Author(s), Title and Publication
Simonsson, C. & Heide, M. (2018). How focusing positively on errors can help organizations become more communicative. Journal of Communication Management. 22(2). 179-196. DOI 10.1108/JCOM-04-2017-0044.
Error-free organizations result from the communicative process and activity around error management or anticipation so future crises can be detected and moreover, that organizational crisis communication can be developed. Utilizing three core communication processes of organizational culture, leadership, and learning, the authors explore errors and the anticipation of crisis as catalysts for a truly communicative organization. During a three-year qualitative study of internal crisis communication, the authors collected data via 37 semi-structured interviews with nurses, physicians, managers and crisis communicators at a Swedish hospital, chosen in part because of a recent merger and ongoing organizational change process. To understand error management in the three core communicative constructs: organizational culture, leadership and learning, interviewees were questioned extensively regarding existing error reporting protocols, specifically (1) on how and from whom their values and beliefs may have been derived, (2) the environment they perceived leadership created regarding error communication, and finally, (3) their reflections, sensemaking, experience exchange, learning and new knowledge of errors.
On balance, results indicated existing protocols were impacted by remnants of a previous blame culture. Employees found transparent and open communication with peers and leaders difficult as a result of previous defensive reactions and endless questioning rather than understanding. Leadership communication, feedback, and reporting responsibility was noted as ambiguous. Previous blame culture impacted leadership communication as employees noted their unwillingness to report errors for fear of blame and stating ambiguity as a justification. Similarly, fear of blame impacted organizational learning, as errors were perceived as a source of repercussion, rather than learning and were therefore covered, quieted, left to develop into potential crises rather than shared as an opportunity for learning, growth and improvement. Employees further associated errors with miscommunication, and high turnover, however positively connected errors with the support of their immediate workgroups as an informal communication channel. Overall, results demonstrate the importance of organizational members communicating consistently, not just about errors, to prevent and mitigate crisis and ensure more effective and strategic communications. In the contemporary, technical communication environment, results support culture, leadership, and learning as fundamental, critical, yet challenging components of communication, which may help organizations develop error reporting competence, and become adept at crisis avoidance, identification, and management.
Implications for Practice
Organizations should 1) embrace and consider the inter-relatedness of crisis communication, organizational culture, leadership, and learning, 2) accept organizational crises as having a long incubation process that begins long before the triggering event, and 3) work toward the facilitation of error reporting as an integral element of crisis management and crisis communication.
Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/JCOM-04-2017-0044 (abstract free, purchase full article)