Author(s), Title and Publication
Fairhurst, G. T. (1993). Echoes of the Vision: When the Rest of the Organization Talks Total Quality. Management Communication Quarterly, 6(4), 331-371.
Most members of an organization know the vision primarily through echoes supplied by leaders and other members. Organizational members other than senior managers often pay little attention to vision implementation. This study investigated how framing devices function in vision implementation through a case study of a large consumer goods manufacturer that recently began using Deming’s Total Quality (TQ) philosophy. TQ is a management approach that seeks to improve product quality and increase customer satisfaction through quality-oriented leadership, more efficient use of resources, participation in team-based structures, and statistical monitoring of work processes.
Using discourse analysis, 132 routine work conversations between leaders and their members in five manufacturing plants were analyzed for framing devices used to implement the TQ vision. Five framing devices emerged: communication predicaments (confusion about the vision), possible futures (meaning of the vision), jargon and vision themes (work context), positive spin (the most appealing aspect of the vision), and agenda setting (next steps, motivational appeals). With recorded conversations as examples, this study discussed how leaders and members enact their roles when using the frames.
The study also suggested five contingencies that might affect the framing devices and success of vision implementation. The contingencies include 1) the characteristics of the vision (e.g., the number and clarity of themes, the amount of jargon, the level of expertise required), 2) the characteristics of work unit, and the type and complexity of task; 3) relational features of the work unit (e.g., level of trust, power distribution, and conflict history); 4) individuals’ level of cognitive complexity and verbal fluency; and 5) organizational context (e.g., endorsement of the vision by senior management, extent to which they reward the activities called for by the vision).
Implications for Practice
To successfully implement a vision, leaders may want to begin with a work context analysis, use communication to solve confusion about the vision, make the vision actionable by clarifying role requirements and culture conflicts, and set next steps to renew the vision if the first vision implementation is unsuccessful.
Location of Article
The article is available online at: http://mcq.sagepub.com/content/6/4/331.abstract (abstract free, purchase full article)