Case Studies in Courageous Organizational Communication

Research and Practice for Effective Workplaces

by Alexander Lyon (Author)
©2017 Textbook X, 350 Pages


Alexander Lyon presents 31 case studies in organizational communication that explore issues of courageous communication. Through case studies on many well-known organizations such as Google, the Miami Dolphins, NASA, Comcast, the Boy Scouts of America, Netflix, Taco Bell, Massachusetts General Hospital, Merck Pharmaceuticals, and others, the book articulates a communication-based model of courage around four themes: Courageous communication is collaborative, upward, transparent, and engaging.
The book presents both effective and cautionary portraits of organizations as they responded to complex issues. It situates the case studies in existing literature and provides practical guidance for enacting courageous communication in professional settings.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction to Courageous Communication in Organizations
  • Models of Communication
  • Courageous Communication
  • The Format of This Book
  • References
  • Part I Moving from Control to Collaboration
  • 1 Controlling Communication and Case Studies
  • Controlling Communication
  • Types of Control
  • Unintended Consequences of Control
  • Dysfunctional Levels of Control
  • Enron’s Controlling Culture Covered Leaders’ Tracks
  • Aggressive Communication and Leadership Approach
  • Emerging Concerns
  • Skilling’s Resignation and Enron’s Collapse
  • Aftermath
  • Life Inside Foxconn’s Electronics Factory: The Complex Relationship between Employees, Foxconn, and Apple
  • Life and Death at Foxconn
  • Employees’ Resistance
  • Apple’s Response
  • Jim Beam’s Sour Bathroom Break Policy
  • Employees Push Back
  • Ineffective Policies
  • Jim Beam Employees Are Not Alone
  • Workplace Bullying at the Miami Dolphins
  • Miami’s Offensive Linemen
  • A Pattern of Bullying
  • Martin Response and Departure
  • The Miami Dolphins’ Initial Response
  • Incognito’s View
  • Aftermath: The Evidence Adds Up
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Enron References
  • Foxconn References
  • Jim Beam References
  • Miami Dolphins References
  • 2 Collaborative Communication and Case Studies
  • The Nature of Collaboration
  • Collaboration and the Stakeholder Model
  • Common Barriers to Collaboration
  • Benefits of Collaboration
  • Virtual-Learn: Growth and Struggle Between “Silos” and Collaborative Efforts at an Upstart
  • Struggling to Maintain a Team Atmosphere
  • With Walls Came Barriers
  • Experiments with Collaboration
  • Executives Made the Final Call
  • Two-Way Communication at an Online Real Estate Education Organization: Bigger Pockets
  • The Rental Property Profession
  • Bigger Pockets’ Dialogic Business Model
  • What BP Community Members Say
  • BP’s Rules of Communication Engagement
  • IDEO: Collaboration at the World’s Most Influential Product Design Firm
  • Shopping Cart Challenge: The Boss Is Not Always Right
  • Innovation and Letting Go of Control
  • Continued Influence of IDEO’s Approach
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Virtual-Learn References
  • Bigger Pockets References
  • IDEO References
  • 3 Tips, Tools, and Resources to Move from Control to Collaboration
  • Mindset Minute: Do You Believe in the Myth of the Lone Genius?
  • Facilitative Leadership for Stakeholder Interactions
  • Playing Facilitative and Collaborative Roles
  • Task Roles
  • Social or Group Maintenance Roles
  • Let Go of Fixed Positions and Focus on Deeper Interests
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving Steps
  • Identify and Analyze the Problem
  • Generate Possible Solutions
  • Evaluate and Select Solutions
  • Test Solutions
  • Implement Solutions
  • Six Ways to Kill a “Brainstormer” (see Kelley & Littman, 2001, pp. 65–66)
  • Spatial Arrangement and an Us-Against-Them Mentality
  • References
  • Part II Moving from Top-Down to Upward Communication
  • 4 Top-Down Communication and Case Studies
  • Top-Down Communication Design
  • Obstacles to Upward Communication
  • NASA Squelched Safety Warnings from Its Own Experts
  • Part 1: Problems with the Challenger Shuttle’s O-Rings
  • Part 2: Holes in the Leading Edge of Columbia’s Wing
  • Common Conclusions
  • Netflix “Slid into Arrogance” and Lost 800,000 Customers
  • CEO’s Decision to Split Services
  • Public Backlash
  • Hastings’s Apology and Reversal
  • Did Anybody Ask Anybody?
  • Bouncing Back
  • Customers Not Juiced about Tropicana’s New Logo
  • The Arnell Group and the New Logo
  • Reactions to the New Logo
  • Peter Arnell’s Explanation
  • Tropicana Reverses Course
  • Pushing a Dangerous Drug: The Case of Merck Pharmaceutical’s Medication, Vioxx
  • Playing with Data
  • Dodging Physician Questions
  • Silencing Critics
  • Withdrawal and Aftermath
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • NASA References
  • Netflix References
  • Tropicana References
  • Merck References
  • 5 Upward Communication and Case Studies
  • Upward Communication as a Leadership Responsibility
  • A Consultative Approach
  • Why Seeking Upward Communication takes Courage
  • Benefits of Upward Feedback
  • FinancialCo Struggles to Understand Why their Best Supervisors Do Not Want to Apply for a Management Team Opening
  • An Issue Emerges
  • Employees and Supervisors’ Perceptions and Managers’ Interpretations
  • Conclusion and Aftermath
  • Customer Outcry and Nalgene’s “BPAfree” Water Bottle Campaign
  • BPA’s Use and Potential Risk
  • Industry Experts’ Point of View
  • Nalgene’s “BPA Free” Campaign and Hearing Customers’ and Retailers’ Feedback
  • Is BPA Dangerous?
  • Domino’s Finally Listens to Customer Complaints
  • Incoming CEO Makes Changes
  • Domino’s Reaction to the Bad News
  • Results and Media Coverage
  • Great for Pets and People: Nestlé Purina Relies on Employee Feedback to Shape the Company
  • Purina and Glassdoor
  • Employees’ Point of View and Results
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Nalgene References
  • Domino’s References
  • Purina References
  • 6 Tips, Tools, and Resources to Move from Top-Down to Upward Communication
  • Mindset Minute: Is Your Organization Open to Feedback?
  • Ideal Leadership Conditions to Help Subordinates Speak Up
  • Dedicated Channels for Upward Communication
  • Surveys
  • Focus Groups
  • Monthly Skip-Level Meetings with Front-Line Supervisors
  • Monthly One-to-One Meetings with Direct Reports Dedicated to Upward Communication
  • Supervisors’ Opinion Reports
  • The “Magic” Legal Pad
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part III Moving from Secretive to Transparent Communication
  • 7 Secretive Communication and Case Studies
  • The Trouble with Secrecy
  • Pressure for Secrecy Multiplies Problems
  • Cheryl Eckard Blows the Whistle at GlaxoSmithKline
  • Eckard’s Investigation
  • GSK’s Response
  • Eckard Blows the Whistle
  • Aftermath for GSK and Eckard
  • Hiding Sexual Abuse in the Boy Scouts of America
  • Lawsuits and “Perversion Files”
  • BSA Leaders’ Response
  • Final Reflections
  • Academic Fraud at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Exposure of a Shadow Curriculum for Student Athletes
  • What an Investigation Showed
  • Crowder’s Motivation and Support
  • College Sports’ Worst Kept Secret
  • GM’s Ignition Switch Investigation Reveals a Culture of Inaction
  • New CEO Orders a Full Investigation
  • GM’s Knowledge about the Ignition Switch Flaw
  • Complications and the Long Delayed Recall
  • Action at Last
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • GlaxoSmithKline References
  • Boy Scouts References
  • UNC References
  • GM References
  • 8 Transparent Communication and Case Studies
  • The Importance of Transparent Communication
  • A Model of Internal Transparent Communication
  • Openness
  • Candid Conversations
  • Information Sharing
  • Responding to Crisis Transparently
  • Transparent Communication Takes Courage
  • Wrong-Site Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Wrong Site Surgery and Marie
  • Dr. Ring’s Mistake
  • Dr. Ring’s Response
  • Responses to Dr. Ring’s Openness
  • Got a Beef with Taco Bell?: “Thank You for Suing Us”
  • Lawsuit: It’s Not Beef
  • Taco Bell’s Transparent Response
  • Lawsuit Withdrawn
  • Transparency Pays
  • Valentine’s Day on the Tarmac: JetBlue’s Response to Disproportionate Delays and Cancellations
  • Valentine’s Day on the Tarmac at JFK
  • JetBlue’s Response
  • Behind the Scenes Tension and Aftermath
  • Treating “Patient Zero” for Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital: Mistakes, Apologies, and Changes
  • What Is Ebola?
  • Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s Misdiagnosis of Patient Zero
  • Hospital Leaders Send Mixed Messages and Admit Mistakes
  • Nurses Test Positive for Ebola Amid Confusing Protocols
  • Virus Contained in US, Continues in Africa
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Massachusetts General Hospital References
  • Taco Bell References
  • JetBlue References
  • Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital References
  • 9 Tips, Tools, and Resources to Move from Secrecy to Transparency
  • Crafting Difficult Messages and the Role of Face
  • Helping others Maintain Face
  • Use of Stories for Challenging Topics
  • Talking in Problem-Solution Format
  • Mindset Minute: Are You Committed to Transparency?
  • Ways to Overcome the Moral Mum Effect
  • Forgiveness at Work
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part IV Moving from Impersonal to Engaging Communication
  • 10 Impersonal Communication and Case Studies
  • Impersonal Communication and The Forces Encouraging It
  • The Drive for Efficiency
  • Objectification of Employees
  • I-It Communication: The Root of Impersonal Communication
  • Dehumanization at Work
  • Things are Heating Up and Cooling Down at an Amazon.com Warehouse
  • Summer Heat Controversy
  • Amazon’s Response
  • It’s Not All Hot Air
  • Life Beyond the Warehouse: Rumblings at Amazon’s Corporate Headquarters
  • Interacting with Customers at Comcast: “We’d Like to Disconnect Please”
  • The 18-Minute Call
  • Responses from Comcast and Its Employees
  • Epilogue
  • Abercrombie & Fitch’s Objectification of Employees and Customers: An Old Interview Comes Back to Bite the Hip Retailer
  • The Interview
  • A&F’s Objectifying Policies, Practices, and Products
  • Apologies and Termination
  • AOL’s Public Embarrassment of Employees
  • Conference Call to Patch Employees: The Firing and Reactions
  • Blame It on the Babies
  • Reflections on Leadership
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Amazon References
  • Comcast References
  • Abercrombie & Fitch References
  • AOL References
  • 11 Engaging Communication and Case Studies
  • Engaging Communication
  • Engaging Communication Can Be Subtle
  • Engaging Communication Takes Courage But Has Benefits
  • Developing a Great Place to Work: The Southwest Airlines Legacy
  • Southwest’s Leaders
  • Let’s Have Some Fun
  • Caring About Employees
  • Communication as a Priority
  • Leaders’ Legacy
  • Wegmans Food Markets Says “Employees First, Customers Second”
  • The Wegmans Experience
  • Treating People Well: “Employees First”
  • It Works for Wegmans
  • Google’s Data-Driven Approach to Help Employees Love Their Jobs
  • Google’s “Insane” Perks Are An Investment
  • Bottom Line: It’s About the People
  • Zappos.com: In the Business of Happiness
  • Zappos’ Culture
  • Customer Service
  • Delivering Happiness
  • Zappos’ Leaders Still Experimenting with the Culture
  • Chapter Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Southwest References
  • Wegmans References
  • Google References
  • Zappos References
  • 12 Tips, Tools, and Resources to Move from Impersonal to Engaging Communication
  • Contagious Engagement Model
  • Thin Slicing: Creating the Wrong Impressions in Conversations
  • Nonverbal Leakage
  • Mindset Minute: How Do You See People?
  • Small Talk Is Big
  • Emotional Labor and Leadership
  • Profiles: What Does Engaging Communication Look, Sound, and Feel Like?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Conclusion and Implications
  • Collaborative Communication
  • Upward Communication
  • Transparent Communication
  • Engaging Communication
  • Practical Implications
  • Conceptual Implications
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index

| ix →

This book was only possible because of a long list of people for whom I thank God. My good friend Julien Mirivel helped me identify the focus of the book early in the process. He was an instrumental sounding board and source of encouragement. Joe Chesebro challenged me to “just make an outline,” which I did. I would like to thank Mary Savigar and the team at Peter Lang who believed in the project and were excited to publish it. I’m also blessed to have supportive parents, Ken and Alicia Lyon. My mother, with a PhD in English, was particularly helpful in the writing process throughout this long adventure. My wife, Erin, provided numerous rounds of feedback at various stages of the book’s development. My son, Soren, was very patient with me as I typed away but equally relieved when the book was done. Students in my advanced undergraduate and graduate organizational communication courses at The College at Brockport, State University of New York inspired many of the case studies in this book. Numerous cases—such as Foxconn (Jennifer Zhang), Miami Dolphins (Nick Wockasen), Nalgene (Julie Goonan), Boy Scouts (Mark Shipley), Domino’s (Kelsey Hartigan), JetBlue (Andrea Sillick), and Abercrombie & Fitch (Tia Kennedy)—came to my attention through in-class projects, discussions, and during back-and-forth exchanges between teacher and student that I can only describe as ideal. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers at each stage who pushed my thinking forward. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the long-time guidance and inspiration of two mentors, Stan Deetz and Robert R. Ulmer.

| 1 →

When I was visiting a friend’s house, his young son, Michael, was hitting a rotten stump with a hammer. My friend bought the hammer at a yard sale as a special gift to signal a new level of responsibility for his 6-year-old son. The hammer instantly became Michael’s favorite item in the world. At first, Michael was handling his grown-up tool well, but he quickly grew bored of pummeling the poor old stump. As several other children played in the yard around him, Michael looked for new objects to hammer—some dirt, the driveway, and then the tire of his father’s new Jeep. His father called out a few times, “Please don’t hammer that!” “Be careful, Michael!” Michael’s choices went downhill quickly. We soon spotted him on the swing set, twirling his hammer above his head like Thor as other children played just inches away. Michael’s father had seen enough and said, “That’s not what hammers are for. Give me that!” The experiment was over. Michael surrendered the tool.

This book juxtaposes 31 real-world case studies that show both problematic and productive communication approaches. The cases feature some of the most well-known companies in the world such as Google, GlaxoSmithKline, Nestlé Purina, the Miami Dolphins, General Motors, JetBlue, Taco Bell, Massachusetts General ← 1 | 2 → Hospital, Merck, Zappos, Comcast, the Boy Scouts, and many others. Some of these organizations are not so different from Michael. They gravitated toward a few key “tools,” systems, and philosophies and often overused them. As employees, we may do the same. We develop shorthand ways of interacting with others and pull out default solutions when problems emerge. These ways of responding become metaphorical tools we use almost automatically to handle everyday situations. Organizations develop strongly preferred ways of seeing and doing things to reduce the ambiguity of life and move the ball forward (Weick, 1979, 2000). Unfortunately, like Michael, they sometimes use tools for the wrong purposes that do more harm than good. Deetz, Tracy, and Simpson (2000) put it this way:

This book is fundamentally about examining four common ways of viewing and practicing communication in organizational settings and suggests an alterative. Specifically, many organizations view and practice communication as a tool for control, as flowing top-down, as secretive, and as impersonal. I agree that communication like this still has a viable place, but I suggest that these four approaches have been overplayed to the point of hurting many organizations’ effectiveness. As the quote from Deetz et al. suggests, these approaches may have been useful at a certain time and place, but a continued emphasis on them in today’s environment will not take organizations to the next level. This book makes these four common approaches more visible and suggests alternative ways of viewing and practicing communication in organizations that is more courageous. This chapter defines communication from various perspectives, describes a model of courageous communication, and outlines the rest of the book.

Models of Communication

Three models of communication have relevance here. The first two are necessary steps to understand the third. The classic model of communication is often referred to as the information transfer model. Sometimes called the transmission ← 2 | 3 → model, it is the first one taught to most college freshmen. In it, a speaker or sender encodes a message and sends it through a channel to a receiver or listener who decodes the message (Shannon & Weaver, 1948). The model presents a one-way, linear conceptualization of communication and has been critiqued as a narrow view of a rather complex process (Craig, 1999). It sees communication as mainly the process of transmitting information or data from one point to another. The message flows through the metaphorical pipeline to its destination. It has been called a “container” model because the meaning of a message is contained in the words. This objective, fixed model was developed and articulated by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in late 1940s when people were still making sense of the telephone and related technologies. A sign of the times, this theory explains the way a telephone or radio works quite well but misses many important aspects of face-to-face communication.

In the 1960s, Paul Watzlawick built on the work of Gregory Bateson to develop the transactional model of communication (Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967). It compensated for some of the limitations and frustrations with the first model. From this new view, communication was a two-way process, a transaction or exchange between communicators. This model allowed for important aspects of face-to-face communication like the context, nonverbal cues, and feedback. When considering nonverbal communication, for example, both individuals in a conversation were always sending a message of some kind whether they spoke or not. Even listening silently or perhaps not listening well sends the other person a message. For this reason, the oddly worded statement, you cannot not communicate is associated with this model. In other words, we are always communicating. From this model’s view, meaning is not fixed or contained in words. Rather, it is established in the minds of the communicators as they interact back and forth and is socially determined. In this book, I refer to the concepts in both models because they often provide the most useful labels to explain an issue.

However, the third and most salient model for this book, the constitutive model of communication, was articulated best by Robert Craig (1999). He explained what the previous models missed. Communication is constitutive. It does not merely transmit information that already exists. Communication creates and establishes our lives and relationships. In a similar fashion, Karl Weick wrote how “organization” was far too fixed a term to represent the way various workplaces functioned. Instead, he (1979) preferred to discuss the constantly active processes of “organizing” that establish our workplaces. In other words, the process of organizing comes first and builds what we look at and describe in more concrete terms over time (e.g., the building, the brand, etc.). In the same ← 3 | 4 → way, communication is the main generative process that creates our relationships, organizations, and society. Craig (1999) explained it this way:

Said more simply by Manning (2014), “Communication is not a mere tool for expressing social reality but is also a means of creating it” (p. 433). This is the view I take in this book. Communication is not a secondary activity that serves more important functions (e.g., finance, accounting, IT, etc.). It is the central generative activity in organizational life. Improving communication is not so much about expressing ourselves more clearly. It is about transforming our organizations through different communication practices (Deetz, 1995). For better or worse, our daily communication practices create our organizational realities. For this reason the model of courageous communication below holds up an ideal to which organizations can strive.

Courageous Communication

As we look at the landscape of corporate scandals since 2000, clearly courage in organizational settings is in short supply. Therefore, case studies and research on courage are sorely needed. Jablin (2006), who noted this gap, stated that courage is obviously more complex than “doing the right thing” or “following your convictions” (p. 100). These notions appeal to a higher sense of duty, moral obligation, and a firmness of mind that all resonate, but courage is clearly more layered. As Jablin (2006) explained, the word is often tossed around in conversations about professional life but is seldom developed as a specific set of concepts, ideals, and practices. In professional settings, courage has clear communicative features. In a foundational text titled Managerial Courage, Hornstein (1986) described what many of the case studies in my text show. Organizations put forth constant energy to maintain the status quo and the way things have always been done:

Hornstein described the “menacing protection” by organizations to reinforce traditional practices even when continuing to do so can cause the organization “illness and even death” (p. 2). He explained that, at its root, courage often means expressing ideas that run contrary to the group’s current consensus or at other times, perhaps, resisting the temptation to jump on the latest fad or bandwagon. Hornstein’s text has clear communication implications throughout.

Jablin (2006) elaborates on Hornstein and his own perspective on courage as a fertile but still seldom explored area of organizational communication. He stated that the most obvious cases of courageous communication in organizational settings involved both internal and external whistleblowing, various aspects of the leader-follower relationship such as upward communication or dissent, what is not talked about, openness, and organizational socialization and assimilation processes. This list is not comprehensive but offers a starting point for reflecting on courageous communication activities in organizational settings. Jablin also suggested that courage can be (a) offensive, “as the courage of the charge, the attack” or to take action to change a situation for the better, or (b) defensive, “standing one’s ground under the face of attack” (p. 106). Similarly, May (2012) stated,

At its center, thus, courage involves taking risks often by doing what is unpopular by ethical, organizational, or industry standards. Inspired, in part, by the work of Hornstein, Jablin, and May this book offers an expanded model of courageous communication.

Courageous communication goes against the consensus, the way organizations commonly handle issues and moves toward something better. For the purposes of this book, I define courageous organizational communication as follows: Communication is courageous when it a) stands against common but minimally effective and even harmful practices and b) pursues more effective and sustainable strategies, even if doing so is unpopular in a given context. As such, I present four dominant communication tensions that most organizational members have experienced at one time or another. As implied by the earlier descriptions of courage and shown in the rest of this book, many organizations have traditionally favored controlling, downward, secretive, and impersonal communication. These four approaches represent ← 5 | 6 → the status quo and default communication “best practices.” I suggest four alternatives of the courageous communication model:

Each of these four components is defined and spelled out in detail in the text’s four sections.

Clearly, some level of controlling, top-down, secretive, and impersonal communication will always exist in organizational life as a matter of necessity. To use Hornstein’s phrase, they are “established practice[s]” for a reason. The research and case studies in this book show, however, too many organizations overemphasize these traditional approaches to communication in ways that have done more harm than good. I offer the four elements of courageous communication not as replacements for but alternatives to these traditional approaches. Further, like any concept, other ways of articulating courageous communication certainly exist and should by all means continue. As noted, the term “courage” is not easily defined. The four central components or themes here advance a particular view of courageous communication that gathers the types of practices many readers will admire under one conceptual roof.

This model has both practical and ethical justifications. From a practical standpoint, the case studies show the untapped advantages of collaborative, upward, transparent, and engaging communication. Despite the benefits, these practices often involve going against the grain. The players in the cases who followed these courageous practices did so for the good of the company, often in the face of resistance within the organization or in contrast to broader industry “common sense” or accepted “best practices.” In addition to practical advantages, another key element of courage is that it calls us to a higher standard that goes beyond self-interest. Thus, each of the four research themes of the book corresponds to four ethical standards to ground this view of courageous communication in a clear moral foundation. First, the practice of collaboration is informed by a dialogic ethic in contrast to more linear or monologic approaches to communication. Second, the call for more upward communication is grounded in the utilitarian standard of promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Third, the need for transparent communication is supported by the ethical standard of significant choice. Fourth, engaging communication is drawn from the I-Thou ethical ← 6 | 7 → perspective on communicating with others. Taken separately, each of these four research themes and ethical standards can stand on their own. Taken together, the case studies show courage as their common characteristic.

The Format of This Book

Within these four themes, the 31 case studies here span a wide range of industries and issues: airline, pharmaceuticals, Internet and telecommunication, manufacturing, food service, healthcare, and many others. The cases also touch on a wide variety of issues from food safety, college sports, frivolous lawsuits, product design, defective products, customer backlash, employee treatment, mismanagement, and others. In about half the case studies, organizations made decisions and took actions that made a situation worse. These aligned closely with the traditional default communication practices that many organizations use: controlling, top-down, secretive, and impersonal. In the other half of the case studies, the organizations made decisions and took actions that the book positions as courageous. These organizations’ actions aligned closely with collaborative, upward, transparent, and engaging communication, even though they experienced some degree of organizational or industry pressure to do otherwise.

It would be tempting to see these counter-point themes as sorted into “bad” and “good.” The spirit of this book, for example, is not to say that control is bad and collaboration is good. More accurately, the book looks at what can happen when practices like control, top-down communication, etc. are emphasized too much. Of course, in some cases it is difficult to see any good or to empathize deeply with those who made mistakes. When a space shuttle disintegrates on reentry or a company goes bankrupt, something went very wrong indeed that deserves attention. As such, this book does not take a “right vs. right” approach common in some useful case study books (e.g., May, 2012), but in the majority of cases, plenty of room for disagreement and diverse opinions exist. Even cases that look unambiguous on the surface provide space for different opinions and a variety of entry points for robust discussions. Further, the case studies generally focus on a particular issue that cannot possibly capture all of the nuances people experience at work over the long run. But they do allow us to look at a snapshot of a particular time and place. Sometimes the snapshot shows an organization at a good moment and sometimes at a moment they wish wasn’t caught on camera. All of these moments are instructive and serve as a catalyst for further discussion. They offer an opportunity to draw out lessons and consider the nature of ← 7 | 8 → courageous communication in organizational settings. Many of the organizations featured are familiar and have existed for decades, but some are newer. With some exceptions, I chose 2000 and forward in terms of when the central activities featured in the case took place. My goal was to select not only cases from the last few years but also to provide enough variety of issues and industries to show relevant practices discussed across time and contexts.

The reader may also notice a strong theme of leadership. This is intentional because people clearly influence organizations. Since I assume a constitutive view of communication, leaders come into focus because they shape their contexts profoundly. Those who hold official positions have a special responsibility to make decisions on behalf of those that follow them. This book, however, is meant for employees and leaders at every level. Thus, terms like “leader,” “manager,” “supervisor,” “follower,” “employee,” and “member” include the full range of scenarios. Even a new hire and front-line employee can lead by example at any given moment. Sometimes the use of these terms grows out of specific research discussed in a given segment. In other instances, I use these terms interchangeably to include the widest variety of contributors to organizational life.

The book’s four parts discuss collaborative, upward, transparent, and engaging communication. Each section features a theme in the model of courageous communication: (a) The beginning of each case-study chapter provides a brief overview of the issues to provide a conceptual vocabulary and research context for the cases that follow. (b) The central feature in each part is a collection of seven to eight mid-length case studies. Both the number and average length of the cases provide the reader multiple industries, issues, and angles. (c) Each part of the book then concludes with a tips, tools, and resources chapter that draws from the case studies and existing literature to ground the advice. It is important to note that the order of the book’s major sections is not particularly important. I chose to begin with control because it emerged as a recurring and perhaps root element supporting top-down, secretive, and impersonal communication to various degrees. Like Michael who wanted to use his beloved hammer in some not-always-helpful ways, organizations must look for better communication tools to create long-term success. My goal, thus, is to equip readers with a conceptual vocabulary, a robust set of case studies, and some practical skills to apply to the workplace.



X, 350
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (March)
Organizational Communication Ethics Courage Case studies
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XX, 350 pp.

Biographical notes

Alexander Lyon (Author)

Alexander Lyon (PhD, University of Colorado, Boulder) is Associate Professor at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. His research has appeared in Communication Monographs, Management Communication Quarterly, Journal of Applied Communication Research, and others, as well as in numerous book chapters.


Title: Case Studies in Courageous Organizational Communication