Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ulmer, R.R., Sellnow, T.L., & Seeger, M.W. (2007). Effective crisis communication: Moving from crisis to opportunity. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Unique moments in the history of an organization that can create high levels of uncertainty and threaten an organization's high-priority goals, crises, if managed through effective communication skills, can create opportunities of renewal (Ulmer, Sellnow, & Seeger, 2009).

However, most of the crisis managers tend to focus on the financial and emotional distress that crises may engender instead of concentrating on the positive changes that effective crisis management can bring about. Sitkin (1996) argued that failure for example, is essential in the learning process of an organization. Yet, not all failures are conducive to effective risk management- rganizations learn best from intelligent failures, which have the following characteristics: they result from carefully planned actions, are modest in scale, are responded to with alacrity, and take place in domains that are so familiar as to permit efficient learning. Consequently, after each crisis, or during small failures that take place in the process of risk management, organizations have the opportunity to collect information and to critically analyze it, thus contributing through their results and experience to the organizational memory.. Additionally, vicarious learning also contributes to the organizational experience and expertise- the concept refers to acquiring information about crises that struck similar organization in the past.
Though it may sound contradictory, an organization that does not engage in an unlearning process, cannot successfully engage in crisis management that leads to renewal. Specifically, since organizations exist in an environment that is changing incessantly, they have to continuously adapt to the expectations that are extant in the macrosystem. Therefore, strategies and tactics that may have worked effectivelz in past crises, may not be effective in future ones. Being willing "to unlearn" obsolete responses to crises can thus be conducive to renewal.

It is important to point out that organizations that did not set strong ethical standards and did not develop mutual beneficial relationships with their stakeholders prior to the crisis, may find it hard to frame the crisis in such a way so that they can transform it into an opportunity. Moreover, for the opportunity of renewal to arise, the crisis response should go beyond shifting the blame or escaping blame. (e.g., the effective response in the case of the plant fire at Malden Mills).

The crisis management literature emphasizes the importance of a clear message that the spokesperson should deliver. Yet, the authors suggest that, until the circumstances of the event are unbeknowst to the management, the response should entail elements of uncertainty so that a later response can be adapted as new information comes to surface. The use of ambiguity in crisis responses is ethical as long as it contributes to a better understanding of the event by allowing for several interpretations and views until more pieces of information about who/what caused the tragic event come to light.

For an organization to face opportunity of renewal, it also needs to deliver a crisis response that balances the technological-centered approach with the dialogue-centered approach, thus opting to both listen to the voices of the stakeholders and provide scientific and reliable details.

Moving beyond the negative aspects of a crisis is a laborious process whose onset is traced in the values of the company, its relationships with its primary and secondary stakeholders but also in its leadership (authoritarian, democratic, laissez-fair, or contingent). Lastly, there are seven major potential positive results that a crisis can lead to(Meyers & Holusha, 1986):
1. Heroes are born.
2. Change is accelerated.
3. Latent problems are faced.
4. People are changed (a crisis shakes the system of values/beliefs)
5. New strategies evolve (organizational memory).
6. Early warning systems develop.
7. New competitive advantages appear.

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