Making the employees receptive to strategy. A qualitative study on the sensemaking and sensegiving processes performed by middle managers and executives to generate continuous improvement.

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This research investigated how middle managers and executives translate strategic goals to operational goals and which factors are most salient in affecting this process. The research took place in the context of a big executive agency of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment in the Dutch public sector. The organization reorganized its organizational structure and work processes according to Lean management, which implies strategic change that involves an attempt to change current modes of cognition and action, in which both sensemaking and sensegiving processes take place (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991). Whereas sensemaking in the context of strategic change is about the way managers understand and make sense of the strategic goals, sensegiving is about the way managers intentionally influence others’ understanding of the strategic goals. Sensemaking and sensegiving were used as central concepts in this research, because both executives and middle managers have difficulties with implementation of strategy in order to make the lower level employees receptive to the strategic change. Data was gathered following a qualitative approach by conducting thirteen interviews with ten middle managers and three executives. Moreover, one non-participant observation was conducted aimed at investigating the value of visual management as a means for sensemaking and sensegiving. The results revealed that middle managers and executives actively made sense of strategic goals by means of the following five sensemaking processes: 1) making use of key players and peers; 2) attending ‘live-through sessions’; 3) creating local understanding; 4) constructing identity; 5) collective brainstorming. Moreover, the results revealed that middle managers and executives gave sense of the strategic goals by means of: 1) priority setting; 2) criteria setting; 3) operationalizing goals to attitude and behavior; 4) inspiring by means of metaphors; 5) visual management. The degree of understandability determined the need to make the strategic goals more specific for the employees’ understanding. The degree of understandability, in turn, was affected by the fit between the employees’ operational tasks and the interests of the strategic goals. Moreover, there was a conflict between the functions of the strategic goals affecting both the sensemaking and sensegiving processes. Lastly, there were needs for collective sensemaking evoked by process-based collaboration, such as the need for agreements on priorities of the strategic goals and the need for agreements on the indicators that constitute to a good strategy implementation process.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen