PUBLIC RELATIONS AND SENSEMAKING DURING ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE IN MULTINATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS IN CHINA
Toth, Elizabeth L.
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This study explored the role public relations plays in the sensemaking process during planned organizational change within multinational organizations in China. Three areas were examined. First, this study examined the sensemaking process during change within the participating multinationals. Second, this study explored how the multinationals used public relations to communicate about change with their employees. Third, the influence of uncertainty avoidance upon sensemaking during change within the multinationals was probed. Weick's (1995) sensemaking framework was used to explain the individual differences in the way events are understood and how those differences are translated into sensible collective behaviors. A total of 60 face-to-face interviews were conducted with managerial and non-managerial employees from nine multinational corporations. Several significant findings emerged from the study. First, change management can be viewed as management of meanings. This view helped explain why some change programs are accepted over others. The acceptance of change is both facilitated and constrained by the extent to which management is able to impose a plausible sense of change on events. Second, power plays a major role in creating an environment ready for change as well as resolving disparities of meanings. Top management sort out information and highlight it to employees so that their mental frameworks are framed to see the environment in certain ways. Third, negative expressions or behaviors by employees need not be perceived as acts of rebellion against change. Rather, these negative expressions reflect the difficulty that organizational members have while switching rapidly their sense of the organization during change. This study also found that the public relations function can facilitate sensemaking during change. Poorly planned communication programs during change can result in confusions from employees regarding change as well as distrust of management. Findings also suggested that cultivating dialogic communication with employees during change can help managers develop a shared understanding with front-line employees about change. Findings also showed that when employees could not reduce their uncertainties, they stopped processing information from the organizations. This study demonstrated the value of public relations to change management. It illustrated how public relations can help members of an organization understand the meaning of change.