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Research on Discourse Community of a Small Start-up Business

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The discourse community I will discuss throughout this essay is a small start-up business located in my hometown of Batesville, IN, named The Morel Company (Morel) where I completed a mentorship during high school 2 years ago. Through my mentorship experience, and interactions with and observations of the management team, I have developed an understanding of the product they manufacture and sell. Their organizational texts, as well as a general overview of the various social media and marketing tools used to promote their products, in addition to participating in meetings and completing various documents, has increased my understanding and interest in this discourse community.

I want to provide a little more background on Morel so my discussions can be elaborated on and equated to some of the terms from Intermediate Composition 2089. According to Bill Hillenbrand, President and CEO of The Morel Company, innovation has been a badge of successful healthcare companies and has been an obsession of the Hillenbrand family since 1929. He credits his grandfather, William A. Hillenbrand, for being an enterprising force in the healthcare industry. His incentives focused on making patients more comfortable, safer and reducing the burden on the nurse led to the development of many groundbreaking products that fulfilled his aspirations with his company, Hill-Rom. That family healthcare ingenuity continued with his dad, W August ‘Gus’ Hillenbrand, who also always focused on the development of products that would lessen the workload for caregivers and improve patient outcomes. He also had a fervor for continuous improvement, seeking to create products to simplify and be more effective, including distinctly focusing on patients and caregivers in healthcare settings (Hillenbrand). The drive of Bill Hillenbrand’s literacy sponsors for innovation and continuous improvement (Brandt), as well as his learning about the importance of affinity groups and design grammars (Gee) while working his way through various positions and departments at Hill-Rom, left an indelible mark still visible in the market today and in Mr. Hillenbrand’s mind and mission for The Morel Company (Our Story).

Morel conducted ethnographic research in natural settings, such as hospitals, doing interviews, observations, and surveys with hospital staff and patients across the country that were willing to use the preliminary product, similar to approaches Mike Rose shared about in The Mind at Work (Rose). Actual nurses and patients from The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, were key participants in that ethnographic research. Participants were also met with and spoken to personally, the goal being to design and develop an innovative new product.

As a result of their ethnographic research, Morel began marketing and selling The Hercules Patient Repositioner to customers in early 2014. This new, one-of-a-kind, patient repositioning device allows a single caregiver to boost patients up in hospital beds in less than 10 seconds by simply pushing a button. Morel has already been awarded over 15 process and design patents on their products both domestically and around the world. Morel has several affinity groups established within their organizational structure (Gee). It has a management team composed of 4 individuals, a 4-person engineering and product development group, a 3-person administrative support staff and 18 individuals in its sales organization. Communication in each semiotic domain is defined by learning and utilizing the design grammars specific to their area. As a result of affinity group literacy sponsors (Brandt) and increasing knowledge of their specific design grammars (Gee), communication up and down and throughout the entire organization is essential to ensure success. This discourse community additionally has significant social media, marketing materials and other sales collateral items that are used as key methods of communications with its customers. Rhetorical situation guidelines, referencing Grant-Davie information relating to exigence, rhetors, audience and constraints, are utilized for appropriateness in use with potential customer groups, service providers and suppliers (Grant-Davie). Documents are shared back and forth with both customers and suppliers on a regular basis, such as quotes, purchase orders, invoices and delivery tickets. Overall, Morel has 3 main audiences that require regular attention and appropriate forms of communication; its employees, its suppliers and its customers, each of who I will discuss further below.

I chose to write about this discourse community for several reasons. First, my goal is to complete and obtain a law degree. A large portion of law practice deals with businesses through corporate law, so obtaining a general understanding of how businesses operate is extremely important. Morel, through its management team, has relationships with and uses the services of several outside law firms with regards to intellectual property (patents and trademarks) matters, corporate law and business contract matters. The second reason I see it as an applicable discourse community is due to my experiences during my mentorship 2 years ago. I learned that the company, although small, is a diverse discourse community which includes aspects of business, engineering, healthcare, marketing, sales, administration and law, as well as audiences of customers, suppliers and employees, providing many options for me to analyze and discuss for this report (Swales). Finally, Morel uses multiple ways and methods when communicating and reaching out to its varied audiences, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Email, Linkedin and its own website. These diverse communications, following Bartholomae’s ideas of discourse and commonplace where your language and style must be altered and changed based on what and who you are writing for, gives Morel additional document options, texts and methods of communications to use to connect with its audiences (Bartholomae).

Overall, through my analysis, I reached the following conclusion on my discourse community, Morel. I believe Morel, although a small start-up entrepreneurial company, is an outstanding discourse community with its broad social media network and its large range of marketing and sales brochures/materials/documents. Like Rose, through my interactions, observations and discussions with Morel, I have learned that Morel uses these items extensively to communicate with its employee, supplier and customer audiences (Rose). These items, interactions and communications are developed to create visual, simple, effective and compelling messages that ultimately persuade or inform Morel audiences to take some action and ultimately grow the business. Although Mr. Hillenbrand says he was not aware of individuals such as Swale or Rose and their ethnographic research, Grant-Davie and his rhetorical situations or Bartholomae and his posts on discourse and commonplace, it is obvious that the literacy sponsors, affinity groups, semiotic domains, design grammars and research methods he has learned in his lifetime were strong and impactful.

From my research, I learned that communication with its employees is important and essential for Morel’s management team. In discussing this with Morel management during my mentorship and other recent interactions, it became totally clear how important literacy sponsorship and building affinity groups and design grammars for communication with employees is important to them to ensure they understand and are aligned with the company’s strategy, especially with many of the sales personnel being located all over the United States and not in Batesville.

One of the first things I learned they do to ensure strong affinity groups and design grammar is that the Morel management team has a standing meeting every Monday morning at 10 a.m. I had the opportunity to attend this meeting. Although Mr. Hillenbrand said he was not familiar with Brandt or Gee, he definitely applies their principles. I learned that the purpose of the meeting was to ensure coordination among the management team members. At the meeting, topics covered include a review of each person’s calendar, a status review and update for key engineering and development projects, a review of current open orders, customer quotes and current forecast with expected delivery and installation dates, an update on orders we have with suppliers and estimated timing for receipt of the products, a review of financial statements, an overview of the status for current marketing-related projects and a detailed review from the Morel regional sales managers of the last week activities of their sales representatives direct reports. As Mr. Hillenbrand, told me, “Overall, the purpose of this meeting is to ensure our management team is ‘on the same page,’ address any key issues or concerns impacting the company at the current time and to obtain key updates on projects and potential sales orders. It’s important we’re all involved and hear the same thing from the other team members.”

With having sales representatives all around the country, and therefore not at the home office, I found out that Morel also had a standing call with all these sales representatives at 3:30 p.m. every Monday. This call is important to Morel because they want their sales representatives to again ‘be on the same page’ and hear consistent messages from management. They want these individuals to focus on the epistemologies of the people in their sales area and meet the views of their clients in their unique part of the country (Nunley). Additionally, during the call, the sales representatives are serving as literacy sponsors as they share best practices and how they win and close orders with customers so they can learn and use these same techniques when applicable (Brandt). Again, Mr. Hillenbrand said, “It’s really crucial to ensure our personnel, wherever located, receive consistent and simple messages and communications to ensure alignment and understanding.”

In addition to the formal meetings, there are a vast amount of informal communications throughout Morel. These include emails, cell phone calls, walking into another person’s office or just passing someone in the hallway and discussing or talking about an issue (Howarth). These informal communications or meetings are important too as they occur in a non-formal setting where one can discuss business or even private personnel matters. Bottom line, communications with employees is an absolute must.

A second audience for Morel is their suppliers. Morel obtains key parts and components for its repositioning products from suppliers located in Illinois, California, Montreal and China, while other smaller parts come from other areas. Obviously, one can see how important communication with this supplier base would be, given the need to deal with different time zones and alternative world views. Therefore, given different cultures, Morel must be knowledgeable about what is acceptable or unacceptable in places like Montreal and China (Eldred). They do not want to offend the suppliers they rely on to keep the business running. Consequentially, Morel must focus on epistemologies and the UNESCO model, shared by Eldred, to not offend their suppliers. It is really essential to ensure accurate communication and coordination of these deliveries to Batesville so Morel can assemble completed products on a timely basis and meet the delivery expectations of its customers.

To ensure this, Joe Kummer, VP of Operations, has a weekly call with these key suppliers to discuss open orders, manufacturing issues, quality or part concerns and upcoming forecasts for future weeks and months. Mr. Kummer is a person at Morel who must understand the importance of epistemologies and what form of literacy may not be desirable to a certain group. I learned that a key document used with suppliers is known as a Purchase Order. The Purchase Order is a formal document detailing quantities ordered, price, payment terms and estimated delivery dates, so it’s a key document used when communicating with these suppliers so Morel can meet its customers’ expectations. As Mr. Kummer said when I sat with him during my mentorship, “Relationships with our suppliers are an important cog in our business processes and requires attention to detail and review at least every single week.”

Customers are what a business is all about as they ultimately determine its success. Without customers buying its products, a business would not exist. The first point of contact with our customers is our sales representatives around the country who visit hospitals and meet with nurses and various members of hospital management on a daily basis. The sales representatives are the front line and the voice of Morel with customers, continuously conducting ethnographic research as they are meeting with them daily to discuss any repositioning issues and how Morel’s product will assist and help them in solving this problem and provide benefits to both their patients and caregivers (Rose).

To assist the sales representatives, through data obtained by ethnographic research methods similar to those conducted by Rose, Morel has designed and created a significant amount of marketing documents and sales collateral that visually shows and describes the benefits its products provide to patients and caregivers. I had an opportunity to assist in the development of some of these documents. I learned the importance of these documents, including using visuals to show and describe the product and its benefits, creating a very clear, concise and simple message that everyone can understand and making the document compelling and convincing so customers will buy the product. In fact, Morel had one of its documents published in the July 2015 edition of the Wounds Journal, showcasing the potential issues customers face and how a program using its product assists in creating a solution to this problem that benefits the patients they serve. When talking to Tim Savage, the VP of Marketing for Morel, he said, “Creating a compelling, convincing, but simple message to customers is what marketing is all about. We try to do that with every one of our marketing documents and sales collateral sheets.”

In addition to marketing and sales documents, Morel attends 5-8 national and dozens of state and local trade shows each year. The purpose of these shows is to collect ethnographic research and for potential customers to get a hands-on experience with the product in an informal setting and ask questions and obtain product information to bring back to their hospitals and share with nursing teams and other executives (Vescio). As Mr. Savage noted, “Seeing the product firsthand is the best way to show a customer all the benefits the product provides to patients and caregivers.” Again, this relationship between the Morel sales representatives and its customers is a crucial part of the business and leads to orders from them through the issuance of a Purchase Order detailing quantities, prices and products to be delivered (Grant-Davie). When the product is delivered to the customer, the Morel sales representative also completes a very detailed training and in-servicing with all departments and personnel involved in using the product at the hospital. The in-services, that automatically take place with the purchasers, make Morel the literacy sponsors of hospital staffs across the nation (Brandt), leading to individual affinity groups at each of the hospitals, creating semiotic domains and establishing specific design grammars connected to Morel’s Hercules Patient Repositioner (Gee). The hospital staff, with their thorough knowledge of Morel and its products, supports continued business and sales success for The Morel Company as others, through patients, hospital communication and publicity, share their praises.

So, in conclusion, I believe that Morel, although a small start-up entrepreneurial company, is an outstanding, established discourse community that appropriately utilizes rhetorical situations and genres with its broad social media network and its large range of marketing and sales brochures/materials/documents based on ethnographic research and epistemologies. Through my interactions and discussions with Morel, I have learned that Morel uses these items extensively to communicate appropriately with its employee, supplier and customer audiences. These items, interactions and communications are developed to create visual, simple, effective and compelling messages that ultimately persuade or inform Morel audiences to take some action and ultimately grow the business.

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