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January 2010

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UST MBC Director’s Memo – 1.10

As part of the requirements for the UST Master of Business Communication Program in the Opus College of Business, degree students must complete a real-world research project that applies the theories and skills acquired during their coursework. One of those projects last fall stands out as an example of a perennial issue faced by communicators and others in organizations.
The point of interest in this project for a well-known Minnesota based organization has less to do with the specifics of the research than the actions of the researcher.
In developing the study, this student got assurances from all the organizational permissions to conduct her interviews. From there, she proceeded to build a robust study. Unfortunately, when she went to the field to begin her data gathering, structural and cultural barriers arose that kept her from conducting those interviews. Being under very specific deadlines, and understanding the direct positive impact the research could have on the mission of her organization, the student faced a common dilemma. While her responsibility technically extended only as far as the research at hand, no one specifically held responsibility for addressing these cultural and structural impediments – obstacles that likely impact the work of others within the business as well.
In these situations, it may be easiest to throw up our hands in the face of barriers to completing such a project (whether in communications or other areas of professional practice). As agents of organizational shareholders or stakeholders, however, we bear some responsibility to complete valuable work to meet the firm’s mission – whether that is increasing shareholder equity in a corporation or better serving the community in a nonprofit.
This student chose to redress the report on her research by presenting the situation, plan and intended outcomes, but also calling attention to the cultural and structural issues in the organization that impacted the implementation of this research. Her approach highlighted how these issues not only limit the research at hand, but also similar projects that might arise in the future. She used sound managerial analysis to evaluate what was happening on an organizational level and suggested potential solutions. Most importantly, this was done in a manner that addressed the cultural and structural issues without finger-pointing.
While the outcome of her report has yet to emerge, the essence of her effort represents the notion that it may be a communicator’s responsibility to contribute to the greater good of the organization in ways beyond the pure scope of “communications.” In this case the impetus stems from a direct link to the issue, but because of the many touch-points communicators have in organizations, we often find ourselves in a position to connect dots among internal information and activities before the elements actually come together. Even though we don’t always have the expertise or responsibility to address the issues, we likely can direct attention of the right parties to these happenings. I would say that is our responsibility.