Managerial sensemaking is the process by which managers of corporate entities attach credible meaning to various kinds of experience that they deem would enhance their efforts to steer the organisation to the intended destination. Sensemaking is usually regarded as an interdisciplinary research program which amalgamates insights from philosophy, sociology, cognitive science and mythology among others. According to extant literature, the essential part of conducting business is ‘business to business’ relationships which encourage interaction between managers and sharing of corporate experiences. Since managers have different cultural backgrounds, they often show the tendency of adopting their varied cultural convictions to make sense about their business interactions. Among the prevalent approaches to managerial sensemaking is the use of narratives which are coupled with a wide range of metaphoric insinuations. Narratives could be fictional or factual but all contribute to stronger sensemaking capabilities in equal magnitude. They facilitate a deep understanding of the role of culture in business relationships thus mitigating misunderstandings that arise between various managers from developed and emerging economies. As a way of demonstrating how storytelling research can enhance a person’s understanding of managerial sensemaking and responsible management, this essay practically examines a variety of narratives’ attributes and how managers from diverse backgrounds can fruitfully benefit from both fictional and factual narratives in managing their business entities responsibly.
Attributes of Narratives
Storytelling has various attributes and occupies a significant position in shaping and sustaining cultural beliefs. First, narratives are accounts of events that occur over time due to their chronological dimension. They basically concern the recollection of the past events but with an implication to the present situation as well as focusing on the future in terms of sequences of events such as threats or planning of actions. This would create meaning in the movement of life through experiencing a series of events (Eagly & Chin 2010). This attribute is often a ground on which managers base their reasoning for undertaking various decisions in a particular way and why certain managerial actions would result in particular outcomes.
Secondly, narratives are retrospective interpretations of sequential events from a certain point of view. During storytelling, narrators usually relate events to human projects thus integrating them into plot structure suiting a particular context. This fosters the understanding of them from a certain point of view. Narratives contain a series of events that are given meaning by a plot and interwoven into a coherent and momentous essence. Narrators impose plots on events when they select priorities and put events in order from various points of view and in relevant contexts. This in the end determines the delineation and demarcation of the course of events. Other plots involve temporal ordering of these events which suggests a connection between them thus providing an explanation from a particular point of view. Narratives usually do not provide a causal explanation but only provide interpretations of reasons why a certain character acted in the manner they acted (Cameron & Quinn 2010).
Furthermore, narratives focus on human actions by explaining the significance of actions which are consciously done by various actors. Every actor in a narrative usually performs a function of perpetuating the story in the direction it is intended by the author. That direction is however normally aimed at revealing a specific lesson which can have a moral impact on the society. Whether the story is fictitious or factual, the main aim is always to make an impact on present and future human life. Based on this attribute, most managers would value all forms of narratives for they provide them an opportunity to make an in-depth analysis of events and actions of various characters mentioned to draw some credible inferences that are deemed relevant to the present situations and the future prospects in their organisations (Elliot & Dweck 2007).
The final attribute of narratives is the fact that they are usually co-authored by the audience. Narrating is typically a social act which involves some degree of negotiations with the interlocutors regarding the position and meanings that affect the form and direction of the narrative. Some ways through which co-authorship of narratives has been done include interjections from the audience, questions, responding to questions from the narrator, laughter, as well as joining in singing or mimicking of a character. All these effects contribute to the development of a narrative. Following this aspect, narrative interviews are therefore supposed not only to represent the organisation’s actor’s reality but also show their interaction with the specific audiences. Stories narrated by practitioners in this aspect are thoroughly rehearsed and crafted in a legitimate logic. Furthermore, narrative stories are also often understood in terms of the narrator’s aspiration to construct themselves as heroes, survivors or underserved victims and to present themselves in a manner that shows the credibility of their emotions and actions and deserves the interlocutor’s empathy.
How Story Telling Enhances Understanding of Managerial Sense Making and Responsible Management
The prime responsibility of any farsighted manager is to make constructive strategies that can foster steady progression of the organisation towards the set objectives and goals. This is often a challenging responsibility in as much as its focal point is to steer the organisation in making credible change across board. Considering the magnitude of this mandate, managers are often overwhelmed and run short of ideas. What would often come to the rescue of this situation is the prudent search for relevant information through case studies that can have the practicability that suits the organisational situation. The narrative approach of sensemaking has greatly enabled many managers to view their organisations from an integrative perspective, a differentiation perspective and finally a fragmentation perspective. Similarly, they are obliged to view their positions in a conventional context with other organisations which are also grappling with a myriad of challenges that may be more or less the same (Edmondson 2012).
To make sense of any process in an organisation therefore members should fit the organisational activities into an interpretative scheme or rather a comprehensive system of meaning that would have been developed through an experience and socialisation. The alteration of the organisation in any major way would prompt the situation where members would find that their existing schemes or frames of interpretation are no longer sufficient to make sense of the prevailing situation. What they will primarily do in such a situation is simply create a good story which would essentially re-plough and preserve the plausibility and coherence of the situation in an organisation as well as reasonably and memorably embody the past experience and future expectations. Stories will enable managers to resonate with other people constructively and retrospectively by capturing both their feelings and thoughts thus allowing for embellishment to fit current oddities in a recreational and sensible manner.
In a situation where a new pattern of interpretation is required by members, the CEO as well other top officials of the organisation can make attempts of articulating or rather advocating for a preferred scheme of interpretation, hence actively and fruitfully engage in sensegiving process which will ultimately lead to sensemaking among the internal and external stakeholders (Northouse 2012). For instance, people who join an organisation with all sorts of interests, especially working for their own needs cannot be drawn together by a positive cooperative effort that is typically acceptable by systems and rules of modern organisation. In order to make a plausible contribution in terms of initiatives and commitment to a broader purpose, the work of management needs to be made meaningful to people whom it serves, lest the situation would only culminate into a series of insubordination and acts of outright sabotage (Burtonshaw-Dunn 2010).
Initiative can as well be taken to the organisational level as a way of giving sense to the organisational processes of change which should be done through corporate story telling by which actual present and future situations together with conventional values in evocative terms can be framed. Therefore, sensemaking has everything to do with construction of meaning and reconstruction by the parties involved in concerted efforts of developing meaningful frameworks that would foster understanding of the nature of intended strategic change. To influence the process of sensemaking, sensegiving plays a vital role by influencing the construction of meaning of others towards the attainment of the preferred definition of organisational change.
However, change in any organisation is always a difficulty reality and the fact that it sometime occurs successfully is tantamount to a miracle. Change would usually come true if and when members of the organisation are ready to strike a balance among the key players in the process. It is a fact that change cannot be brought about by just a single individual in a group. It is also not possible for the top management of the organisation alone or the middle implementing cadre or the bottom recipients of efforts and orders to have a mandatory influence on the overall change in an organisation (Aswathappa 2005). it is common knowledge that those people who are responsible for causing change must always be ready to grapple with unexpected antagonistic forces that emanate from both inside and outside the organisation, as it is popularly believed that no matter how prudently and cautiously the leaders prepare for change, and no matter how realistic and credible their commitments are, the underlying fact is that there will always emerge factors that are out of their control and will obviously impact profoundly the success of the change process. Such external uncontrollable and confounding forces cannot be underestimated and are therefore the preliminary reason as to why many researchers continue questioning the manageability of change in organisations.
To aid in this demanding task managers and all the top official of organisation embraced storytelling which for sure had a provocative effect on people’s thoughts that would result into contemplative activities that often have a positive influence. This was done through fictional and factual narratives as highlighted below.
Fictional narratives are imaginative stories which often use animals or even inanimate objects to create characters with human attributes. The most common categories of such stories are trickster narratives and fables. Tricksters usually depict characters that are very tricky like hare, whose tricks can be relevant in making a positive influence on the society. Such characters would often play against counterparts with gigantic physique like elephants but they are portrayed as ignorant and gullible. Similarly, fables are more or less the same as tricksters although they do not necessarily include players that are tricky but may be choreographed in a manner that resembles a normal setting in the society with the aim of bringing out critical themes in the society such as political tyranny, creed, cowardice, gullibility, industry and social integration among others (Aromaa & Eriksson 2014). Here is where human attributes are embodied in animals that naturally may have similar physical or behavioural traits.
Fictional narratives are usually meant to satirise a particular situation of character whose traits are likened to the ones portrayed in the story. In fact, the story usually has nothing to do with the characters it talks about in the narration but about the people and real situations in the society. The manner of presentation can be captivating owing its superficial meaning but the audience can learn a deeper lesson out of it especially through literary analysis. It is a very appropriate approach to influence change through thought provoking activity unlike bureaucratic authority which would often be viewed by the subjects as dictatorship (Frey & Osterloh 2001).
Juniors can also draw lessons that can build them intellectually and sharpen their skills which would benefit the organisation as well themselves. As they say, the best way to bring change to any place or situation is to first begin to change oneself. This change that is initiated from the mind is likely to suffice and thrive unlike the one that is influenced physically. Much resistance that characterises many corporate entities today is merely a demonstration of the failing change process that is initiated from outside the mind of an individual (Baer 2012). Since the recipients would in most cases fail to make sense of it they would have a tendency of rejecting it. Moreover, because they will be antagonising a powerful force, they will be forced to employ all possible means including violence to prove their point. As they say, where diplomacy fails, force is required. On the other hand, organisations that have had smooth transitions are an epitome of change that is always instigated from the mind. Since the implementers and recipients would have understood the end value of its significance there would be little or no friction at all in trying to implement it (Luthans 2005).
Factual narratives are usually divided into many categories although the most commonly adopted in organisations are legendary narratives. These narratives portray a heroic nature of certain historical leaders some of which may be dead and others may be still alive. Legends usually play a significant role from which many life lessons are drawn. Such narratives always suffice owing the extraordinary nature of traits that their characters possess and which are rare in real situations (Richardson 2008). Characters are always associated with immense wisdom, courage, tranquillity, humour, hospitality, humility, and resilience among other, which is reckoned to have been instrumental in causing enormous change in a particular situation. Examples of legends about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King Jr, and many more show that they contributed immensely to changing situations that were indeed delicate and volatile (Baldoni 2008).
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The use of such examples of stories usually reawakens the spirit of optimism, solidarity, hard work, relentlessness, teamwork and focus among members of the organisation thus bringing about sensemaking that would necessitate change process. These are examples that people can relate to and verify through historical record and archives unlike the fictional stories. Beside these narratives, managers usually look for credible stories that relate to corporate entities to enhance principles of business ethics (Cameron & Piece 2006). This is also a form of benchmarking where the essence of change is illustrated by businesses on the example of flourishing businesses versus diminishing ones. The best example of these stories is the narrative of a British CEO of Electra takes over Fonodan (Yuan & Woodman 2010).
Sensemaking is a critical yet significant factor in change making process in any organisation. It has been proved that many people especially those with a conformist mind are usually resistant to change even if it may do more good than harm to the organisation. More often than not the management fails to initiate change process in their areas of jurisdiction due to lack of proper sensemaking strategies. Since change process calls for concerted efforts of all the stakeholders, there are supposed to be mechanisms of sensitising the accolades in the organisation about its significance before instigating the complete change process. It should be understood that prevalent violence that is hitherto witnessed in the corporate sector and orchestrated by members drawn across the cadres is a sign of failed sensitisation that should precede the change process. Managers should therefore embrace the narrative approach in their managerial responsibilities if acquisition of meaningful change is anything to go by.