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The Art of War: Strategic Ambiguity

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    This paper examines Strategic Ambiguity and the need to have an ethical direction for a favorable outcome for any business model. I will bring to light how unethical behavior can decrease a favorable outcome, and could in fact taint a company forever, such as it did with the case of “Strategic ambiguity and the ethic of significant choice in the tobacco industry’s crisis communication”2. As a reader you will walk through different scenarios and draw from the vast knowledge of subject matter experts in this subject and understand how strategic ambiguity can be obtained to gain and edge or help stay afloat.

    At the conclusion you will notice that there is an underlying fundament ethics that strategic ambiguity must meet in order for a company to grow and live harmoniously with the truth. A favorable outcome that is being achieved while ethical decisions must be made in order to achieve a successful way of communication.

    The ethics of strategic ambiguity Also in the “The ethics of strategic ambiguity” a receiver will “attach a meaning that is congruent with his attitudes, thus assimilating the message” (Goss & Williams, 1973, p. 66). Williams and Goss (1975) describe this use of strategic ambiguity as “a kind of character insurance for people who are perceived as credible” (p. 265). This is important if any miscommunication is present and there is deniability for useful for preserving future options. In other words you are saving face. On the other hand if an Organization is in a crisis and trying to quickly point blame away from itself it could tarnish the groups branding like it did in the case stud of Jack in the box article.

    Crisis communication that privileges the needs of a few crisis stakeholders over others, by introducing biased and/or incomplete information regarding questions of evidence, intent, and locus, is unethical. Even though this is an Organization their meaning is not congruent with their attitudes, since they are trying to point blame on external stakeholders which tells people that their character is able to accept blame. There is also the deniability factor that this article keeps on bringing up in their article. This has oth a positive and negative side to it.

    The positive side is that it allows people to save face, delaying conflict, testing reactions to ideas, and avoiding personal responsibility (Clampitt, 1991). The negative side to this is that “Strategic ambiguity may emphasize goal-attainment at the expense of ethics” and that Eisenberg and Goodall (1993) suggest that the utility of strategic ambiguity for escaping blame may limit its usefulness for ethical communication in organizations and might hinder its forward movement.

    This subject seems to be one of the key points the other articles refer back to as the Corporations try to shift the blame unethically and keep whatever footing or hyper competition they might still have. {draw:frame} Tobacco Strategic ambiguity and the ethic of significant choice in the tobacco industry’s crisis communication The article goes on to point out about organizational crisis and significant choice. Where strategies run the risk of violating ethical standards if the information shared amongst the originations is unnecessary ambiguous or incomplete.

    Nielson (1974) offers the following criteria for evaluating the information: “Misinformation can be of various kinds. It is certainly not necessary for a speaker to make demonstrably false-to-fact statements in order to mislead his listeners. The information may, for instance, be incomplete; the selection of information may be biased; statistical units may be inadequately defined or incomplete; vague or ambiguous terminology, in which listeners find erroneous meanings may be used; relationships may be implied between the issue under discussion and other issues when, in fact, no relevant relationship exists (e. . , in guilt by association); the issue may be given a false sense of urgency or a false sense of importance; highly emotionalized language may be used, which may distort meanings”. (pp. 71-72)

    Later in the article they talk about their framework for analysis where they focus on three rhetoric constructs: Evidence, Intent, and locus. “Evidence refers to the scientific and legal debates over facts which occur in the aftermath of a crisis”3. Even evidence can be unethical if the point of the data is meant to confuse the public if the data is too complex for the general public to grasp fully without technical expertise.

    Next we have  intent or motives emerge {text:bookmark-end} {text:bookmark-end} when the organization’s social legitimacy is questioned”4. It is hard to evaluate an originations motive. Finally we have Locus where “focus emerges as organizations and external agencies decide where blame should be placed for the crisis”

    One key point the article talks about locus is that “it is difficult to assign blame to organizations because they become ambiguous entities which are able to diffuse responsibility.They questioned Kessler’s Evidence and reasoning with ambiguous claims by challenging his interpretation of data and focusing on the minority of smokers who contradicted Kessler’s claims. Tobacco industry argued that the FDA jurisdiction over nicotine by making imprecise comparisons. One comparison was by making an imprecise comparison among addictive drugs, television, overeating, and video games, Sandefur’s (Tobaccos Industries lawyer) message misrepresented existing research and confused the issue for the public.

    Then there were the questions of intent of motive. Was tobacco responsible for hiking up the nicotine levels? The tobacco industry’s interpretation stressed the right to do research, while ignoring key factors in nicotine. Finally there were the question of Locus and responsibility. The tobacco industry shifted blame; they simply manufactured a product that consumers chose to use. Then they went after Kessler saying he was an extremist that wants to “bring back prohibition”. Finally they paper talks about the implications and conclusion of unethical Strategic ambiguity.

    Using biased, incomplete, clouded technical interpretation will only further decline the public’s ability to make informed choices. Going after another persons character, as they did with Kesslers, was incomplete and also unethical. The downfall of the tobacco company here in this crisis is the concern for profitability over social responsibility. In the interpretation of evidence “organizations may hire scientists, attorneys, and other researchers in hopes of scrutinizing the available evidence in such a way that the organization can not be held responsible for the crisis”.

    Such congruence is threatened in crisis situations when the organization’s intentions are called into question by consumers, the media, or regulatory agencies. A loss in the organization’s social legitimacy occurs if the organization’s membership is viewed as “incompetent in fulfilling their mission, or when they have acted in a manner that exhibits little concern for their community by being irresponsible, dishonest, or having broken the law” (Hearit, 1995, p. 121). Finally the authors talk about the locus of responsibility for the crisis and who is to blame and assign blame.

    However, as accusations migrate up the organization hierarchy it is less likely that an individual will accept the blame. In the papers case study Jack in the Box is noted that “Crisis communication that privileges the needs of a few crisis stakeholders over others, by introducing biased and/or incomplete information regarding questions of evidence, intent, and locus, is unethical. ”8We see from the papers case study that Jack in the boxes did in fact do this. In the area of Evidence we ready that Jack in the Box was not solely responsible for the outbreak and they would not take the blame because they did not perform their own investigation.

    Nugent (1993) explained “We were informed that many of the children afflicted with this recent illness were customers of our establishment. Many other outbreak victims were not our customers” (Nugent, 1993, p. 2). Nugent’s emphasis on evidence enabled him to avoid their internal problem and,focus on possible external factors. Therefore Jack in the box wasprivileging internal and lower the external stakeholders. Since this elevates the needs of some stakeholders over the victims of the crisis its outcome is unethical.

    In the question of intent basically Nugent was stating that other Jack in the Box’s were not having this issue since they met the federal regulations over the states regulations. Well if they would have met the state standards of Washington and cooked the meat at a higher temperature this probably would have not happened. Jack in the box said they met the lower of the two standards, the FDA guidelines. “The irony of this argument suggests that Jack in the Box was ethically suspect when they accentuated their intent without first providing a thorough internal investigation. Emphasizing the Federal standards, which they had met, over the state standards, which they had not satisfied, cast the internal stakeholders of the organization in a favorable light. ”

    Jack in the box posed a question of locus which focused on meat inspection occurring prior to being delivered. Nugent stated that “Historically, it has been recognized that contamination originates in the field, slaughterhouse, and processing plants” (p. 3). Even though they were suppose to use higher temperatures for cooking Nugent still focused on the external sources throughout his public message.

    This strategy of shifting blame from Jack in the box and placing blame on the external stakeholders was unethical because it was biased and manipulated. Nugent provided little information regarding jack in the Box’s crime. By suggesting that meat packaging plants and meat inspection were contributors to the crisis we would only ask ourselves why other companies that used the same meat get sick as well didn’t. While ambiguity may be a natural byproduct of organizing, it may also be manipulated at the expense of some stakeholders Synthesis Element

    In company “X” I was responsible to tracking and allocating technical engineers to assess the bugs that were being reported with the new product rollout we made available to the public. Eventually there were enough savvy customers that started to piece the bug issues that upper management told the organization and other control engineers to reply with a “canned” statement that corporate came up with. It read something to the affect that due to newer hardware that was not certified at the time to be used on the systems certain new functionalities would cause the system to not respond in a positive fashion.

    Then it went on to say that we were working on this and a fix should be readily available. What I found out was that they turned off the new features that were advertised as selling points and made this product stand above other products out there and decided to go back to how things were before. It never did get worked until about eight months later just enough posturing to use as selling point as to why to use this product over other products.

    The issue was not really the fault of uncertified hardware as let to believe, but rather that the hardware that was tested on was not up to date and the requirements that the hardware needed from the software was not capable of handling advanced functions. As Eisenberg said “Strategic ambiguity preserves privileged positions by shielding persons with power from close scrutiny by other. ”10 In this case the shielded was the IT department and the company. You can see that throughout the paper I have taken on the position that unethical strategic ambiguity does not have a favorable outcome.

    After reviewing the articles I have noticed that there is an underlying fundament ethics that strategic ambiguity must meet in order for it to grown and live harmoniously with the truth. If favorable outcome is being achieved well ethical decisions must be made in order to achieve a successful way of communication. If a company wants to maintain the edge after a critical situation has plagued its organization or company they should be ethical. It will benefit them in the long run an allow them to keep up a positive political role and allow to help save face for their valued stakeholders.

    A company who competes in a hyper-competition strategy should know how to deal with critical situations like their jack in the box scenario and use it to champion change within their enterprise and the publics perception. Also, I believe being ethical in a crisis helps their situation analysis and their strategic moves that a company needs to get ahead in the strategic planning.

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