Operative/Manager Relationships

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Some of the study participants spoke specifically about the use of Cc-ing email

messages in the context of the operative/manager relationship with three

different perspectives (involving both senders and receivers in numerous

configurations) becoming evident. These perspectives are firstly summarised

and then explored in more depth.

The first perspective concerns an operative staff member sending an email to

a colleague. The sender also forwards a copy of the message upward to either

the receiver’s manager or their own with the aim of exerting more pressure on

the original recipient of the message. The management response provides a

second perspective when a Station 99 Manager discussed his response to this

practice while also mentioning how he used the Cc-ing facility in managing his

staff. Another participant offered a third perspective on this practice when she

explained how she improved the likelihood of a positive outcome to her

requests by directly emailing the relevant Manager but also Cc-ing a copy to

their Personal Assistant as well.

Moving now into more detail in regard to the first perspective, Martin, as a

member of the operative staff at Station 99, saw advantages in being able to

exert pressure over colleagues via email. He said that sometimes he had to rely

on an interstate colleague to provide specific information. As well as sending

his request by email, he also forwarded a copy of the email upward to his

 (Martin’s) manager. Martin explained his reasoning behind this strategy as

being to let his colleague know that his manager had also been informed. This

would then subsequently put “more pressure on the person to answer your

query.”

It became apparent when Amanda explained how she used email in comparison

to the telephone — that she also believed email could be used in a strategic

sense to put pressure on others. However, Amanda seemed a little less

confident in talking about the process.

*AMANDA. But [tone of voice drops] somehow, in my mind [chuckles]

emails have more urgency. I don’t know whether it’s because they’re in

writing. Whether there’s that extra pressure because copies are sent to

other people, whether there’s that behind it, that psychology behind it as

well. Perhaps it’s to do with, I know that my boss, y’know, knows that

this is an issue and what am I doing about it. Orrrrr, it, it maybe because

of that as well, maybe because of the fact that other people receive copies

of this [pause] so I’d better respond to it straight away.

Vince, in his role of Manager at Station 99, indicated he was aware of these

strategies. He provided an example of how he responded to the practice when

he said that a staff member’s request might be afforded a higher priority if it was

evident that he (Vince) had received a copy of the request as well. “They

probably feel that there might be some action that otherwise they might not get.”

Very pragmatically he went on, “course the downside is that we may see

something in that which we don’t like. And be immediately aware of it and say

so.” He summarised his view when he said, “Well, it’s something [sending him

copies] that I guess, some people use advisedly depending on the situation.”

Clearly, Vince also understood that email could also be used to exert an indirect

form of pressure downward to his staff. In the following extract, he spoke of

a specific situation where he was kept informed about the progress of

maintenance/repair work via an emailed copy of the fault report.

It was apparent that Vince believed his monitoring and surveillance via the

emailed copy increased the pressure on his staff to expend greater effort to

clear the fault more quickly. Evidence that managers know about these

manipulation tactics and that they also use them themselves.

Vince provided a glimpse of his perspective on the control aspect of managing

when he explained that with Cc-ing “you can send them off to the people that

are concerned, you can copy them to the people who don’t need to respond

and y’know, you’ve got a format which suggests to people how you are seeing

a message and who should respond and who shouldn’t.” What appeared to be

happening in this instance was that Vince believed the format of his message

communicated additional information about his perspective regarding the

specific situation. Whether the recipients of Vince’s messages actually interpreted

such meanings from the format of his messages was not explored in this

current study but it remains a pointer towards further research possibilities.

*VINCE. But I need to know and if, for example, the faults are serious,

I can see just by looking at them, how long they’re off air. And I can follow

those up, in a sort of special situation or I’ll leave it if it’s not such a serious

situation to the officer who is responsible for dealing with it. But that

officer also knows and every other officer knows, involved in the process,

that I’m getting a copy of it. So, it’s also, it’s an alerting mechanism, and

it’s also a management tool in the sense that others down the line know that

a senior management person is able to look at those things. Now, if you

had to organise that, some other way, other than electronically, it would

be very cumbersome.

*OWEN. My guess is that a manager may respond differently via email

if that response is going out to 50 people on the distribution list rather than

just the individual person. Y’know, he may take a more diplomatic line,

if you like or whatever. I mean, that’s only a guess. I mean, I don’t know.

But, I mean I would imagine if I was replying to an email from someone

and there were 50 other names, and it was something, I might choose my

words probably a bit more carefully than if I was talking to them directly.

Email also opens up the possibility of operative staff responding in kind when

seeking to apply similar pressure upwards to Managers. Owen provided a third

person view on this although, like Amanda, he appeared a little hesitant in

talking about it.

Shifting now to a third perspective of Cc-ing and the operative/manager

relationship, Amanda took a different tack as she explained that she used Ccing

to generate support to bring about a desired outcome in her relationships

with Senior Managers. However, she targeted the Manager’s support staff as

well as the actual Manager involved. “If I want to doubly make sure that

something’s going to happen, I’ll even lobby their [Section Manager’s Personal]

Assistants [by Cc-ing them a copy of her request].”

Again, this raises interesting questions about the potential gap between the

sender’s intentions and expectations compared with what the receiver actually

does in response to the communication. Berghel discussed this double-blind

process back in 1997. “The sender doesn’t know how a message is being

handled and the receiver doesn’t know the circumstances under which the

message was sent” (p. 12).

Amanda also provided details of another way that she used the email copy

function in terms of her relationship with her Manager. When it was appropriate,

she included her boss as a Cc on her email messages. “And, for me, the

emails are actually a record, in one way, of what I’ve been up to, what my

activities are.” She went on, “I’ll just send a copy so that they’re up with it

because it’ll be really hard for me to catch them sometime and have a chat.”

Amanda was using the Cc-ing function as an upward reporting tool, perhaps

with the aim of positively enhancing her work profile as an effective and efficient

staff member.

Station 99 staff were discovering and creating opportunities to use email,

particularly the Cc-ing function, to shape their interactions with others in subtle

as well as in more obvious ways. Further research will provide additional

insights about how individuals are Cc-ing email messages in strategic ways,

which in turn could have major implications for management practice.

Discoveries and Managerial Implications

of the Study

This research is practice-oriented and the aim has been to seek deeper

understandings about CMC technologies (specifically email) in

intraorganisational communication. The message web concept emerged as a

useful organising framework to describe the communicative fabric of Station

99’s operations. In the study, the distribution and copying aspects of email

were constructed as being influential threads within their message web. The

pertinent findings are now summarised alongside the implications that follow for

managers seeking to ensure that email supports organisational objectives.

• Information distribution within the message web. The issue of access

to specific information being circulated via distribution lists as well as more

general access to email itself was significant. It appeared as though they

were now being taken for granted, thus supporting the view that email is

becoming part of our living space: Ducheneaut & Bellotti’s (2001) work

habitat, Muller & Gruen’s work on IBM Watson Research Centre’s

Reinventing Email project (2002). Choices made concerning email distribution

lists can severely impact on intraorganisational communication

effectiveness, particularly in terms of getting the message to the appropriate

people. There is also huge potential for holes in the message web

resulting from the double-blind process of email interactions (that is, the

sender’s intentions and the receiver’s subsequent actions may be unknown

to each other). This can contribute to multiple, and possibly

contradictory, meanings resulting in misunderstandings, lost productivity

and even interpersonal conflict. And finally, latent opportunities exist at all

levels of the organisation for questionable ethical behaviour within message

webs, a challenge for management.

• Strategic copying amid the message web. Second level uses of email

based on tactical manoeuvrings (such as copying email messages strategically)

were in use within Station 99’s message web. New opportunities

were opening up for those skilful in the art of organisational politics as

individuals sought to influence others in satisfying their goals: goals which

could be the organisation’s but were not necessarily so. To consider such

practices as “weaknesses” in the way that Ruggeri Stevens & McElhill

(2000) classifies them on the People Influences dimension of their

positioning model appears to ignore the inherent complexities of the

political factors of organisational life. In addition, such activities generally

arise from innovative and creative thinking and understanding both the

origins and the expression of resourceful thinking evident in such political

uses of email can be valuable as organisations move away from the more

traditional, bureaucratic and hierarchical structures of the past.