Having Researched Communicative
Having researched ‘Communicative Constitutions of Organization’ approach, we aim to develop a framework for understanding the performativity of strategy through an organizational lens. We define the importance for any organization to have a form of knowledge through the CCO approach that involves theories, ideas, research, surveys, texts, and which matter of concerns we would want future researchers to gather . More specifically, our framework shows how Communicative Constitutions of Organization matters inside Starbucks corporation with the four following communicational practices and flows that have been articulated. In order to illustrate how CCO approach provides the main insights to an organization through communication and the well being of their employees.
Imagine walking into Starbucks to order your morning latte. You get in line, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling corporate cafe. Customer’s names are called out by baristas at the far end of the counters as the drinks are served. You reach the cashier, who gleefully greets you with a welcome and takes your order. After paying, she concludes with, “Have a wonderful day, and enjoy your latte!” The interaction was a little canned and maybe insincere, but pleasant. You don’t think much of it and take your drink when your name is called. You barely consider the barista, working long hours on their feet for mediocre pay, and what their life is really like.
This is the reality of the service industry, and at Starbucks it is undergirded by a culture that simultaneously celebrates a bourgeoisie lifestyle of Italian-inspired boutique coffee, and yet powered by cold, almost ruthless corporate efficiency.
Everything about your experience at Starbucks communicates something about the business and the brand: how you are treated, the sights, smells, and sounds of the cafe, and even how you feel about it as a place. The staff are instructed specifically on how to communicate with you, the customer, and how they relate to the corporate hierarchy that governs their employment. It is this area that we, as communication scholars, are interested.
We aim to understand the role of language and communication within the Starbucks organization, and how it shapes, moulds, and dictates perception of the organization both inside and out. From the employee perspective, we wish to know if the same tactics used for extrinsic branding and advertising are used to garner employee compliance and support. We are interested in how the company uses the same specific words and imagery to generate emotional appeal, goodwill, and most importantly, patronage among customers––though this is not our focus. However, the language used among and between both groups is similar. We use the CCO framework as a lens to understand the constitutive nature of language and internal/external communication through the four flows structure, as explained in the following sections. We argue that the Starbucks model of organization involves, on an intimate level, highly regulated communication between its employees and the central corporate authority that governs it. It is this regulation that gives the organization its form, as described in the four flows of the CCO theory. Specific language is selected to persuade and structure perception about the organization, both internally and externally.
Communicative Constitutions of Organization
The Communicative Constitutions of Organization, developed by Robert McPhee and other (CCO) theorists believed to insist any company is what it is because communication brings the organization into existence. McPhee (2009) believed this theory would help us see that any organization’s chaos has an underlying order. This means no matter what organization one can be in if there is communication nothing can hold it better than that. For example, McPhee thinks each flow literally creates the company as members talk. Which he also believed that the four flows aren’t something an organization does but rather what an organization is.
McPhee as well as other theorists felt that organizations are continuously changing, active, and at times violent. With beliefs that organizations are rapidly changing he sought out that communication comes in four flows. Specifically, these four flows concern who is a member of the organization, how these members structure their working relationships, how they coordinate their work, and how the organization positions itself with other people and organizations. (McPhee and Pamela Zaug 2009) The core of communicative constitutions of organizations can be broken down into four specific forms of communications or flows: 1.) Membership negotiation 2.)Self-structuring 3.) Activity coordination 4.) Institutional positioning; each which is still very relevant and applicable to the communication experience at Starbucks.
The Four Flows
It is beneficial to explain in depth the four flows as a whole, which later we will break down individually. It is best to know how the four flows function for both the macro and micro level perspectives of an organization like Starbucks. It can be inferred that Self- Structuring and Activity Coordination pertain primarily to micro-level activities, while Membership Negotiation and Institutional Positioning conjure up macro-level interactions. (Kuhn, T. 2012)
Also, McPhee and Zaug do not go into complete detail into the variety of message flows, but they state it will be necessary to have the four flows in a complex organizations because they “require distinct types of relations to four ‘audiences’,” (2000). This declaration is important because it states that the focus will be in multiple communication and messages from one side of the corporation to the other. Communication is key through all institutions, and by using the four flows for a bigger organization it will be an easier process through social structure through interaction.
McPhee and Zaug (2000) discuss membership and its inherent negotiation as of one of the four flows of CCO. Citing Giddens (1984), they state that the process of membership negotiation is crucial to the communicative constitution of organizations because organizations, like all social forms, exist only as a result of human agency. This emphasis on the active element of humanity forming the substance of an organization speaks directly to membership as a core component. The organization’s communication that establishes and maintains or transforms its relationship to its members forms part of the existence of the organization itself.
How the organization recruits, socializes, and gives identity to its members defines the negotiation process. It is a mutual engagement, where members also come to define these components. We argue that part of that negotiation also involves language and structured interaction.
In CCO, Member as a term is used more broadly to identify any personnel that exist within an organization. We discuss the term here in the context of Starbucks’ use of member, specifically to affect the perception and identity of its employees through the use of intentional corporate language. Our research seeks to understand, from the members’ point of view, how language makes them feel in accordance with the organization, and if it affects their sense of inclusion and being embedded in or connected to the organization in a way that differs from .other similar businesses–such as a cafe or retail store. One of our questions is: does the use of team in Starbucks’ corporate language tangibly affect how staff view themselves within the org, and if so, in a positive way? Does it change how they regard their work or identity as a Starbucks employee? Clearly, members are integral to the very existence of an organization and that is one of the tenets of CCO theory: Organizations exist when they draw members in, and lead them to take part in and understand the interactional world unique to the organization. (35) What we want to understand is how Starbucks controls or influences the relationship of the org to its members through the calculated use of language, and the relationship of this phenomena to other aspects of the company’s activities. With strong relationships towards an organization like Starbucks it will be hard to leave such a impactful corporation. Fellner (2008) states,
“Starbucks, by contrast, has become a model for socially responsible business practices. It believes it has found a way to build respect and community into a workplace and a workforce that are inherently fluid. Consequently, the annual turnover among Starbucks baristas is roughly 90 percent, as opposed to an industry-wide norm of closer to 200 percent”. (142)
Having a low turnover rate like Starbucks truly shows the moral of the company and how satisfied the employees are working in that environment.
Alvesson and Wilmott (2002) discuss identity regulation as a form of organizational control, pointing out how identification with an organization can provide support and compliance, as members see themselves as part of the org instead of a contracted worker.
Our concern is to appreciate how mechanisms and practices of control – rewards, leadership, division of labour, hierarchies, management accounting, etc – do not work ‘outside’ the individual’s quest(s) for self-definition(s), coherence(s) and meaning(s). Instead, they interact, and indeed are fused, with what we term the ‘identity work’ of organizational members.
We agree with the scholars, but would add that a fundamental modicum of that control would be via language. Czarniawska-Joerges (1988) contends that “linguistic constructions” are designed and used for control in organizations, via labels, metaphors, and platitudes that normalize specified behavior.
Corporate directives are disseminated through various documents, as well as manager trainings and cultural maintenance. The common thread in these are the use of specific phrases and words that are generated by the corporate entity, and fall in congruence with its vision. That is, the corporation or organization generates its own system of linguistics to support itself, increase value identification, and help regulate the flows as described in CCO theory. Specifically, Alvesson and Wilmott’s identity regulation forms a fundamental part of membership negotiation as well as self-structuring.
Organizational self-structuring, second of the four flows of CCO, both governs and is informed by membership negotiation. Self-structuring can center around typical business communication and media, such as documents and policy manuals, but can also form in alternative ways through cooperation, trust building, and decentralized responsibility (McPhee, 2000). Organizations that utilize alternate forms of self-structuring benefit from the malleability and creativity that can spring from more free-flowing forms, rather than rigid hierarchical structures. However, in order for the organization to operate as a functional whole, it must abide by a set framework that is authoritative:
In relatively complex organizations, communication usually must tacitly recognize a governance structure with with legitimate power, and whether in implementing, serving, subverting, or resisting it, must reproduce it.
McPhee points out that these procedures and standards for communication represent the constitutive nature of the organization, and that self-structuring (although guided by formalized systems) does not occur on its own without communication. In order to exist, the org must have a set of standardized rules to operate on that are undergirded by communication. McPhee elaborates:
It is in the process of self-structuring that the organization as a system takes control of and influences itself, not merely to handle immediate problems but to set a persistent routine procedure for response. Only through developing this analogue to a sense of self can an organization avoid problems of over-adaptation, incoherence, and confusion.
The use of narrative also helps structure the organization, as the stories told about a company’s origin help shape and form the ideas and values it embodies. Gallo (2016) stresses the importance of storytelling in corporate value structure. In the case of Starbucks, former CEO and founder Howard Shultz repeatedly told the story of his father sustaining an injury and having no health insurance while unable to work. This prompted Shultz to offer health care for his employees when he started franchising Starbucks, part of the company’s mission to treat it’s employees with the dignity and respect that his father never received. By telling this story, Shultz gets his employees to connect to company values on a deep level and fortify the reputation of the business. Schultz (1997) stated, “treat people like family… they will be loyal and give their all.” The primary principle in Starbucks mission statement taken from their webpage (Starbucks.com) is “provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity”. In a sense, the foundational culture that Shultz and the management of Starbucks have attempted to create is one in which closeness, family, and integrity are seen as integral values. However, Starbucks still functions technically as many other corporate businesses do. One of our arguments is that the layering of these constructed values affect public (internal/external) perceptions of the organization to garner positive support and loyalty, but belie the company’s actual mechanistic corporate nature.
Meyer (2018) details Starbucks’ organizational structure by breaking it down into its four constitutive parts. This illustrates self-structuring, and how in a large complex organization, this structuring has evolved along different axes. For example, the company is divided into both product-based and geographic divisions. The four elements of the organizational structure, according to Meyer, are:
1. Functional hierarchy
2. Geographic divisions
3. Product-based divisions
We are primarily concerned with the team structuring as it relates to language and communication. Meyer notes that teams are used mainly at the lower organizational levels, in the coffeehouses, which is the level of analysis for this project examining communication. Teams are fundamental to Starbucks’ success, with particular importance put on customer service:
This feature of Starbucks corporate structure enables the business to provide effective and efficient service to consumers. Team effectiveness is a major determinant of the financial performance of franchised locations and company-owned coffeehouses.
Hence, the language that the management structure of Starbucks uses to communicate with its employees, as well as the language members use with customers, is crucial and tightly controlled.
McPhee and Zaug, citing Giddens, state:
As agents behave, they constitute interaction and its meaningful units because meanings, communicative acts, and episodes are what they are only due to the knowledgeable, empowered, contextually positioned action that implicates them. (27)
The third flow from communicative constitutions of organization is activity coordination. This flow helps run Starbucks since organizations have at least one purpose that is to have its partners (employees) activities contributing. At all times there is continuous change that might cause problems if the communication or messages are not fully understood. Employee actions must be aligned with company goals, which in turn must be clearly and regularly communicated with staff. McPhee believed that “All organizations have goals. A defined purpose, such as a mission statement, separates an organization from a crowd of people.” Most important to CCO theorists, members communicate to accomplish the organization’s day-to-day work toward their goals—this theme makes up activity coordination.
One of the ways this is performed is by coordinating internal and external communication. According to Cheney and Christensen (2011), the overlap of internal/external communication has an impact on organizational identity. Often boundaries are blurred:
Nowhere is this clearer than in the fields and practices of public relations and issue management where internal groups now comprise part of the general audience that the organization wishes to address and where externally directed messages, accordingly, become an integral part of the organization’s operating discourse…Because organizational messages are often organized around more than one purpose and aimed at more than one audience, we need to think of internal and external organizational communication as being closely intertwined.
Not only does Starbucks have to craft a message for its internal employees, but it must ensure that any communication is also congruent with public-facing messages. This is corroborated by Simon’s ethnographic work, where internal company language is replicated in PR and advertising campaigns.
Ruzich (2008) and Simon (2014) both point out the use of language and positional branding as a corporate strategy to affect employees’ demeanor, increase loyalty and work commitment, and influence perception. Ruzich focuses primarily on customer relations and positioning, while Simon takes a labor relations approach. Both scholars discuss the specific way communication is used both internally and externally, citing language as a medium by which the above goals are accomplished.
Simon’s ethnographic work on Starbucks’ employees illustrates the company’s use of strategic communication from a different perspective. He focuses on the use of emotional labor, along with constructed programs of internal trainings, documents, and prescribed behavior that make up the coffee giant’s corporate culture. Enforced standards of dress and behavior are deployed as a means of controlling employees, ensuring a specific and consistent customer experience, and minimizing labor costs. Employees (or believers, as one of Simon’s subjects calls them) are trained and indoctrinated with company culture, beliefs, and values as they are drawn into the organization. This represents a type of self-structuring where both members and the organization act out scripts that reinforce and reify the cultural architecture of Starbucks as a complex corporate entity.
Simon interviews long-time employee Symbol, who describes the Starbucks employee manual. The document outlines the standards of behavior and the company’s customer service mantra. One such mantra ensures that employees fully commit to giving legendary service, as opposed to basic. The manul illustrates several scenarios where a “team member” is shown to elevate their service to legendary status. The use of such differentiating (if not hyperbolic) language to discern levels of service assigns credit and value to behavior in the workplace. It exemplifies the organization’s need to structure every interaction employees have with customers and enforce stilted emotional labor practices. One the one hand, this ensures uniform service and brand integrity, on the other, it robs employees of emotional and social autonomy; the opportunity to be a unique, authentic individual. Simon’s subjects were expected to not only abide by a linguistic code, but also physical appearance: The emotional labor of the job also requires looking the part. Starbucks says it encourages workers to be themselves. But not too much. Tattoos and piercings are disallowed, but some workers also got scolded for not adhering to their prescribed gender role (i.e., long hair for women).
These insights also exemplify activity coordination and membership negotiation: there is a clear definition of what it means to be a team player at Starbucks, and those who do not fit the mold are either purged from the organization or never allowed in to begin with. Members are expected to act and speak in certain ways, and to some extent, must believe in the company and its values in order to comply with these behavioral and presentational mandates.
Although it would appear that Starbucks dictates every detail of employee activity and function, operating from a linear model of communication, it does in fact have a mechanism for informational recapture and feedback from employees. Fellner (2008) describes how “the company also provides a range of feedback mechanisms, from partner surveys about job satisfaction to a mission review, in which partners can challenge the company for failing to live up to the mission.” So it must be noted that the organization is, ostensibly, receptive to the input of its employees.
Large corporations like Starbucks have self-structuring definitions that consist of division of labor, policies and procedures, handbook, and more that set up the course for activity coordination. It is necessary to properly communicate among their partners to amend and adjust to work activities. Coordination resolves any practical problems that can include adjusting the work process and utilizes the expectation that the partners are working as a team or a unit on work tasks. It incorporates protocols for misconduct employees might perform, for instance not completing a work task or pilfering company product.
Communication also can mitigate conflict and provide a template for dealing with crises. Ward (2009) gives an example how communication can affect a perspective of a difficult situation.
The way that one communicates with one’s employees during difficult times has a tremendous impact on morale, engagement and productivity. This is an important tip on how to make sure that one is communicating effectively and getting the employee enthusiasm one needs.
Everyday there can be a crisis that affects the business, which in turn concerns the employees as well. For instance, if a store has not been making their sales plan for a while, then corporate might have to make a decision to shut the store down if that happens. This is why communication is key in business, and fundamental to coordinating activities across multiple levels and spaces.
Activity coordination is on a micro spectrum of the scale since it revolves internally in the organization. Just by communicating to one another it can avoid any misinterpretations and help run the business effectively. Having respectful organization and structural communication skill that Starbucks incorporates towards the company and its employees; the results truly show how thriving this corporation is.
Fourth and finally, this aspect of the four flows has to do with external organizations that come together. McPhee believes communication is between an organization and external entities for example other organizations and people. For instance, Starbucks alone cannot support themselves on making plastic cups they need to purchase from another chain in order to distribute them with their merchandise to their customers.
In Howard Schultz’s book titled Onward (2011), he simply explains Starbucks as an organization that no longer sees its business as some kind of shareholders property, but as a community which involves all stakeholders. These stakeholders involved everything that Starbucks is, which is the coffee bean farmers, organizations, baristas, customers, truckers, stock, management and their partners. Schultz also clearly states that Starbucks are at their best when they collaborate to provide a connection as well as a deep respect for the coffee and communities they serve.
Ruzich (2008) analyzes Starbucks’ in-store media and the language it uses that revolves around themes of love, comfort, and feeling good:
The central element of Starbucks’ crafted use of language has, from the beginning, revolved around love and its three manifestations: self-love, romantic or relational love, and philanthropic love.
She goes on to describe the three in detail: the first representing comfort, self-indulgence, and relaxed affluence, where customers are encouraged to reward themselves and customize their drinks. The romantic manifestation is defined by a mildly fetishized connection to coffee, mediated by enticing language (exotic, intriguing, seductive, adventurous). Ruzich also discusses the third place concept that Starbucks strives for; creating a communal space between work and home for emotive rituals that are aided by company language designed to foster feelings of belonging and connection. Lastly, philanthropic love is conveyed through the company’s campaigns of ethical, ecological, and social imperative. Starbucks makes a point to communicate its social and environmental responsibility, often citing the work it does with coffee farmers and fair-trade practices. These are framed as purely virtuous and altruistic, but serve a powerful function when emphasized toward both employees and customers to garner value identification, bolster credibility and enhance emotional appeal. While the company can back up it’s claims of corporate philanthropy and social responsibility, it also leverages these efforts to strengthen its brand, recruit members, persuade customers, and fortify its corporate image. In lieu of traditional advertising, Ruzich points out Starbucks’ use of in-store media campaigning.
As defined by the authors, Institutional Positioning is specifically outward facing and operates at the macro-level. McPhee and Zaug (2000) believed this type of communication flow exists to “negotiate the terms of recognition of the organization’s existence and place”, within the broader landscape of other organizations. In a macro level institutional positioning links to big organizations outside the micro level. Examples of the macro level outside the organization include competitors, suppliers, and customers.
Communication outside the organization negotiates merchandise, marketing, and sales. Often the communicators either organizational or non organizational message individuals who negotiate their own relationships. Messages can come from the greater organization as a whole, or individually by a consumer. Through the lens of the macro level there is not one configuration to an organization. Starbucks as its own organization must maintain their image, presence, status, and a communication channel with their vendors and partners. With the lack of institutional positioning like start up companies, non profit organizations, and under the table side gigs will not succeed on its own. Generally, the more popular an organization, the stronger relationships with consumers and trust with other organizations are working together with that company. Also, there can be flexibility with control over uncertainty and resources Starbucks has in its environment.
Moreover, institutions like these exist partly because they allow inter-organizational relations to draw on other organizations for variety of resources that is needed to accomplish its goals and maintain itself. What Starbucks has to do is reach out to other organizations to come to a conclusion or deal with a specific product. Not one organization can survive on their own. Our approach complements institutional positioning flow as it suggests that both institutional pressures and organizational characteristics influence organizations to adopt external organizations as stakeholders. MacDonald states:
It is concluded that the development of such conceptual and institutional models will be necessary to enable both consistency and enforceability of empowerment outcomes, and thereby to ensure that principles of justice can be realised among workers and producers throughout the global coffee industry.
This explains that whether there are different institutions in the end they come together, because one can not work without the other. Starbucks cannot grow their beans, make cups, buy their own product only as a consumer, and build stores by themselves. They have to be open with their communication levels with other organizations in order to operate and develop to a successful corporation like Starbucks. McPhee illustrates how vital one source can can affect a corporation:
That this sort of communication is vital for constituting organizations because organizations exist in human societies that already are organized, that already have institutional ways of maintaining order, allocating material resources, regulating trade, and dividing labor.
Starbucks affects and effects numerous sources in a macro level. From other corporations that sell to Starbucks in order for them to distribute their merchandise. To consumers who devote their time and money to invest in this organization. Institutional positioning cannot survive without communication in order to thrive towards success. No matter what organization whether small or large they should implement communicative constitutions of organization and the four flows just as Starbucks has.
The constitution of the organization is made up, in part, by the language it uses in its official communication. In the case of Starbucks, specific words and phrases are used in communication from the corporate leadership to inform the culture of work and activity within the organization. Words such as team and team member reinforce a sense of camaraderie among and between employees and management. Language has a powerful effect on the way operations, identity, and culture are perceived within and without an organization. Therefore, it is important for the management of a company to control and stipulate precisely what language is used.
Q 1 : How does the use of specific language in Starbucks’ communication (internal/external) affect how staff perceive the organization?
Q 2: Does this language contribute to the composition of the organization itself, via the four flows of the CCO framework?
Q 3: Does communication play a role in Starbucks’ effectiveness as a corporate entity, and how?
Words define the items they represent, and have both a connotative and denotative meaning. The word team elicits images of cooperation, sportsmanship, collaborative work, and shared responsibility. A team works as a unit to solve problems and accomplish goals, and this is likely the mindset that Starbucks want to impart to its thousands of hired employees. Employee is a formal term, but can also be cold and distancing. It can cause a hired worker to feel impersonal and removed from an organization. Member and “partner”, on the other hand, sounds inclusive, integral, and perhaps even empowered. Simon (2008), in his ethnographic portrayal of working at Starbucks, notes CEO Howard Schultz’ use of language to describe employees and benefits: he refers to workers as partners and one of the benefits programs as Bean Stock. Moore (2006) describes this employee stock-investment program, along with its healthcare for full and part-time workers, as reasons why the company is so successful at retention and employee satisfaction. However, he neglects to mention that perhaps workers stay with the company not because they’re so content, but because they’re compelled to by the lucrative perks. Simon’s account supports this idea. It may be that there is no other way for workers to get covered for health insurance, and that’s one of the reasons they stay.
In this study we wanted to find out if effective communication played a role in Starbucks’ effectiveness as a corporate and whether the use of specific language in Starbucks’ communication (internal/external) affect how staff perceive the organization. We asked a series of 16 items which three were demographics. Out of the 16 items we asked our participants we chose 10 items to analyze our results.
These results were astonishing of how positive Starbucks treats their employees as a team. We ask when hired at Starbucks did they feel like the staff were a team (80%) most chose yes while (20%) some chose no. Being in a team work environment has been Starbucks number one priority, which we asked if this team (Starbucks) different from working at any other organization 76% selected yes while the 24% selected no. With a continuation of the last question we asked if yes, does it positively impact your work? Those who decided on yes were 78.3%, although 21.7% selected no.
In any company that has effective communication is important for the development of an organization. This is the main reason why we wanted to be informed as to why Starbucks has been one of the best companies to work for. So to get the answers we have been looking for we had to start off with the most important foundation that is communication, on how Starbucks takes this matter seriously. The question was how often does your boss communicate change in advance? The options were always (20%), often (36%), sometimes (40%), rarely (4%), and never (0%). Then we asked is there good communication between partners at all levels. The choices were strongly agree (12%), agree (40%), neutral (28%), disagree (16%), and strongly disagree (4%). Being in management comes with huge responsibilities, so we wanted to figure out if management was open and receptive with their employees to feel empowered to communicate their needs, feedback, and ideas. The selections were strongly agree (24%), agree (40%), neutral (24%), disagree (8%), and strongly disagree (4%).
Since Starbucks is such a huge corporation we wanted to verify that they communicated their corporate values to see if the employee was given a memo or handbook to explain the interactions with customers. All respondents chose yes (100%). After given the handbook we asked if they were aligned with Starbucks values, and if they felt more connected to the company. Most of the respondent felt they were (92%), while two did not (8%).
Even at a big company like Starbuck there has to have order and structure through communication. Without communication nothing would be able to last long. We wanted to find out whether corporate has clear communication when there were policy changes. They chose strongly agree (33.3%), agree (33.3%), neutral (29.2%), with one choosing disagree (4.2%), and none for strongly disagree (0%). Lastly, we asked them if Starbucks is an organized company with good structure. Given the options of strongly agree (32%), agree (44%), neutral (20%), disagree (4%), and strongly disagree (0%). Having these factual statistics, we are able to determine whether our research question has verified evidence.
Although our study was limited, we did find that the use of specific terms (“team”,”member”) positively influenced employees’ (80%) perceptions of their place within the organization, and their identification with the company and its values. Overall, participants felt that communication was clear from the organization regarding activities and expectations (74%). Two results concerning the company handbook informed us that company instructional materials communicated values in a way that aligned with employees’ own (100%), and made them feel more connected to the organization (92%). This tells us two things: 1) the company is adept at using persuasive language in its internal materials, and 2) these materials convey both technical/logistical instruction (i.e., how to manage activity and conduct business) as well as company culture and value (i.e., how to act with customers and maintain an approvable demeanor). From this, we deduce that Starbucks wields persuasive language to accomplish its internal and external objectives. According to Cheney and Christensen (2011), the overlap of internal/external communication has an impact on organizational identity.
Participants felt that the company was “organized with good structure,” which implies that communication within the organization was effective enough to support the self-structuring and activity coordination flows. Starbucks is an organized company with good structure which, 76% of our participants agree all together from strongly agree to agree. Employees are trained with the company’s culture, beliefs, and values as they are drawn into the organization (handbook) . This represents a type of self-structuring where both members and the organization are tied together to make a stronger corporation.
We also wanted to assess whether corporate communication was transactional at the store level: if our participants felt comfortable communicating their needs to management. We found that most of our participants (64%) did feel empowered to communicate and that their ideas and feedback were met with reception. We gather that although the emphasis on language informs perception at the organization, and Starbucks retains the power to exercise control over communication; the relative lack of power on employees’ behalf did not dissuade them from expressing their own agency. This corroborates Fellner’s (2008) description of the mechanisms by which employees can engage in transactional communication with the organization and facilitate change.
Based on our results, we conclude that communication does play a role in the effectiveness of the organization as a corporate entity. Another 66% felt that communication was clear regarding policy or directional changes. Starbucks accomplishes this by using language to help it function within the four flows framework. For example, identifying specific terms such as “partner” and “team” ensures employee subscription to its value system. Employees feel closer to the company as they buy into the values and propositions the company sells them. This in turn lowers turnover rate and loss. They are also impressed with the company’s organization overall––this reduces stress and convinces them of the company’s viability. As a corporation, a primary objective is to maximize profitability and minimize expense, and being a functional entity that utilizes communication to interface with its employees and the public helps Starbucks accomplish this.
Our study was limited by a number of factors. One is the time constraint: a longer-term study would garner more participants and allow for more in-depth surveying, as well as incorporate qualitative analysis.
Second, our survey was relatively brief and could have included more question. The questions themselves were fairly general and could be more specific. This would give us more varied data to draw conclusions from. However, this was intentional as we wished to recruit as many participants as possible without deterrence. A longer, more rigorous survey is harder to have participants complete.
Third, our survey had bias since we sent out to friends and family on social media, email, and text messaging. Most of friends and family are of a younger age group that received the form of our survey. Bornstein (2017) states if there is bias in a sampling it is called :
Convenience sampling cannot be generalized to the target population because of the potential bias of the sampling technique due to under-representation of subgroups in the sample in compare to the population of interest.
This demonstrates that having bias in our research we can not verify that all age groups feel the same way of that of a younger age group to whom we had reached out to. This makes it difficult to generalize the population as a whole.
Last, we would’ve liked to conduct qualitative research by ethnography. This would’ve involved interviewing multiple members for a more varied analysis. Individual members could be interviewed and provide long-form discussion about their subjective experience within the organization and how the language and culture shapes their perception. In our literature review, some scholars did qualitative analysis but the focus was on labor studies for example, with Simon’s paper. Again, the time constraint of the project and lack of willing participants made this difficult.
Further, drawing conclusions about the relationship to understand the role of language and communication within the Starbucks organization, and how it shapes, moulds, and dictates perception of the organization both inside and out. Future researchers should gather the different tactics Starbucks incorporates in their daily communication and the affects each tactic has. For instance, would there be a difference if employees were given a handbook or not? Whether demographics has an effect from person to person through communication? Do employees comprehend and respond adequately to Starbucks use of language? These interesting questions and intense research will help impact Starbucks communication effectively.
As mentioned in our limitations, further ethnographic research could provide more insight into the communication process inside the organization and how employees respond to Starbucks’ use of language. Targeted qualitative analysis could be examined for common themes and perceptions about communication at Starbucks.
Again, our surveys could include a more comprehensive set of questions and demographic analysis. For example, we could look at differences in response by age group to corporate values that are communicated.
In conclusion, our study does serve to further CCO theory and extend our research by using the communication lens at Starbucks. This paper concurs with previous studies as well as our findings of the four flows, in their past and present state, to which they are represented at Starbucks through communication constitutive of organizations. We found that Starbucks’ use of specific terms (“team”) had a positive influence on the experience and perception of its members. We also found participants identified with the values conveyed in the instructional employee handbook with regards to customer interaction. The results tell us that language used by the organization positively affects employees’ experience at work. We deduce that Starbucks strategically selects language and communication to ensure compliance, enhance belief in its value system and culture, standardize customer experience, and structure its business. The CCO framework helps us understand this in the context of the organization’s composition. However, the present research learned from our findings appreciates the flexibility of McPhee and Zaug’s framework and recognize how crucial it is towards Starbucks corporation.