, Volume 108, Issue 1, pp 101-120
Date: 15 Oct 2011

Using Discourse to Restore Organisational Legitimacy: ‘CEO-speak’ After an Incident in a German Nuclear Power Plant

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Abstract

We analyse managerial discourse in corporate communication (‘CEO-speak’) during a 6-month period following a legitimacy-threatening event in the form of an incident in a German nuclear power plant. As discourses express specific stances expressed by a group of people who share particular beliefs and values, they constitute an important means of restoring organisational legitimacy when social rules and norms have been violated. Using an analytical framework based on legitimacy as a process of reciprocal sense-making and consisting of three levels of analysis which capture the relationship between text and context, we investigate the discourse used by CEOs in their initial and subsequent accounts of the incident. We find that CEOs aim to negotiate a resolution between their initial account and organisational audiences’ incongruent interpretations of the event by adopting an ad hoc normative attitude to stakeholders. This manifests itself in the strategic use of the discourse of stakeholder engagement as a means of signalling change, yet maintaining the status quo. It suggests that CEOs strategically use discourse to manufacture organisational audiences’ consent regarding the continued operation of the nuclear power plant affected by the incident. Our findings contribute to the critical corporate communication literature which regards corporate narrative reporting as a means of consolidating the private interests of corporations, rather than increasing transparency and accountability.