maanantai 4. lokakuuta 2010

How do we make sense?

According to Karl E. Weick, sensemaking is a way of understanding the process of organizing. It tries to explain how we ascribe meaning to certain events. We make sense by “seeing a world on which we have already imposed what we believe”. In his classic article, Weick presented seven properties of sensemaking. These properties provide a template for why an activity has occurred and show us what do we need to look at to understand the outcome. These properties are:
  1. Ongoing sensemaking: our everyday acceptance of things as sensible.
  2. Retrospective sensemaking: influence of past experiences
  3. Social sensemaking: influence of others on a sense of something.
  4. Cues: that help us make sense of something
  5. Identity construction: as powerful influence on making sense.
  6. Feelings (or sense) of Plausibility: that make us accept a sense of a situation.
  7. Enactive sensemaking: the way that sense is made.
Sensemaking and Organizational Shocks

Weick stated that, because sensemaking occurs as a result of a shock, or break in routine, the study of sensemaking during or as a result of an organizational crisis offers particular insight into the processes involved. This is why Albert J Mills and Jean Helms Mills and many other researchers of critical sensemaking have focused their studies on extraordinary situations like crisis. Typically, an investigation of sensemaking processes would start from, or at least relate to, an important organizational event. This event might be the arrival of a new CEO, a merger, layoffs, expansion, or anything that could have disrupted the existing organizational routines. These sensemaking triggers, known as ‘organizational shocks’ (Weick, 1995) create ambiguity in the organization and force individuals to make sense of things differently.

How do you make sense?

When it comes to my studies, change in ownership could be seen as a shock event, which could be researched in my dissertation. It would be highly interesting to know how people in different positions make sense in the case that there is a dramatic change in the ownership environment of the company.

Another important notion of Mills and Helms Mills to Weick's properties was that sensemaking is not about right or wrong, rather it focuses on the process how sense have been made. Although the process would be “perfect” still the outcome, the sense itself, might be “wrong”. They also highlighted the role of cues in sensemaking. Quite often people are given some hints and hidden cues in order to influence their sensemaking. For example if a man wears a suit and the other one wears jeans, most of the people would affiliate a man with a suit to be a business man. However, this is not necessarily true.

Critical sensemaking

In addition, Mills and Helms Mills criticized sensemaking because it does not explain how decisions are constrained by contexts and rules and how there can be an unequal distribution of power within those contexts, i.e. whose voices are being heard and why. This is why they presented critical sensemaking, which is a step further from sensemaking. Some early contributors of critical sensemaking are Weick’s (1995) sensemaking model, Unger’s (1987) formative contexts, Foucault’s (1973) notion of discourse and Mills and Murgatroyd’s (1991) rules theory. Mills and Helms Mills introduced five methodological strategies in making critical sensemaking:
  1. In-depth interviews, focusing on the narratives that people generate during a period of change
  2. Content analysis, examination of corporate statements in defining periods of organizational change or understanding the role of media in constructing a sense of a situation during periods of disaster
  3. Critical discourse analysis, like examining dominant discourses in a period of change management
  4. Archival research, like analyzing documents over time and how managers attempted to make sense of changing gendered relations
  5. Observation and ethnography
Well, does this make any sense? How do you make sense?

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