Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Charles H. Woolbert Research Awardee Dr. Kathleen Krone

Dr.Kathy Krone was recently awarded the prestigious Charles H. Woolbert Research Award from the National Communication Association for a paper she co-authored with University of Nebraska-Lincoln Alumini Dr. Erika L. Kirby. Their article 'The Policy Exists but You Can't Really Use It:'Communication and the Structuration of Work-Family Policies,” published in the Journal of Applied Communication earned the award for its continued conceptual and theoretical significance to the field of Communication Studies. Dr. Krone was kind enough to answer a few questions about the project and the award:
What initially inspired the article?
I was teaching a graduate seminar that included an introduction to structuration theory. At the time the theory had gained visibility among organizational communication scholars but very few had actually chosen it as a guiding theoretical framework for research. Erika Kirby was enrolled in that course.  She had earned her Masters’ in communication at the University of Minnesota and her advisor had been Scott Poole, a major scholar in organizational communication who also had written on the subject of structuration theory. Erika had exposure to the theory through Scott and through my seminar and it became the guiding theory for her dissertation. We had discussed everyday interaction around organizational policies as an interesting subject for research. I believe Erika also happened to be expecting her first child during the dissertation process and the subject of work-family policies and their uses was very salient to her and her husband. Linda Gallant, another earlier doctoral advisee, studied employee talk about EEO policies and how differences in interpretation across majority and minority group members complicated the implementation of these policies. Linda did not use structuration theory; took a more rhetorical approach instead, but these two projects were completed within the same 3-5 year period of time.   
When did the translational potential of the piece become apparent?
Dr. Braithwaite held an NCA leadership position and the association decided to begin a translational publication outlet that became what now is known as Communication Currents.  She knew of Erika’s dissertation and invited us to submit a translational essay as a prototype for how these translational essays should appear and read.  In addition, the subject of work-family/life are of great concern to many people who want and need to work but who also value having a life!  Erika’s dissertation also spoke to the importance of having a supportive supervisor to making these policies work well.  The Kirby &  Krone article directs attention to the importance of co-worker communication, so if organizations are serious about their support for work and family/life, we learned that the quality of communication on the part of both supervisors and co-workers about the use of these policies becomes very important.
Considering the continued popularity of the article, are there any changes or amendments that you would make if you could go back?
Erika’s work and my own work has taken a more critical turn over the years.  If I were to make any changes in the article or approach a similar project again, I might emphasize my current understanding that when organizations are required by law to offer certain policies, these policies often are written and implemented in ways that best serve the legal needs of the organization (i.e., help protect the organization against formal complaints and lawsuits).  Assuming that these policies exist mainly to benefit employees now seems a bit politically innocent to me!
Why do you think researchers and readers find the article interesting?
I think many people have experienced the complications associated with wanting and needing to rely on these policies and the realities of making them work well in practice.  Even today when the subject comes up in conversations people will complain about how the organization they work for (or used to work for!) paid lip service to work-life issues, but did not really care.  So, these policies and their use becomes an interesting site of contradiction to talk about and work through and around.  I also think there is some growing awareness of how much more support there is for work-family/life by corporations operating outside the U. S.  Organizations located in many northern European countries, for example, offer far more generous benefits related to work and life than do those located in the U. S. 
What advice or recommendations would you give future scholars seeking to make similar contributions to the field?
I would advise a future scholar to begin with an important and socially/politically consequential problem and then locate a promising theory or two that will help him/her learn more about that problem and also make an important difference in the everyday lives of people.  In my experience the process of bringing practice to theory first and then theory back to practice produces the most interesting projects and the most socially useful social theoretical developments.   

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