Coworkership, trust and strategic communication

Within strategic communication - both in research and in practice - coworkers have received very little attention.7 This is partly due to our idealization and overemphasis on the importance of managers and leaders to the success of the organization. Managers have been seen as superheroes with fantastic opportunities to understand and make rational decisions, so-called transformative/charismatic (also called heroic) leadership. A number of researchers, including business researchers Stefan Sveningsson and Mats Alvesson, argue that the importance of managers to the organization has been grossly exaggerated.8 They further argue, after shadowing and observing a number of managers, that the work of the manager in practice is not particularly strategic.9 If you ask managers how they exercise leadership, they usually describe strategic and visionary work. In practice, most of the managers’ work is fairly simple and ordinary, such as sitting in a meeting, listening, talking and encouraging coworkers. Another reason for why coworker participation has not been used in strategic communication has to do with how strategic communication is understood. Strategic communication is often seen as something extremely rational, where a message is formulated and a medium and suitable time for communicating is chosen, with a specific effect expected to result from publishing the message. In other words, the transmissions view of communications still too often dominates strategic communication. This is what the Danish communications researchers Gulbrandsen and Just call strategic communications as a plan.10 Communications strategy is seen as planning different communications initiatives and predicting the effects of strategic communication.

Post-heroic leadership is a reaction to heroic leadership that describes a toned-down leadership, where the leader acts as a coach. The post-heroic leader is genuinely interested in coworkers' experiences, opinions, interpretations and understandings. In other words, listening (more on that later) is an important part of the post-heroic leadership, wherein the leader as a person becomes less important and interesting. In turn, coworkership becomes more important.

Post-heroic leadership follows another view of organizations' communication: strategic communication as a processHere, communication is understood to not be a transmission process. Instead, communication itself occurs when meaning is created in and through interaction between people. Gulbrandsen and Just emphasize that this means that communication creates communication through a process that cannot be controlled or driven in a simple and rational way, as the transmissions view requires. Communication is thus something carried out jointly by the parties involved in the communication, and together they create meaning and understanding. Good relationships are a prerequisite for successful organizational communication. Active participation from all parties is required to be able to call it communication.

A large portion of many organizations'communications is based in strategic communication as a plan - the message is sent to the receiver through various channels.

New opportunities for strategic internal communication

Coworkership thus creates new opportunities to work with internal strategic communication. Strong stakeholder relationships are a basic premise for an organization’s long-term success. Today's social media grants new opportunities to communicate with various stakeholders, thereby creating, maintaining and devel- oping good relationships with them. Zappo is a best-practice example of social marketing that builds on coworkership and is often used. Zappo is an online American shoe store that has existed since 1999. The company employs a clear customer-oriented communications strategy, which aims to keep customers satisfied and happy. This has led to many customers sharing their positive experiences of the company with their friends. Customers are actively encouraged to contact Zappo via phone and social media. High trust in their coworkers is a crucial condition for this strategy to work.12

The success of Zappo's customer-oriented communication strategy is based on lack of control. There are no scripts to steer or guide coworkers conversations with customers. Coworkers decide how they like in their conversations with customers, in order to give customers the best service and purchase experience possible. What differentiates Zappo's communication strategy from many other organizations is that the company has stopped trying to control the message and communication. They instead focus on continually developing their coworkers' skills and competencies for solving problems and completing their tasks.

Trust is a concept that has been greatly discussed in recent times, especially in the public sector, and is linked to results from research by the Delegation for Trust-Based Public Management. Trust relates to the question of how responsibility and scope for action should be distributed in organizations, and it stresses the importance of having confidence in coworkers' ability to perform their work without control. Here is how Louise Bringselius, researcher for the Delegation for Trust-Based Public Management, describes trust:

Trust is a management philosophy that means we choose to have confidence in the people in our core operations to have the knowledge, judgement, and willingness to carry out their work in a good way, without detailed management, and that the organization's most important task is to create conditions based on the needs for interaction between coworkers and citizens.13

Trust has come into focus in public organizations in recent years because of the problems that arise from too much governance, reporting, measurement and formalization. Leadership ideals based on authority and control instead of participation and dialogue have often created cultures of silence. Confidence that coworkers can handle their work has often been too low, leading to negative consequences for citizens, patients and students.

Simply put, creating trust requires good relationships, and relationships are created and maintained through communication between those working in the organization. This trust can then be used to meet the needs of customers or citizens. Trust can be seen as something to strive for on a general level, but also something to secure in every single meeting.

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