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crisis management dissertation

crisis management dissertation

The development of crisis management as a discipline has several distinct characteristics. First, it is accepted by experts in the field of such as Mitroff (1998), Barton (2001), and NyBlom (2003) that crisis management is a field where several other fields merge, making it multi-disciplinary. It “is a comprehensive subject that encompasses all aspects of business, including operations, marketing and media relations, distribution and legal matters” (NyBlom, 2003, p. 18). Mitroff (1988) observed that “modern crises criss-cross not only whole industries, but also every conceivable specialty within an organization. Different parts of an organization tend to own different crises” (p. 20).

Rather than an organization-centered assessment of crisis communication, with an emphasis on the strategic communication of what might be called the ‘source’ organization, this study decenters the source organization in order to engage the polyvocality in crisis communication. The driving argument of this dissertation is that a dialogical analysis will offer an expanded capacity to understand the way in which crises are constructed discursively. To test this assumption, the study constructs and applies a particular (as will be further specified) dialogical perspective on crisis communication.

Opinions of researchers differ on the disciplines from which crisis management borrows. For one researcher, crisis management is comprised of operations, marketing, media relations, distribution and legal matters (NyBlom, 2003). Another noted that crises management borrows from over seven different areas: business, engineering, psychology, construction, finance, public relations, and human resources (Barton, 2001). Others have concurred that crises are multifaceted phenomena, resulting in literature related to crises being distributed across the psychology, sociology, international politics, and information technology fields (Hensgen, Desouza, & Kraft, 2003). The multi-disciplinary makeup of crisis management has been a cause in the disjointed development of research in this area (Pearson, Clair, 1998).

crisis management dissertation

Because crises management draws heavily from other disciplines, crisis management “program components are developed in a piecemeal manner by the individual groups responsible for them, without the appropriate planning, and higher-level oversight needed to ensure a cohesive, comprehensive program” (NyBlom,  2003, p. 18). As the field has developed in a disjointed way, “many of the most-significant business concerns are not addressed” (NyBlom, 2003, p.18). For instance, crises require extensive interpersonal communication among the affected groups within an organization. If a crisis management plan is drafted piecemeal, several of the departments essential to creating a complete crisis management plan will not be incorporated into the process. Those excluded departments will be left to manage the crisis alone or not at all. As a result, a portion of the crisis may not be handled in the best or most efficient manner.

Causes of Organizational Crises

Scholars in the field of crisis management believe that our world is becoming more crisis-prone (Richardson, 1994; Mitroff & Alpaslan, 2003; Robert et al., 2002). There has been a significant increase in the number of devastating crises experienced by major American corporations in the past several years, from product tampering to environmental disasters, from acts of terrorism to employee sabotage (Wisenblit, 1989; Mitroff & Alpaslan, 2003; ICM Report, 2005). One indication of the rising frequency of corporate crises is the number of product injury lawsuits filed. In just ten years the number increased dramatically.

In 1974 there were less than 2,000 suits filed. By 1984, that number had jumped to 10,000 (Mitroff, 1988). Similarly, an analysis of corporate crises conducted by the Institute for Crisis Perceived Effectiveness of Crisis Management Networks Network studies have recently formed a new research area in the social sciences. The organizational effectiveness measurement cannot be used to evaluate network performance; therefore, the literature offers newer and better techniques (Provan & Milward, 1995). Since CM is an inter-organizational network effort, the quantification process of this latent construct should include performance measurement methods specifically designed for networks. Before this process, the study briefly explains the conventional organizational performance measurement literature in order to provide a better understanding of network effectiveness concept.

Selecting the Stakeholder Organizations

In order to decenter the source organization and foreground the polyvocal coconstruction of the clergy abuse crisis, it is essential to account for the crisis communication generated by a variety of stakeholder organizations. Before addressing the three key stakeholder organizations selected for this study, a brief review of the stakeholder concept is in order.

The Stakeholder Concept

While PR literature refers interchangeably to publics, audiences, and stakeholders, this study uses stakeholder organization in response to Cheney and Christensen’s (2001) use of the term (p. 176). This term is selected based on the assumption that an organization’s primary interactions are with other organizations rather than with individuals (Cheney & Christensen, 2001, p. 176). This may build on the assumption that public discourse is generally inter-organizational, with organizational-individual discourse tending to be privatized. Further, as Leitch and Neilson (2001) note, PR theories generally name organizations as potential publics (p. 130). Additionally, given the goal of addressing the overlap between organizational communication and PR, this is an important terminological choice. In order to identify what organizations are salient to a crisis, one must understand what constitutes a stakeholder.

The Stakeholder Organizations

There are many entities that voluntarily or involuntarily affect or are affected by the Roman Catholic clergy abuse crisis. Some of these stakeholders are individuals (e.g., victim/survivors, judges, journalists), some are groups (e.g., plaintiffs in class action law suits, audit boards, journalistic teams), and some are organizations (e.g., USCCB, SNAP, VOTF). This study focuses exclusively on stakeholder organizations in order to decenter the source organization and challenge the managerial-egalitarian paradox in PR.

Organizational Effectiveness

Effectiveness measurement studies for organizations have been conducted since the first organization was built. Numerous theories based on various assumptions and cultures were used to verify those effectiveness methods. Generally, different input-output comparisons were employed to grade effectiveness results. Kirchhoff (1977) summarized the organizational effectiveness literature and suggested an assortment of measurement rubrics for “organizational effectiveness, managerial effectiveness, and manager and subordinate behaviors and attitudes” (1977, p. 348). He stood against the oversimplification of effectiveness measurement. His study made it clear that researchers will acquire different effectiveness results for the same organization if they apply different measurement methods, such as goal-oriented or evaluation oriented tests; however, the effectiveness measurement test will fail if only one of those criteria is applied. Therefore, one should utilize a unique measurement set to understand the effectiveness of an organization, since the complex organizations pursue complex goals. The measurement scale should be related to a particular set of derived or prescribed goals for the organization (Kirchhoff, 1977).

Steers also (1975) defined some problems in effectiveness measurement procedures. Some of the 17 effectiveness measurements he established as evaluation criteria were adaptability-flexibility, productivity, and satisfaction. Steers (1975) also stated that the evaluation criteria for organizational effectiveness evolved in time. The classical way of thinking favored basic cost-benefit analyses, or sometimes more retrospective cost-effectiveness analyses.

Basically, the inputs and outcomes of an organizational effort were compared to each other in a cost-benefit analysis. Cost-effectiveness, on the other hand, was based on evaluating different strategies by comparing them to other alternatives. This is, however, no longer the case in organizational science literature.

Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983) also dealt with the criteria selection systems for measuring effectiveness in organizational studies in terms of complex systems. If one suggests too many various organizational variables by which to measure effectiveness, it is possible that no evaluation will be performed because of the impossibility of gathering all those variables into a single test (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983). Social values and norms within an organization are also a part of those criteria, which toughens the job for researchers. An integrating, multiple-variable, contingent test seems to be the best alternative for effectiveness measurement, although it will raise many objectivity problems as well. Effectiveness analysis is simultaneously organizational analysis. One should know about the processes, policies, structures, and goals of an organization in order to assess it (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983).

Rational organizations are defined using a “machine” metaphor (Morgan, 2006, p. 15). There are specific rules for rational organizations (Goal Specificity, 2003, p. 29). An organization is constructed to achieve a specific goal. The other important characteristic of rational organizations is “formalization” (2003, p. 33). There are strict and certain rules by which rational organizations achieve their goals; these rules are followed through the whole structure of the organization. Scott (2003) gives examples of the successful implementation of rational organizational rules, such as Scientific Management (Taylor), Administrative Theory (Fayol), Bureaucratic Theory (Weber), and Rational Decision Making (Simon). Scientific management focused on increased efficiency, while the others focused more on the processes of an organization (2003, p. 49).

Natural organizations, on the other hand, have complex goals. They are like “living organisms” (Morgan, 2006, p. 33); they try to “survive” in the organizational environment (Scott, 2003, p. 73). Unlike rational organizations, natural organizations depend on informal relationships more than formal ones. “Processes” and policy implementation are more important than decision making. Scott (2003, p. 54) discusses the informal relationships among employees in formal organizations and its importance. Goal complexity is another issue that natural systems deal with differently from rational ones. There are real goals and “professed goals” (p. 52). Even though an organization can have written, rational-type rules, it can, for the sake of surviving, follow other rules that are not clearly defined. Like a living organism, social evolution can change the structure of the organization dramatically. New structures can be established to adapt to the change in the environment, while some structures can be abandoned for the same reason (pp. 52-73).

The open system is the third and the last structure type that Scott (2003) discusses while classifying organizations. Basically, organizations and, in a broader sense, systems are formed by different components that are independent and/or interdependent. Open systems theory has the greatest complexity among other types in terms of its “analogy” (Morgan, 2006, p. 38). The theory suggests that present organizations are interdependent with the other organizations in the environment. Organizations are like components in a system, which interact with each other.

Some systems use others’ products as inputs. This creates “interdependency on the others” (Scott, 2003, p. 25). Systems cannot survive without others’ existence. The networks theory also suggests the organizational networks’ dependence on environmental factors.

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Defining Crisis Communication

Michael Ogrizek and Jean-Michel Guillery (1999) define crisis communication as concepts, analysis, working methods, and principles that apply to a crisis. Stanton (2002) defines the primary objective in crisis communication as restoring trust which determines success. The degree to which an organization is able to restore trust is thought to be associated with the degree of success an organization can attribute to its crisis communication.

Communication researchers explain that a crisis situation requires that decisions be made and communicated quickly (Ogrizek & Guillery, 1999; & Stanton, 2002) and that negative publicity often results from a crisis (Dean, 2004). Robert Heath (2006) agrees stating that during a crisis an organization needs to communicate about the crisis.

When an organization is strongly perceived as responsible for a crisis, corrective actions and a full apology are required (Coombs & Holladay, 2002). If a crisis is handled effectively, an organization may actually benefit from it however effective communication is essential (Ulmer & Sellnow, 2000).

What an organization says and does in a crisis has a significant effect on crisis management success (Benoit, 1997). In William Benoit’s analysis, communication and actions during and following a crisis determine success for the organization. Keri Stephens, Patty Callish Malone and Christine Bailey (2005) found that choice of message strategy by an organization during a crisis affects people’s perception of the crisis and the image or reputation of the organization.

The primary purpose of crisis communication according to David Sturges (1994) is to influence public opinion to the degree that positive opinions held by stakeholders prior to the crisis remain the same or increase and pre-crisis negative opinions remain the same or decrease. Coombs (1995) states that crisis-response should protect an organization’s image and the best way to do that is to modify public perception of the responsibility for the crisis. Crisis communication should affect the way publics view responsibility for a crisis and the organization’s reputation.

Pre-crisis communication has a significant impact on post-crisis communication (Ulmer, 2001). The relationship an organization fosters with its stakeholders prior to a crisis can have a significant effect on stakeholder’s perception of the organization during and following a crisis. This notion is consistent with Coombs and Holladay’s (2002) argument that an organization’s communication following a crisis can limit or even repair an organization’s damaged reputation.

Crisis communication literature also illustrates that many organizations focus on their own concerns during a crisis rather than the concerns of their stakeholders (Ulmer, 2001). They tend to be concerned with legal issues and denying responsibility, responses which have been widely criticized by researchers.

Janice Krieger (2005) examined the construct of “shared mindfulness” as it relates to crisis communication. “Shared mindfulness” refers to the way people communicate effectively during a crisis. She argued that in a crisis individuals must be able to make sense and act quickly with mindful attention and she recognized that crisis situations contain high levels of uncertainty about cause, blame and consequences. Her study examined the communication between pilots and co-pilots who were placed in artificially stressful situations during simulator training.

Perceived Effectiveness of Crisis Management Networks

Since the four phases of crisis management (Petak, 1985) include very different and complex labor and all these efforts are too difficult for a single entity to conduct (even when that entity is a government), society needs specialized and professionalized organizations for these operations. This is the basic reason why crisis management effort is a network effort; no single body can accomplish all the phases of crisis management by itself (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001).

As suggested in the previous chapter, CM effectiveness could be measured first by defining the stakeholders. In the New York WTC Attacks (2001), the Istanbul Bombings (2003), the Madrid Train Bombings (2004), and the London Metro Bombings (2005), the CM networks’ stakeholders were the organizations that took part in the response and recovery efforts and the victims who suffered from the attacks. Victims are the people directly affected by the attacks, whether physically or psychologically. In essence, entire nations can be counted as victims, and thus as stakeholders.

Measuring crisis management organizations’ effectiveness is challenging because of the presence of complicated results, chaotic environments, incomparable or non-standardizable inputs and outputs, and numerous participants and stakeholders. CAS theory suggested that the complexity in non-linear interactions will increase with a greater number of inter-organizational relationships (Alexander, 2005). Emergencies or extreme events leave a lot of people dead, injured, or incommunicado; destroy coordination routes such as roads, telecommunication lines, and the like; and halt the normal flow of life, which shocks the victims badly (Samardjieva & Badal, 2002; Helbing, Ammoser, & KÄuhnert, 2005; Dynes & Quarantelli, 1976). The stakeholders have very complex and immediate needs; thus the effectiveness measurement should take as many of those variables as necessary into account to achieve a significant validation level for the proposed latent construct.

The effectiveness measurement scale should be designed to fit in a way that demonstrates the characteristics of CM networks. The structures, relationships, basic rules, processes, standard exercises, attributes, and any other traits of CM systems should be addressed in the scale. Several studies evaluated crisis management responses quantitatively. Drabek et al. (1981) is the pioneer of such studies; the study in question utilized a detailed questionnaire administered to both the emergency management officials and victims of selected fourteen case studies. They selected the target organizations by using a block modeling technique similar to the UCINET method. Block modeling is a tool used to reveal the relationships in a network (Drabek et al., 1981). The survey questions were related to organizational attributes more than to network effectiveness.

The first statement is about the preparedness phase. It controls whether the CM organization is aware of the reason for the crisis. If the CM employees’ behaviors are based on a management crisis resulting from the chaotic environment, then CM will not be successful. If the disaster agent (whether it is a flood, a terrorist attack, or something else) is clearly known and the CM efforts are based on that specific agent, then the CM operates effectively. The second criterion more specifically assesses CM capability. Generic functions such as evacuation, temporary housing, and the like are basic operations that a CM system should be capable of performing in the most extreme events. The third criterion concerns resource allocation in a crisis environment. If the CM system is ready to deliver those services and resources to the victims effectively, then the CM strategy is efficient.

The fourth criterion is more about the management of the CM effort. The organizations should have the specifics of division of labor and delegation of authority codified in writing before extreme events occur. The fifth statement tests whether the information transmittal process during a crisis is successful. Communication has been seen as the main problem in many disaster recovery actions; however, it was not due to the communication tools, it was about the things that were communicated. Quarantelli (1997) suggested that the fifth criterion has three dimensions: processing information within an agency, with other agencies, and with affected citizens. The surveys included different questions for each dimension, and another variable combined all these in one factor.

The sixth and seventh criteria concern the CM network process during an extreme event. Proper decision making and efficient coordination among the CM organizations is crucial, since the continuity of life depends on them. The eighth criterion may be seen in the same light; however, it is very different because it includes emergent groups besides CM organizations. Emergent groups are volunteers and affected citizens. Those groups should take part in CM plans as first responders for an effective CM. Otherwise, CM networks would not only lose an important resource in the response and recovery phases, but would also face difficulties because of jurisdictional conflicts, authority problems, and lack of public support.

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Quality of Informal Relationships

The quality of informal relationships within crisis management organizations is easier to measure with respect to the network‘s effectiveness level. Selected organizations’ employees were surveyed to understand the degree of informal relationships among personnel. Friendship relationships were found out for each participant organization. A high quality in informal relationships was assumed to be a predictor for better network effectiveness perception since more friendships were assumed as having more open communication lines.

Informal relationships involve friendships, casual encounters, and other social ties among employees of organizations, which can be made quantifiable with competent scales (Nielsen et al., 2000; Morrison, 2004). Friendships generally occur in the subunits of an organization. They can create dysfunctional results if uncontrolled. However, when correctly applied, informal ties among and within networks can bring efficiency to the related organizations (Krackhardt & Stern, 1988). Informal ties also provide trust among and within the agencies; they may even replace formal relationships. Additionally, increasing numbers of organizations employ teams for efficiency, another factor that reveals the importance of informal relationships (Nielsen et al., 2000). Informal relationships within an organization can directly affect the performance of the whole organization (Morrison, 2004). Both Nielsen et al. (2000) and Morrison (2004) built scales that measure informal relationships in the organizations they examined. This study evaluated those scales for selected CM organizations’ personnel.

Informal “relationships are voluntary, reciprocal, and equal” (Morrison, 2004, p. 115). The more informal collaborative structure an organization has, the better it can withstand a crisis (Krackhardt & Stern, 1988). Nielsen et al. (2000) also suggested that informal relationships among employees can enable significantly better work-related outcomes. Thus, it can be theoretically accepted that friendships in a workplace can increase the effectiveness of an organization (Morrison, 2004).

Nielsen et al. (2004) found that the internal consistency reliability of the utilized questionnaire estimated (with Cronbach’s alpha) the “prevalence of friendship” at eighty-nine percent. The survey also used additional related questions from Morrison’s (2004) questionnaire.

Organizational Cooperation

Cooperation is a topic that has and continues to engage researchers and practitioners in a wide range of fields, among them international relations, public administration, and social psychology. Unfortunately, research in political science and public administration has been unable to make any real headway in figuring out what supports cooperation and eliminates conflict between interacting organizations. The primary reason for this is a propensity to treat cooperation and conflict clearly as two parts of a dichotomy, when, in fact, the empirical reality is quite different. The findings in this study show that you cannot understand one without the other.

Cooperation and conflict are inherently intertwined, and together they take on a much more complex shape in inter-organizational behavior and strategies than prior theoretical models have allowed for. The salience and importance of cooperation research is underscored by a number of seemingly timeless puzzles. Cooperation1 between individuals, groups, organizations and states often has clear and tangible benefits. Despite this, cooperation seems very hard to achieve, often fails already in its incipient stage, or dissolves after a period of time. Few cooperative ventures seem to have true staying-power, at least beyond their original raison d’être, be that a specific resource sharing proposition or support for a larger collective action.

Cooperative networks generate a larger resource base that individuals, groups, organizations or states can draw on in a time of need, making them more resilient to threats. In inter-organizational research this aspect of cooperation has been investigated by researchers interested in resource dependence and alliance formation (Child and Faulkner 1998; Das and Teng 1998). In a similar vein, scholars interested in cooperative networks have studied, for instance, international cooperative ventures (Luo 2001), international alliances (Fedor 1995), inter-organizational virtual organizations (Kasper-Fuehrer 2001), organizational networks (Agranoff 1999), and inter-organizational relationships (Oliver 1990).

Organizational Adaptation in Crisis Management Networks

Organizational learning phases were incorporated as the adaptive responses of inter-organizational efforts. Stacey (1995) suggested that the evolutionary changes in a system happen within the structural relationships within and outside the organization and/or in changes in the goals pursued. In the learning phase, the organization “can restructure itself and acquire and implement new competences” (Rochet, Keramidas, & Bout, 2008, p. 66). The experience is recorded to the organizational memory, “which will allow it, among other things, to identify the warning signs of any future crisis” (2008, p. 66).

Researchers measured organizational adaptation in different ways. For instance, Chiva- Gómez (2003) processed nine organizational learning and adaptation measurement studies and summarized the evaluation criteria of organizational learning as “experimenting with new ideas”, “continuous improvement”, “rewarding”, “openness to change”, “interaction with environment”, “mistake and/or risk acceptance”, “dialogue”, “communication and social construction”, “continuous training”, “empowerment, teamwork, and collective spirit”, “workers that want to learn and improve”, the existence of leadership committed to teaching, a non-strict and flexible organizational environment, and the like (2003, p. 112).

Spector and Davidsen (1998), on the other hand, list “actions as reflected in terms of information flow”, “goal formation processes”, “instances of goal cohesion and goal erosion”, nonhierarchical exchanges, reflective activities, “sentiments as reflected in attitudes and preferences”, respect, support, and trust, “team processes”, communication and co-mentoring, “tolerance for errors”, and the like. Their study compared numerous organizational learning evaluations (Spector & Davidsen, 1998, p. 120). The similarities between these two research efforts give this study a clear direction for selecting a predicting variable: adaptation. Since adaptation is referred to in CAS theory and was only employed as a predictor variable, it did not serve as a unique latent construct. Instead, most of the important organizational adaptation variables that Chiva-Gómez (2003) and Spector and Davidsen (1998) suggested were utilized as predictor variables for the investigation of the relationship between the perceived effectiveness and quality of informal relationships.

On the other hand, organizational adaptation is generally thought to be exactly the same as organizational learning, despite the fact that the two terms refer to completely different phenomena (Fiol & Lyles, 1985). Organizational learning is an “insightful” experience that is hard to quantify and measure. Organizational adaptation is formed by basic reactions that the organization created against the changes in the environment.

Birkland (2006) also discussed the importance of focusing events in terms of CM policy changes. The World Trade Center attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001 changed CM policies in the U.S. and throughout the world. Since then, terrorism events have been discussed as crises that need to be taken care of more efficiently and with more adequately planned policies (Birkland, 2006)

Policy changes after important events constitute the other adaptation variable in the SEM model. This variable is different from the first adaptation variable because openness merely defines the ability to change. However, concrete changes may not take place even if the CM organizations are capable of doing so. During the Cold War, CM policies were essentially locally operated civil defense strategies (Waugh & Streib, 2006; Birkland, 1997). CM organizations were the same first responders that acted with a more comprehensive understanding of CM right after the Cold War. This means that CM organizations were capable of change; however, the CM policies did not change, due to government pressure to maintain the status quo. In time, organizations learn lessons from their “routine” experiences and then codify the necessary changes in preparation for later crises (Levitt & March, 1988). Changes in policy indicate an organization’s willingness to keep an equilibrium state in the environment, which will eventually improve organizational effectiveness (Anderson, 1999; Kauffman, 1993; Stacey, 1995).

Intra-organizational training efforts are suggested to be helpful and performance enhancing for organizations. Chiva-Gómez (2003) argued that continuous training for all personnel was encouraged by researched private companies. Moreover, in a report criticizing the poor intervention of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) asserted that more advanced training and professional education were needed for improved CM. The report made it clear that intra-organizational training for effective CM is not only needed for the local CM personnel but also for FEMA‘s federal employees (GAO, 1993).

Levitt and March (1988) examined the methods for keeping routine experiences in the organizational memory. They found that sharing exercises with other organizations can help to improve organizational memory and capacity. In fact, collaborative team processes and real-time CM efforts are suggested by many scholars to have a positive impact on CM (Alexander, 2005; Perry & Lindell, 2003; Rodriguez, Quarantelli, & Dynes, 2006). By “collaboration”, the study refers to CM experiences conducted with other organizations. Real experiences will create an organizational memory that increases effectiveness in later extreme events.

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