PURPOSE : The purpose of this paper is to understand how communication strategies and the use of numbers can ensure the buy-in and cooperation of stakeholders.
DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH : Drawing on legitimacy theory, this study analysis documents regarding the communication strategies of New Zealand (NZ)'s Prime Minster, Jacinda Ardern, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to extract lessons for organizations. The authors contrast Ardern's communications with those of Donald Trump, the President of the United States (US), as evidence that leaders do not necessarily follow these strategies.
FINDINGS : The findings show that clear, consistent and credible communications, backed up by open access to the numerical data that underlie the decisions, ensure that these decisions are seen as legitimate, ensure that citizens/stakeholders feel leaders are accountable and believe in the necessity of measures taken and that they conform to the guidelines and rules. By contrast, the strategy of attempting to withhold information, blaming others, refusing to acknowledge that there are problems and refusing to address problems lead to non-conformance by citizens/stakeholders. Business leaders could apply these lessons to the management of crises in their organizations to ensure buy-in from employees and other stakeholders. Leaders and organizations that follow these communication strategies can emerge in a stronger position than before the crisis.
RESEARCH LIMITATIONS/IMPLICATIONS : This paper develops a theoretical framework of strategies aimed at maintaining and disrupting legitimacy among key audiences, which can be used in future research.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS : This paper highlighting how organizations and organizational leaders can best communicate with stakeholders using accounting, thus coming across as being accountable during crisis times.
SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS : The legitimacy maintenance strategies outlined in this paper ensures that stakeholders feel leaders and the organizations they represent hold themselves accountable.
ORIGINALITY/VALUE : This paper outlines the lessons that an organization can learn from communication strategies adopted by governments during the COVID-19 crisis. The paper extends legitimacy theory by explicitly acknowledging the ability to disrupt the legitimacy of others and including this in the authors’ theoretical framework.