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Managers typically dread discovering the next new thing their employees are using. Yet individuals’ pioneering is often the way in which new technologies — blogs, Skype, or electronic bulletin boards, for example — are ultimately merged into an organization’s mainstream, often with significant payoff, although the very same technologies could be problematic to other organizations if adopted wholesale.
In other words, no technology is inherently “right” or “wrong.” Instead, managers must evaluate how it will work in the context of their specific organization. Such an approach allows for the flexibility to change with the times, possibly avoiding the loss of competitive advantage relative to more nimble or tech-savvy companies, while also maintaining control and gaining insights into the technology’s wider implications. Thus a company may choose to adopt, partially or completely, a new technology or, if indicated, to limit or shut down its use.
Our own preferred guide to understanding and evaluating the use of communication technologies in the workplace, and how such use may evolve over time, is called the Genre Model. Based on a methodology developed in academia, this model can help practitioners assess a technology’s potential benefits and risks for their organizations. (See “About the Research.”)
About the Research
JoAnne Yates and Wanda Orlikowski first developed the concept of organizational-communication genres in a 1992 article for theAcademy of Management Review, in which they tracked the emergence of e-mail and how it initially borrowed from the memo genre.i Since then, they have published articles using this concept to analyze and understand a range of new media, from e-mail to groupware to instant messaging. A 1994 article inAdministrative Science Quarterly was based on the coding of over 2,000 e-mail messages from a group of geographically and organizationally dispersed computer scientists who were developing an artificial intelligence language in the early 1980s. Yates and Orlikowski tracked how the messages developed over time, initially drawing on the memo genre but gradually incorporating additional genres, especially the dialogue genre (whereby the originator of an e-mail message embeds all or part of a previous message into the current one before responding to it, thereby creating the effect of an oral conversation).
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1. J. Yates and W.J. Orlikowski, “Genres of Organizational Communication: A Structurational Approach to Studying Communication and Media,” Academy of Management Review 17, no. 2 (April 1992): 299–326.
2. K. Crowston and M. Williams, “Reproduced and Emergent Genres of Communication on the World Wide Web.” The Information Society 16, no. 3 (2000): 201–202.