Cross-fertilizing change and crisis research: Towards a better understanding of internal crisis communication
Summary, in English
In our ongoing research project on internal crisis communication at a large university hospital, we have found that there is a large divide between the perception and defini-tion of crisis among managers, administration staff and medical staff. While top manag-ers do not describe the current situation as a crisis, it is quite obvious that the medical staff has a contrary opinion. The contradictory understanding of the situation is chal-lenging for the managers, and clearly indicates that different Lebenswelt exist parallel in this organization.
Traditional research on crisis communication rarely discusses or questions co-workers’ perception, understanding or sensemaking of a crisis. It is more or less taken for granted that all employees understand the situation as a crisis. Hence, the traditional, episodic perspective of crises is sometimes blind for what internally can be perceived as a crisis. It focus mainly “typical” large crises such as a natural disaster or a large union strike, but these situations are not necessarily perceived as crises from an employee perspective. Most organizational crises do no just appear as bolt from the blue. Rather they appear slowly and develop within an organization. A major change process, such as merger or cost-saving program, can definitely be perceived as a crisis from an internal perspective, but are rarely studied or understood as a crisis in the research literature. Thoroughly change processes do often produce a perceived state of crisis among employees, when the situation feels unknown, turbulent, challenging and unequivocal. From a social constructionist perspective this is an important aspect, since people act and react on what they perceive, understand and make sense of. All humans are con-structing species trying to make sense of situations and information around them (Dervin, 1983). If they don’t understand a situation sensemaking processes starts instinctively in order to make sense. Consequently, it is important to focuses these pro-cesses. To better understand the complex phenomena crises we need to know more about how managers and employees make sense of and communicate in crisis situa-tions.
In developing an internal crisis perspective we think there are important insights to gain from the research field change communication, which has a much stronger internal focus (cf. Maitlis & Sonenshein, 2010). Both change and crisis are connected with complex, destabilizing events and offer powerful occasions for sensemaking (Maitlis & Sonenshein, 2010). Quite remarkably, change and crisis processes are often considered as being two distinct phenomena and have also evolved as two separate fields.
Method: This paper is based on 37 qualitative interviews with employees at different hierarchical levels at a large university hospital.
Expected findings: A contribution to the development of an internal crisis communication perspective by focusing on theories within culture, leadership and learning.
Implications: By combining the fields of crisis and change communication we hopefully can develop how we understand crisis and can develop new methods to work with crisis communication in organizations.
Relevance: There is a great need to develop more knowledge on crisis, and especially from an internal perspective.
Originality of the study: Since there still are few examples of research that combine the fields of crisis communication and change communication, this paper is rather original.
- Institutionen för strategisk kommunikation
- Communication Studies
3rd International Conference on Crisis Communication in the 21st Century
2013-10-02 - 2013-10-05
- Internal crisis communication