ELANCO COMMUNICATION HIERARCHY

Executive Summary

            The study focuses on the communication hierarchy within Elanco Corporation. The goal of the study was to look at leadership and management communication styles, team and group dynamics, and oral and written communication processes for the organization. The broad objective was to find any problems with the model currently in place and suggest viable improvements. On communication styles, the observation was that messaging followed a top-down approach for formal communiques and a bottom-up method for information from the employees to the management. Moreover, it was found that Elanco employs extensive use team building activities to encourage a culture of cooperation between its staffs. Also, the extensive use of team building activities serves to foster an environment in which junior workers can approach senior workers and management without issue. From these observations, it was apparent that a corporate communications strategy change was the best way forward for the organization. As part of the strategy, Elanco would build better relationships with the relevant stakeholders and publics. Furthermore, Elanco would work towards achieving more influence in the communication process as opposed to coverage, and other measurable changes to its communications strategy.

The existence of any organization directly relates to the ability of its members to communicate. No company would exist if the stakeholders were unable to communicate. However, communicating appropriately, effectively, and meaningfully is difficult and presents a fundamental problem for organizations, especially large hierarchical ones. Most people assume that communication is a matter of transferring information from one party to the next. As part of this assumption, they believe that those for whom the information was meant to understand, they must impute the same meaning to the message as the sender. Communication is more complicated than that. More than just transferring information, communication also involves the engagement of both parties in the process of creating meaning together through a process of adaptation, adoption, and negotiation. Therefore, communication in an organizational set up may be thought to be the mutual engagement in meaning-making that is central to the functioning of that organization.

Elanco Animal Health is a division of Eli Lilly and Company, a recognized global company that has been a world leader in the human pharmaceutical healthcare scene for over a century. Since its founding in 1953, Elanco has dedicated itself to research that makes life sciences work better for people by transforming pet care and animal agriculture. Currently, Elanco employs over 2,600 people and serves its products to markets in more than 75 countries. The company focuses on metabolic regulation and the control of infectious diseases in food-producing animals as well as internal and external parasite control and drug delivery technologies and devices for companion animals. Owing to Elanco’s large number of employees and huge international presence, it has had to adopt a hierarchical structure for efficient operations. Also, the company has made partnerships with other parties to deliver practical and innovative solutions in the field of animal health care. Through its technology acquisition teams, Elanco has partnered with some stakeholders comprising other companies, institutions of higher learning, individual investors, and governmental agencies. The company is firmly committed to building and establishing partnerships with mutual trust, respect, and integrity. The goal of these organizations is to seek innovative opportunities and particularly therapeutic areas from a variety of sources and to find creative solutions to pre-identified problems. Based on the number of employees and partners that are stakeholders in Elanco, the company has a large number of audiences for which it needs to tailor its communication.

Figure 1- Elanco Values

Elanco employs a top-down communication model for official communications within the enterprise. Management directs all communication to the employees via a “cascade.” All forms of formal communication in the business from projects, programs, initiatives, news, and technologies are communicated downward through the hierarchy. Top level management passes information to low-level managers who in turn pass the information down to those they oversee, and the information goes downwards until it reaches all employees. The advantage of the cascade process is that it enables information to be passed in a rapid systematic and uniform manner through the organization. The uniformity of the communication process is particularly important when the information being shared needs to be in every employee’s possession, for example, ground rules on expected conduct and company policies. A disadvantage of the cascade, especially in a hierarchical organization is distortion (Larson & King 1997, 54). As the communication passes through the different rungs in the hierarchy, it almost certainly gets distorted and loses much of the value it initially held. Therefore, for a cascade to work, there must be no breaks as it is at these points that information is lost or miscommunicated. A likely communication choice that would ensure that the information chain remains unbroken would be the one that would deliver the message directly to each employee. In this case, for example, a newsletter from the CEO would serve well to communicate a change in management strategy or a new company direction.

The complement to the top-down communication model is the bottom-up model. The bottom-up model, much like the top-down method is unidirectional, but information moves in the opposite direction from the lower rungs of the hierarchy upwards. The design is usually reserved for the collection of information on the company and is the preferred model for informing top management of the company what is happening. Data and information from the lower ranks are “sucked up” the hierarchy and made available to the top management through surveys, periodic reports, and reviews. The bottom-up model fulfills a core need for any organization, that of gathering uniform, standardized data from across the entire company (Griffin 2012, 89). Such information is crucial for making comparisons across the different departments in the organization and being an accurate assessment of company performance compared to previous years. Another key advantage of this method is it allows for decision making about the allocation of company resources and appropriate modification of business strategy to reflect the situation on the ground. The bottom-up model allows employees to participate in shared meaning making while providing input to the higher level decision makers and senior staff and other for unilateral decision-making.  

Elanco has encouraged the participation in sports activities to encourage team building. Such activities have the added benefit of fostering interaction among members of the company. As a result, it has become easier for employees to approach other members of the firm, even top level managers (Hart & Moore 2005, 4). Aside from team building, Elanco features a Global Day of Service activities. This contributes to their combined efforts to surpass 5,000 days of service hours each year (Elanco 2016). The company participates in numerous projects organized in unique locations around the world. Elanco also features a strong organizational culture with an emphasis on core values of respect for people, integrity, and excellence. Elanco treats customers and partners with respect and dignity and irrespective of their background or social standing. They have a commitment to ensuring their product deliver as promised and do what they claim to do. Further, Elanco has developed a solid reputation for using sound science, disciplined discovery, safe technologies, and innovative processes to improve food production and safety as well as animal health (Elanco 2016). In line with these values, the company has had to develop a communication model that would help further their ideals. The communication model employed by Elanco is geared towards ensuring the customers can clearly understand the company vision and the value that the firm’s products will bring to them.

Figure 2- Elanco Leadership Principles

            Central to Elanco’s leadership approach is the emphasis the company places on interfacing with its various publics and stakeholders (Elanco 2016). Elanco holds that the ability to effectively communicate any message across is directly tied to its ability to connect with the people around whom the company functions. Along with the drive to be determined and pursue continuous improvement, Elanco advances a leadership model that advocates for leadership at all levels in the organization. The aim of such a move is to ensure that a steady stream of information with decision relevance is constantly flowing within the organization (Elanco 2016). This is in line with Elanco’s work culture which emphasizes commitment to the customer and involvement of partners and other stakeholders in the decision making process. Elanco has adopted a staff engagement initiative in which they strive to ensure that all workers have a deep sense of engagement with the company (Elanco 2016). Similarly, the company has taken measures to ensure every employee sees themselves as being in part responsible to the success of the organization. The feeling of engagement and personal value contribution ensures the employees feel valued and will see them attain high levels of productivity and remain with the organization for longer (Kerfoot 2007, 28). In its dealings with investors, creditors and other stakeholders, Elanco adopts a stance of honesty and transparency, as this would further lend to their commitment to treating partners with dignity and respect.

The top-down model has one key disadvantage, the lack of feedback (Miller 2004, 187). In its purest form, the top-down communication model has no mechanism in place for the provision of effective and efficient feedback to the senders of the message owing to the unidirectional flow of information (Miller 2004, 262). While the information trickles down the hierarchy, nothing goes back up to the source. The model strictly applies a one-way movement. Consequently, the source of the information lacks a chance to evaluate the impact of the communication to alter and improve any subsequent messages (Miller 2004, 188). As a result, if communication follows the top-down model and the word happens to die of mid-stream, there is little that can be done to modify it. Moreover, the top-down model has no recipient design (Griffin 2012, 49). One assumption that is common in communication is that once the message has reached where it was meant to go or belongs, the work of communicating is done. However, a good communication model should account for how actionable the message is. In essence, there should be a surety that the recipient will receive the message and act on it as the sender intended. The top-down model lacks any such mechanism to ensure that the message has been received, and was acted upon hence the observation that it requires recipient design. The implication herein apparent is that one cannot guarantee that the message will reach the intended audience.

The bottom-down model is plagued with its set of problems as well. The first major issue relates to the decision relevance of the information that has been gathered. An observation on the quality of the information collected through the bottom-down model is that it lacks decision relevance, and cannot be used to justify a decision (Griffin 2012, 93). Moreover, quite often the information is gathered well after the decision has been made and, as a result, has little or no meaningful impact. While the company has persistent complaints about lacking the necessary information to make decisions, most of the information collected via the bottom-up model is not considered in making the decisions for which it was requested. Regardless of the information already available, the new data is relevant and can add to the quality of the decision, and as a result, should not be ignored (Silverman 2006, 69). Another unfortunate side effect of the bottom-up communication model arises when the management tries to influence the nature of the messaging process. Many firms employ measurements of the data gathered to improve company operations. Making decisions based on bad data results in systemic problems in the enterprise.

Although there are many different communication models, a consensus underlying any communication attempt is the level of connection present in the messaging process. All agents involved in the communication have to be connected or be able to cooperate for the sharing of information to occur. On barring such a connection, it becomes almost impossible to generate shared meaning (Widhiastuti 2013, 187). In hierarchical organizations, there is a tendency for the higher levels of the organizational pyramid and the lower ones to disconnect. Hart and Moore (2005) maintain that hierarchy is not synonymous with authority, but recognize that authority has different implications for the various models of communication. At Elanco, 64% of the firm’s employees agree that they benefit from a free and transparent exchange of ideas and information within the company most of the time if not almost always (Great Places to Work 2016). About 87% of employees are in agreement about the quality of Elanco’s communication processes. Despite issues that are present in maintaining communication within a company of Elanco’s size, most employees agree that they have ready access to any relevant information they need. Another 65% agree that the management informs them about important issues and changes and that they can ask management questions and get straight answers within a reasonable time (Great Places to Work, 2016). All these figures point to the communication models employed by Elanco as having relative success. However, they can still be improved to streamline the messaging process and to ensure wider reach and more efficient communication.

Elanco requires developing a corporate communication strategy that will serve as a functional strategy that provides the direction and focuses on the organization’s contact with its different stakeholders. The plan should assist in the determination of what should be communicated to ensure organizational goals are achieved (Steyn 2000). The corporate communication strategy should adapt the organization to events, trends, and stakeholders present in the environment in which the communication occurs. Such adaptation should focus on the relationships with the relevant stakeholders and publics since the aim of corporate communication is, by definition, to build and maintain relationships with stakeholders and the public (Griffin 2012, 23). An effective communication strategy should be adaptive and able to match the opportunities and risks that emerge in the external environment to the organization’s capabilities. The strategy should also be able to take advantage of the communication resources since the generating, and sustaining change within the organization is dependent on it. To respond adequately to the communication environment present within and without the organization, using research to identify key stakeholders and publics and tailor the message so that it has the most impact becomes necessary (Steyn 2000). Moreover, the internal organizational structures should be analyzed to ensure communication is efficient and effective. One way to improve internal communication would be to encourage lateral interaction within the organization (Demange 2004, 762). Employees talk to other employees that are part of their silos (Baron et al. 1990). Hence, improving lateral interaction will foster interconnectedness.

All companies have close linkages between the enterprise’s social structures and the communication models adopted. Elanco is no exception. Whether the connection attempts constitute of relatively organized efforts to move information from one party to another or is a more informal means of constructing and conveying meaning, the social structures in place are necessary. Recent advances in technology have led to the prevalence of the use of digital and social media in communication. In line with these changes, Elanco needs to implement a noticeable shift in its communication to adapt to the current state. The first key change is a change in emphasis to the influence the communication achieves over its coverage area. As social communication becomes the norm, organizations have to evolve to accommodate the change or perish. In the increasingly social world of communication, the ultimate goal of a campaign is no longer great coverage but the influence (Safko and Brake 2009, 43). Instead of attempting to reach a wider audience, targeting should be used to ensure the right people are reached at the right time and in the right way. The second significant shift involves the making both parties in the communication approachable. Successful organizations do not adhere to the old pyramid structure where employees were confined to silos that rendered other staff in different silos unreachable (Van den Brink 2012, 728). Elanco’s employees should be connected to and able to reach any other individual within the organization. The final shift is the integration of measurement in communication strategy. With the advent of digital and social analytics, the communication process of an organization can be studied to ensure that the communique has sufficient reach, and the message has reached the intended target (Silverman 2006, 45). Elanco can apply these and similar tools to ensure they have the desired range in each communication attempt.

In conclusion, Elanco employs two communication models when passing information up and down the organization. While the communication models employed by Elanco have had relative success in their implementation and hence their ability to pass along the relevant information, there are still ways in which they could be improved. One broad level intervention would be the crafting of a corporate communications strategy that is more responsive to the environment in which the organization exists. Such a strategy should analyze internal company structures while identifying and accommodating the company’s publics and stakeholders. Moreover, Elanco should emphasize influence over coverage in communication, break down functional silos that make management unreachable to their staff. Also, the use of analytics and other metrics that can check for the effectiveness of each communication should be applied. In this, the communication process will be vastly improved.

References

Baron, R.A., Greenberg, J., DeNisi, A.S. and Goddard, R., 1990, Behavior in organizations: understanding and managing the human side of work, Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Demange, G., 2004, “On group stability in hierarchies and networks”, Journal of Political Economy, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 754-778.

Elanco, 2016, Integrity. Excellence. Respect for people.

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Elanco.com. Available at: https://www.elanco.com/careers/index.aspx [Accessed 21 Jan. 2016].

Great Places to Work, 2016, Elanco Animal Health. [Online] Reviews.greatplacetowork.com. Available at: http://reviews.greatplacetowork.com/elanco-animal-health-us [Accessed 21 Jan. 2016].

Griffin, E. 2012, A first look at communication theory. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Hart, O. and Moore, J., 2005, On the design of hierarchies: coordination versus specialization, (No. w7388). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Larson, E.W. and King, J.B., 1997, “The systemic distortion of information: An ongoing challenge to management”, Organizational Dynamics, vol. 24, no. 3, pp.49-61.

Miller, K., 2004, Communication theories: Perspectives, processes, and contexts, McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.

Safko, L. and Brake, D. 2009, The social media bible, Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.

Silverman, D., 2006. Interpreting qualitative data: Methods for analyzing talk, text, and interaction. Sage.

Steyn, B., 2000, “Model for developing corporate communication strategy”, Journal for Communication Sciences in Southern Africa, vol. 19, no. 2, pp.1-33.

Van den Brink, R 2012, “On Hierarchies and Communication”, Social Choice And Welfare, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 721-735, EconLit with Full Text, EBSCOhost, [21 January 2016].

Widhiastuti, H., 2013, “The Effectiveness of Communications in Hierarchical Organizational Structure”, International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, vol. 58, no. 3, pp.185-190.

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