Texas Tech University

Professor Receives Page Center Grant to Study Organizational Communication

McKenzi Morris

May 29, 2020

Ioana Coman

Ioana Coman will conduct a case study over Amazon’s handling of an employee protest on climate change.

For companies to be successful, there must be a mutually beneficial relationship with their various stakeholders. This relationship starts with organizational listening – the company hearing what stakeholders need and want, then responding appropriately.

When this doesn't happen, a company's reputation can be negatively impacted with its stakeholders and the general public.

Ioana Coman, an assistant professor of public relations in Texas Tech University's College of Media & Communication, received a Page Center Research Grant on Organizational Listening from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Penn State University to study the role of organizational listening in successful corporate communications and the consequences when companies don't listen.

"My research looks at how different organizations – governmental, corporations, health organizations, media, etc. – interact with their different publics and how these interactions affect the way these publics make sense of what is going on, make decisions regarding intended behaviors, negotiate these type of relationships, etc.," Coman said. "This grant helps advance this type of research and hopefully gets one step closer to different solutions for improvement in terms of finding the best ways for organizations to successfully interact with their publics and build genuine, mutually beneficial relationships."

Coman credits the encouragement and support from the public relations department and the college's grant team for making this grant possible. She said much more than just the research goes into these grants and the environment in the college helps make these awards and research projects possible.

Coman and doctoral student Rosalynn Vasquez will study what happens when a company's stakeholders, especially employees, call for action and the company does not seem to listen. Their research will focus specifically on Amazon and its handling of an employee protest about the company's lack of action toward climate change. Coman said the protest and further actions put Amazon in the accountability spotlight for all its stakeholders, including employees and customers.

For the case study, they will pull information about the situation from online sources to study how Amazon is handling its employees' demands and calls for climate change actions and advocacy. They also will look at the potential impact this has on Amazon's reputation and its relationships with stakeholders.

"Public relations is all about creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with an organization's different publics," Coman said. "So, at its core, this includes the need for the organization to truly listen to these publics, engage in a dialogue and try to find and assure those mutually beneficial elements. Organizational listening also is about using two-way communication to build relationships and ensure organizations meet stakeholders' needs."

While this project focuses on organizational listening in one company, the results could help companies in all industries improve their listening efforts and create stronger relationships with their publics.

"It's essential to look at this real-world case study and see what happens when an organization does not engage in this listening and dialogue, what the different publics do then and how this impacts its employees and other stakeholders," Coman said. "There are lessons to be learned, best practices to be found and, in the long term, hopefully we can get to a point where organizational listening and these mutually beneficial relationships are the norm across organizations."