Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Communication and Information

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Dr. Shari R. Veil

Abstract

Recent economic turbulence in the United States has resulted in budget cuts for many city-funded organizations, including high-risk organizations such as local fire departments. Budget cuts trigger organizational change and create uncertainty among employees, which is a major concern for high-risk organizations. This dissertation examined internal communication practices used during organizational change in an urban fire department and the influence of organizational structure and culture on communication satisfaction. This robust case study used a multi-method approach including interviews with middle managers (i.e., district majors), and focus groups and channel preference surveys with full-time firefighters from lower level ranks (i.e., firefighters, lieutenants, and captains). Together, the data points provided a robust understanding of how organizational structure and culture influences communication satisfaction during change in a high-risk organization.

As this dissertation was most concerned with information dissemination throughout the fire department during times of change, structuration theory provided direction for how to best explain the structure, dissemination, and preference of communication and Schein’s Model of Organization Culture helped to explain organizational culture differences. The framework of communication satisfaction then offered a basis for further understanding of message dissemination and communication processes. Findings suggest the chain of command, use of internal media, rumors, and filtering of information were active influencers on communication satisfaction. Further, findings suggest that a misalignment in the organizational structure and culture resulted in the dissemination of misaligned messages. These misaligned messages frustrated organizational members and therefore influenced levels of communication satisfaction. When organizational members receive contradictory information, they are less likely to be satisfied with overall communication. Therefore, misaligned messages fostered by the communication climate are a structural and cultural barrier to communication satisfaction and can alter trust of leadership and increase the risk for organizational members. These findings are critical to high-risk organizations because misaligned messages increase risk for organizational employees as well as community members.