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Giving and Making Sense About Change: The Back and Forth Between Leaders and Employees

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Purpose Leader sensegiving—the attempt to affect employees’ sensemaking—is a crucial leadership activity during organizational change. Yet, it is unclear how employee sensemaking and leader sensegiving vary across different change phases: Although addressing employee needs is key for successful sensegiving, current literature remains vague about how leaders account for different employee needs over the course of a change process. Design/Methodology/Approach Data were obtained from an interview study with organizational members who underwent episodic change. To integrate both perspectives, interviews were conducted with leaders (n = 26) and employees (n = 29). Data were analyzed using template analysis. Findings Our analysis revealed and confirmed different sensemaking needs and respective sensegiving foci in each change phase. During exploration, leaders respond to employees’ need for reassurance with receptive sensegiving. During preparation, leaders show participative sensegiving to answer employees’ need for orientation. During implementation, leaders’ compensating sensegiving responds to employees’ need for balance. During evaluation, leaders’ evaluative sensegiving accounts for employees’ need for acknowledgment. Each sensegiving mode is associated with a specific set of discursive and symbolic strategies in each phase. Implications This study provides a systematic framework on how leaders can respond successfully to employee sensemaking needs in each change phase using different discursive and symbolic sensegiving strategies. Originality/Value The study enhances our understanding of development in sensemaking and sensegiving by outlining the specific interlocking between both processes within the different change phases. Furthermore, it outlines how the relevant sensegiving modes can be obtained through particular symbolic and discursive strategies.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Giving and Making Sense About Change: The Back and Forth
Between Leaders and Employees
Anna Kraft
1
Jennifer L. Sparr
2
Claudia Peus
1
Published online: 14 September 2016
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract
Purpose Leader sensegiving—the attempt to affect
employees’ sensemaking—is a crucial leadership activity
during organizational change. Yet, it is unclear how
employee sensemaking and leader sensegiving vary across
different change phases: Although addressing employee
needs is key for successful sensegiving, current literature
remains vague about how leaders account for different
employee needs over the course of a change process.
Design/Methodology/Approach Data were obtained from
an interview study with organizational members who
underwent episodic change. To integrate both perspectives,
interviews were conducted with leaders (n=26) and
employees (n=29). Data were analyzed using template
analysis.
Findings Our analysis revealed and confirmed different
sensemaking needs and respective sensegiving foci in each
change phase. During exploration, leaders respond to
employees’ need for reassurance with receptive sensegiv-
ing. During preparation, leaders show participative sense-
giving to answer employees’ need for orientation. During
implementation, leaders’ compensating sensegiving
responds to employees’ need for balance. During evalua-
tion, leaders’ evaluative sensegiving accounts for employ-
ees’ need for acknowledgment. Each sensegiving mode is
associated with a specific set of discursive and symbolic
strategies in each phase.
Implications This study provides a systematic framework
on how leaders can respond successfully to employee
sensemaking needs in each change phase using different
discursive and symbolic sensegiving strategies.
Originality/Value The study enhances our understanding
of development in sensemaking and sensegiving by out-
lining the specific interlocking between both processes
within the different change phases. Furthermore, it outlines
how the relevant sensegiving modes can be obtained
through particular symbolic and discursive strategies.
Keywords Organizational change Leadership
Sensemaking Sensegiving Change attitude
Introduction
Complex and stressful situations, such as organizational
change (Wisse and Sleebos 2015), trigger sensemaking
among organizational members (Maitlis 2005) as they try
to redefine their new environment (Fairhurst 2009,
p. 1614). Sensemaking evolves over the course of change
(Maitlis et al. 2013; Weick 2012), with each stage having
different predominant needs and interpretive tasks (Isabella
1990; Kim et al. 2011). Leaders attempt to account for
these differing needs by continuously striving to convey
relevant meaning to employees. Gioia and Chittipeddi
(1991) labeled this effort sensegiving and defined it as ‘‘the
process of attempting to influence the sensemaking and
meaning construction of others toward a preferred redefi-
nition of organizational reality’’ (p. 442). Relevant sense-
giving can facilitate the production of shared accounts
among organizational members (Mantere et al. 2012),
&Anna Kraft
anna.kraft@tum.de
1
Chair of Research and Science Management, Technische
Universita
¨tMu
¨nchen, Arcisstraße 21, 80333 Munich,
Germany
2
Chair of Management, Especially Strategy and Leadership,
University of Konstanz, Constance, Germany
123
J Bus Psychol (2018) 33:71–87
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-016-9474-5
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
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... Our proposition is informed by research on change-readiness: Change-readiness is facilitated by followers' sense of meaning in change (Kraft et al., 2016;Maitlis, 2005;Maitlis et al., 2013;van den Heuvel et al., 2013). Leadership is an important influence on follower change-readiness (e.g., Kraft et al., 2016;Oreg et al., 2011). Leader sensegiving about the need for and the appropriateness and benefits of change is a major predictor of follower change-readiness (e.g., Armenakis et al., 1993;Eby et al., 2000;Rafferty and Simons, 2005). ...
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