Research Paper: Organizational Communication Process: Smack Talk

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Organizational Communication Process: Smack Talk in the Sub-Shop

There is a tremendous amount of research on organizational communications, but surprisingly little focus on family-owned businesses. While big business in America may be characterized by an impersonal, corporate environment, small businesses remain a significant power in American economics. Moreover, small businesses are likely to be mom and pop establishments, run by family members. In these environments, one would naturally expect communications to be somewhat different than in businesses where the employees are not related to one another or to the people in management. In fact, one would expect to find a degree of informality in these settings. Many people associate informal settings with better communication; however that assumption is not necessarily accurate in a workplace. A lack of formal boundary-setting, rules, and structure can actually lead to less adequate workplace communication.

Sammy's Sammies

The organization I chose to examine is a small family-owned sandwich shop named Sammy's Sammies. The restaurant is owned by Samuel Wood (Sammy) and his wife Liza. The mission of the organization is to sell great-tasting individual sub-sandwiches in a friendly atmosphere. They differ significantly from the sandwiches that one would find in a chain sandwich shop, which is largely due to the secret sauce that the family uses to dress the sandwiches. They have fresh vegetables, but the sandwiches are basic: the bread, meat, and cheeses are purchased from Sysco, not homemade or artisanal. The pies and the soups are homemade.

The shop truly is a family affair. Samuel's mother Evelyn works at the shop and brings in the homemade pies that are sold at the shop. His father Max sometimes works at the shop as well. The three Wood children, Phoebe, Cate, and Sam all "work" at the restaurant during some evening hours and on weekends. The non-family employees include two older women Amanda and Bella as well as a woman named Marla, and her daughters Sara and Lauren who both work at the shop during lunch hours for high-school credit. Marla's children went to school with the older Wood children and she and Liza were friends before she became an employee.

The structure of the shop is a partnership. Samuel is the sandwich maker. He came up with the unique ingredients for all of their signature sandwiches and is usually behind the counter making the actual sandwiches. He is the man in charge of customer relations, largely due to his outgoing, friendly personality. Liza handles inventory and the other paperwork, such as paying the bills, taking care of insurance, handling the taxes. Because of this, some customers have the perception that she is not really part of the business, but it really could not run without her. She is also the one who handles sick days and scheduling. Therefore, though it is a family business, the chain of command is Liza, then Samuel, with the other employees being roughly equal in authority after them. At times, Evelyn and Max might be left in charge of the store, but that authority is temporary. The big decision making in the store appears to be the result of consensus between Liza and Samuel, but those decisions seem to be made at home, away from the store.

The Woods make an effort to treat their employees like family, and, in many ways that effort is successful. For example, they are unable to provide paid vacation or sick time because they are a small business, but they have found a good group insurance provider and pay towards insurance for their adult employees. Furthermore, if an employee needs time off for illness or a personal need, they make arrangements to ensure that the employee can have the needed time. They try to be respectful of their employees at all times, and, if a customer is rude or disrespectful to an employee, the customer will be asked to leave. Furthermore, the restaurant respects holidays and family time. It is closed on all major federal holidays, for three days to celebrate Christmas, from Good Friday through Easter, and from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the entire Thanksgiving holiday. The bulk of their business is from lunch time business customers and commuters getting sandwiches on their way home from work, so being closed on holidays has not seemed to impact their earnings. They do have increased pie sales before each holiday, when customers can order whole pies to take home.

Physically, the restaurant has more individually than a chain restaurant. Like many chain sandwich shops, the restaurant is in a storefront. However, it is at the end of the storefront, so that it can provide drive-thru service as well as counter service. The interior has 8 four-person booths and 8 four-person tables. The building decor reflects the Woods' family hobby; the entire family is into motorcycles, and the interior is decorated with vintage motorcycle memorabilia, including some very valuable Indian motorcycle merchandise. People walk through the seating area to a counter, which is separated from the seating area with two entrances, in a U-shape from the seating area. There is a menu board hanging over the counter, which features a list of several sandwiches with their ingredients, the soup selections, fresh-baked pies, chips and salads. The person orders at the cash register, which is on the right side of the counter, if one is facing the menu board, then waits for the order at the other end of the counter. The sandwich makers work the between-space in the counter. On the left side of the counter is a door heading back to the restrooms. Behind the visible counter space and kitchen space is a double-swinging door that leads back to the kitchen and food storage area.

Organizational identification

One of the ways that Sammy's Sammies excels in communication is by instilling a real sense of organizational identification in all of its employees. According to Mark Ryckman, "organizations benefit by having committed employees who put more effort into their work and workers benefit by increased morale and an improved sense of satisfaction (2011). Ryckman believes that there are several things a business can do in order to instill this sense of organizational identification: start early, adopt a participative leadership style, promote fairness and ethics, prepare employees for promotion, and design competitive compensation systems (Ryckman, 2011).

With the exception of preparing employees for promotion, Sammy's Sammies has incorporated most of those elements into its business model, and its business structure is simply too small to permit an increase in the number of managers, so that it would not be practical to prepare employees for promotion. In fact, it is important to understand that not preparing their employees for promotion or giving people meaningless promotions is actually a tremendous sign of organizational health. "A great deal of dysfunctional behavior in organizations comes from having too many or too few levels of work. Too many layers create unnecessary bureaucracy and keep employees feeling suppressed in their decision-making. Too few levels, on the other hand, cause problems in communication and gaps in workflow" (Baker 2011). The restaurant is a small sandwich shop. The owners are the managers and the number of employees is small. Promoting someone to an assistant manager would be ridiculous, since the financial reality of the business is that, at this time, both owners need to be involved in running it full-time. With them constantly at the store, capable of providing direction to employees, and with Samuel working behind the sandwich counter with his employees, adding another level to the organization would actually be very confusing.

The company is very good at introducing new workers to the organizational culture. Actually, every single one of the employees has been either a customer or a family friend prior to being hired as an employee. They all had some working knowledge of the Wood family, if not the way that the restaurant ran. However, the training process involves shadowing other employees in their various roles until the new hire feels comfortable in the position. All employees are expected to be able to handle any of the tasks required to run the restaurant, from calling to place a supply order to cleaning a bathroom, to working the counter. This orientation is "a critical time in employees' tenure with the organization and it provides an opportunity for management to build organizational identification among these new workers" (Ryckman, 2011).

One could anticipate a problem with the orientation process in the future, if the Woods were to hire a person who is not familiar with the family. The entire atmosphere of the business is one of family and friendship. It seems highly unlikely that any amount of orientation could prepare a new hire for entry into the business. Therefore, the business may want to consider having a more formalized orientation process if they hire anyone from outside of the friends and family group in the future.

Both Liza and Samuel are fantastic about adopting a participative leadership style. First, they pitch in and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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