Are corporate values connected to plain language adoption?

I think so. At least this email from the lead writer at Pinterest to all company employees supports the connection. It is too good not to share. (See my series on what plain language is for background.)

Because of my current research on workplace writing quality, I’ve been thinking about how to capture the qualities of organizations who truly embrace quality writing — not just by their PR or marketing folks, but by all employees. I think we’ll be adapting the Competing Values Framework to do this. It’s the result of research by a group of folks at University of Michigan. I’ve used it to describe the purposes for which people write at work in our Revising Professional Writing workbook (RPW/3e) and for which managers interact with others in my textbook Thinking & Interacting Like a Leader.

Basically, organizations (or their leaders) are characterized in a matrix where one dimension displays flexibility vs. stability and the other dimension displays internal vs. external focus. You can see how to use these ideas in gauging the values of a leader by looking at the graph below, which represents the responses of six team members to the following questions:

(Q1) Rank order the following terms for describing your leader: __ Coordinator __ Producer __ Innovator __ Mentor
(Q2) Rank order the following terms for describing your leader’s style: __ Predictable __ Competitive __ Flexible __ Loyal

Slide03Overall this specific leader is more of a Coordinator, stable and internally focused. The labels used to describe organizations look like so:

  • Hierarchy (oriented toward control) = stable and internally focused where Coordinators feel at home
  • Market (oriented toward competition) = stable and externally focused where Producers fit in best
  • Adhocracy (oriented toward creation) = flexible and externally focused where Innovators reside comfortably
  • Clan (oriented toward collaboration) = flexible and internally focused where Mentors are most at home

So back to the point in this post. Which organizational culture is most likely to adopt plain language and truly value writing quality? I don’t know. But I’m gonna find out. . . (And I’ll bet the culture at the specific time of adoption is key, too.)

Related Research

Cameron & Quinn (2011). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: Based on the competing values framework. John Wiley & Sons.

Campbell et al. (2003). Leader-member relations as a function of rapport management. Journal of Business Communication, 40(3), 170-194.

Rogers, P. S. (2000). CEO presentations in conjunction with earnings announcements extending the construct of organizational genre through competing values profiling and user-needs analysis. Management Communication Quarterly, 13(3), 426-485.

Quinn et al. (1991). A competing values framework for analyzing presentational communication in management contexts. Journal of Business Communication, 28(3), 213-232.

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