and publish edited highlights for inclusion in the study results. The students will learn from conducting the interviews and also publish posts about the interviews on our course blog.

Please note that there will be some initial qualifying questions to determine if the blogger will be included in the case studies.

The stamp above indicates this research project has been approved by Northeastern University's Division of Research Integrity.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why Blog at Work?

I think I am with the rest of the class when it comes to knowing what a blog is. I have always knew what it was, but when I heard in class that people blog for work, I could not understand why. I have never heard of anyone having to post blog entries for work. Working for a placement agency, I have never seen "blogging" as part of the job description.

With my curiousity, I decided to ask around and find out who exactly is blogging for work. I decided to ask my brother Jon, who is a stock benefit consultant, if he blogs for work. He told me he doesn't blog himself, but he does in fact read one everyday. The blog he reads everyday is of "someone very important." He would not tell me who he is, and he also told me not to disclose the firm he works for. The reason Jon reads this blog is to get information on what the stock market is doing, and to receive the recent news regarding all the stocks Jon deals with. He is also getting this information from a different perspective, and not just what the charts are saying.

So then I asked Jon why he doesn't have a blog himself. He said he would if he had numerous people working for him. He said it would be good to have to keep people up to date constantly with what has been going on. For example, he could inform people when his clients were not happy, when they were happy, things to look for in the upcoming weeks, etc. He said up until he has a staff working for him, he will continue to read other blogs for his benefit.

After speaking with Jon, it became clear to me why people blog for work. I think it is a great way to keep communication flowing smoothly, and a great way to connect with people on all levels of the hierarchy.

Torino Conversations: How Coca-Cola Is Working With Blogs

For students who are wondering how some companies are using blogs, or more accurately in the case of Coca-Cola, enabling blogging, learn about the Torino Conversations project. Coca-Cola invited six communication studies students from different countries to blog about their experiences at the Olympics (anyone jealous?).

Be sure to click on the "About This Project" link on the home page to learn how Coca-Cola describes the purpose of the project and why they are funding it. In your opinion, what benefit does Coca-Cola get from this?

Hat tip to Customer World

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Morton-Thiokol's Involvement After the Challenger Disaster

In class we have been talking a lot about the "burden of proof" and Morton-Thiokol's role in the Challenger disaster. After watching the videos, and actually hearing the manager's arguments as to why they decided to overrule the engineers just baffles me completely. A question came up in class that asked if Morton-Thiokol continued to work with NASA, and are they still in business today, which I thought was a very interesting question. I wanted to look into more about the idea, but I thought first I should provide a little background on the burden of proof and Morton-Thiokol's role to truly understand how intriguing the question was.

Before the Challenger had launched, NASA's engineers found a potential deadly problem with the O-rings. Both NASA engineers and engineers from Morton-Thiokol (the contractor who built the O-rings) argued that under the currently freezing weather conditions, it would be unsafe to launch. At the time NASA's had a safety policy that they called the "burden of proof." The "burden of proof" stated that if someone can prove that there is a problem, defect, or something is unsafe then in order to continue they must first prove without a reasonable doubt that there is no problem. Meaning that you don't have to prove that anything is unsafe, but you have to prove IT IS SAFE, before any type of launch or progress is made.

This policy called the "burden of proof" was twisted around the night before the launch of the Challenger. NASA changed there safety procedures, "burden of proof," and said that the engineers would have to prove to management that it was unsafe to launch as scheduled. Morton-Thiokol had told NASA that it was UNSAFE to launch under the current weather conditions because of the usually cold weather. NASA having never being told by a contractor not to launch, was suspicious of why all of a sudden Morton-Thiokol engineers were bringing up the safety issues of the O-rings. After a long debate between upper management, it was decided to go on with the launch and ignore the engineers who promised disaster if they launched Challenger as scheduled. As we all now know, Challenger exploded because of the O-rings, and freezing temperatures.

This brings me back to the question I asked before, does Morton-Thiokol still exist today and work for NASA. When I typed Morton-Thiokol into Google I was brought to a website, that called themselves ATK. I was confused as to if the company had changed names or if I was even at the correct website. When I searched further I found a company history on Morton-Thiokol from There it was said on that website that O-rings that caused the Challenger to explode, which were produced by Morton-Thiokol, and that after the disaster in 1989 Morton-Thiokol split into two separate companies. Morton split into a primarily chemically concerned company, while Thiokol took over propulsion systems. If you click on the link to Wikipedia, you can see that Thiokol merged again, and now are referred to as the ATK or Alliant Techsystems, which controls a huge share of the US rocket market. It is interesting that the company split soon after the Challenger disaster, but if you look on the ATK website you will find a picture of a rocket with NASA written on it. Which leads me to assume that NASA is still using ATK as a contractor for rockets. As you can see, ATK and NASA are still working together in space exploration, even after the Challenger disaster. Which I find very surprising and interesting since they experienced so much miscommunication and tragedy with the Challenger incident.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Personal Blog or Corporate Exploitation?

We've had such an interesting discussion of the difference between personal blogging vs. corporate blogging that I had to bring up something I saw the other day. Being the professional wrestling fan that I am, I was surfing the World Wrestling Entertainment website and saw that hardcore legend Mick Foley had his own blog. It's an interesting read, especially if you're one of his millions of fans. But after reading it, I had to ask myself, why is it here? Their's no question that this is a personal blog; Foley talks about meeting WWE diva Stacey Kiebler and his trip to Afghanistan to visit the troops. Why would WWE host this blog instead of Foley posting it on either his own website or some public domain? As a major corporation, WWE would have to have some type of motivation for putting this content on its site.
I decided to take a closer look at entertainment companies that utilize blogs and had some interesting results. I found that both the NHL and the NBA have a spot on their website just for blogs. Some of these blogs focus on predictions, thoughts on the games, trends in the sport, etc.
So what's the point? I think what we have here are two very different types of marketing to entertainment fans. As a retired wrestler, Foley isn't in the spotlight much anymore. His blog offers the WWE fans a bit of nostalgia and up-to-date information on one of the sport's biggest superstars. On the otherside, the NHL and NBA blogs offer a great breadth of commentary on what's happening in the sports world. These blogs are almost like written transcripts of what you see when you turn on ESPN; the thoughts on happenings in the league by some of the biggest experts in the field.
I couldn't really find any other examples of utilizing personal blogs by corporations. I just found it interesting that an entertainment corporation like the WWE would put a personal blog up so much. Here's some food for thought; is Foley being exploited? Is he unwillingly being used as a marketing ploy or do you think he's doing it for the notoriety? Should corporations use their spokesperson's blogs as a marketing tool or just stick to the tried and true, boring endorsements? Maybe this is the next level of celebrity marketing. What do you think?

Friday, February 03, 2006

The beginning of the end

That’s it; I am officially over the hill. At the ripe age of 22, I am out of the loop; technology has moved past my realm of knowledge. When did this blogging stuff begin?? (For the record, my computer is so old it doesn’t automatically recognize “blog” as an English word.) How did I miss the memo? Where did my learning stop? Am I the last one to begin blogging? Did you know blog is a combination of the words “web” and “log”? (I am sure you did, but just in case you use jargon without knowing it’s meaning, my research uncovered that nifty fact.) Before this class had begun, I knew nothing of this phenomenon.

You can imagine my disbelief, when I was spending some of my free time reading a magazine--trying not to think about class—and to my shock I stumble upon an article (Glamour magazine, January 2006) on blogging: Apparently this has been going on for years, with over 50 million blogs in existence! Evidently people blog for many reasons, to connect with long-distance families and friends, as a support group (for subjects such as weight-loss), and advice for raising their children. People can also get fired from their jobs for blogging… And now I am blogging to fulfill a class requirement.

It seems this group of people using common technology to communicate have created a new space. Whether it is for business or leisure, people are communicating through channels previously not penetrated. This network can be both formal and informal. The diverse capabilities of blogging create this fascinating force of humans coming together to share experiences in search of a common ground. Question: With this (relatively) new technology, are people sacrificing their face-to-face interpersonal relationships in favor of a potentially less-intimidating avenue of communication? Will blogging eventually take over as the most popular communication method? Can 50 million people be wrong? (I was trying to echo that Bon Jovi sentiment, but couldn’t remember it exactly, so I “googled” it, and would you believe the first response was a BLOG called “100,000 bloggers can’t be wrong”!!)

So dear readers, it is not a complete loss, I am still clinging to the other side of hill, trying to creep back up to the top, where you all are conversing in this fascinating forum.

The bottom line: If you are reading, I was able to post, and I am now part of the blogging community …yikes!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Let the Postings Begin for Spring 2006!

It's time for another term of Advanced Organizational Communication! We have met in class for a few weeks now and students should begin their postings soon. We really appreciate the excellent response we had last year from the blogosphere and hope we can continue the dialogue this "Spring" term as well (I use the scare quotes because it is nowhere near Spring yet but we like to be optimistic here at Northeastern rather than saying "Winter" term).

In class now we are reading Phil Tompkins' book Apollo, Challenger, Columbia: The Decline of the Space Program -- A Study in Organizational Communication. Our focus is on what organizations must do in order to main an ethical and effective system of communication for both internal and external stakeholders.

We'll also have a great project on corporate blogging starting in a few weeks. We'll be partnering with John Cass of Backbone Media. Details to come!