Author(s), Title and Publication
Kim, Y. (2018). Enhancing employee communication behaviors for sensemaking and sensegiving in crisis situations: Strategic management approach for effective internal crisis communication. Journal of Communication Management. doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-03-2018-0025

Summary
Organizational crisis is a time of ambiguity, uncertainty and struggle to regain control and clarity within an organization, particularly for its employees. As a critical and organic process carried out by organizational members who encounter moments of ambiguity or uncertainty, sensemaking is an information-seeking and meaning-making process that involves attributing meaning to environmental cues to facilitate understanding, followed sharing or attempts to influence others’ sensemaking (i.e., sensegiving). Ultimately, the less adequate employees’ sensemaking during a crisis, the more likely the situation is to spiral out of control. Effective internal communication has been analyzed as an essential contributor to sensemaking and sensegiving, particularly during a crisis. On the other hand, miscommunication, and employee misinterpretation of messaging, which is often the result of misalignment between organizations and employees, has been shown to impede sensemaking processes and exacerbate the damaging effects of crises. Employees, the author suggests, are eager to find out what is going on during a crisis, have high expectations for receiving accurate, adequate, and timely crisis information provided by their organization, and may ultimately be key to reducing misalignment during crises. Organizations who consider employees as a strategic public during and before a crisis occurs, may benefit from employees’ efforts to gather and share positive organizational information during a crisis, or  employee communication behaviors (ECBs) for sensemaking.

A nationwide survey of 544 U.S.-based employees evaluated whether two-way symmetrical communication, and transparent communication enhanced voluntary, positive employee communication behaviors for sensemaking and sensegiving during a crisis. This study affirms employees as an important and strategic public in terms of crisis communication and planning. Both two-way communication and transparent communication revealed as strong positive antecedents of employee communication behaviors for sensemaking. Results indicate organizations who employ honest, open, two-way communication that focuses on mutual respect can expect employees’ support through their voluntary and valuable communication behaviors for sensemaking and sensegiving, both internally and externally, during and after a crisis. Unbiased, complete, crisis information that demonstrates organizational accountability through words, actions and decisions can likewise compel employees to actively seek out and share positive, organization-related information.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) consider developing and implementing a two-way communication program prior to a crisis; (2) keep employees informed, seek employee input, and actively listen in crisis situations to fulfil employees’ need for information, identify potential misunderstandings, unrecognized obstacles, and reduce rumor; (3) and provide employees with clear, timely, accurate, and balanced information to reduce uncertainty and ambiguity during times of crises and as a long-term practice to facilitate improved communication and employee commitment.

Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-03-2018-0025 (abstract free, purchase full article)

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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