IIM Lucknow paper on crisis communicationIIM Lucknow paper on crisis communication

Virendra Singh Rawat

A team of scholars from renowned institutes including Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow have published a research delving into how leaders can effectively strategise communication during crises.

The research is particularly relevant in the wake of the COVID-19-led crisis, which underscored the need for robust internal communication.

Prof Anjali Bansal of IIM Lucknow collaborated with other international scholars for the research, the findings of which were published in the prestigious Journal of Knowledge Management.

The paper was co-authored with Dr C Lakshman from Mount Marty University, USA; Dr Marco Romano from the University of Catania, Italy; Dr Shivinder Nijjer from IIM Vishakhapatnam Dr Rekha Attri from Jaipuria Institute of Management, India; apart from Prof Anjali Bansal from IIM Lucknow.

The inter-institutional study examined how leaders can manage knowledge and communication to restore and balance operational and relational systems disrupted by crises.

Drawing on interviews with 21 C-suite leaders, including Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs), and founders, the research analysed real-world perspectives on crisis management.

The research presented a comprehensive framework to guide top leaders in tailoring their communication strategies based on the level of crisis uncertainty.

It showed that perceived uncertainty affects leaders differently, influencing both their mental and emotional stress. This, in turn, impacts how they behave and respond psychologically during a crisis.

Prof Bansal, Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management at IIM Lucknow, said effective communication planning, particularly in high uncertainty scenarios, is vital for leaders.

“Knowledge systems – the processes, tools, and resources for creating, storing, and sharing knowledge – help leaders prepare for crisis communication. Displaying compassion in communication can help employees cope with survivor’s guilt, which significantly impacts their well-being post-crisis. Further research is needed to deepen our understanding of how leaders communicate during various crises,” she added.

The analysis showed that leaders should communicate clearly, frequently, and compassionately in high-uncertainty crises, with face-to-face interactions for sensitive information. In low-uncertainty crises, communication should be complete, transparent, and persuasive, using digital means.

This framework indicated that certain concepts, such as leaders’ readiness, their knowledge system, and customized communication, impact trust and help balance operational and relational systems.

Operational outcomes included business continuity and flexibility, while relational outcomes included cohesive culture, employee happiness, and positive employee separation experiences.

The findings suggest that compassionate communication helps employees recover from the negative effects of survivor’s guilt, a significant obstacle to their mental and psychological well-being.

Effective crisis communication also fosters unity among employees, encouraging collaborative efforts to minimize the impact of crises.

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