Author(s), Title and Publication
Kraft, A., Sparr, J.L. & Peus, C. J. (2018). Giving and making sense about change: The back and forth between leaders and employees. Journal of Business and Psychology, 33(1), 71-87.

Leader sensegiving – the attempt to affect employees’ sensemaking – is a crucial leadership activity during organizational change. The authors of this study explored how organizational members gave and made sense of organizational change during different phases of the change process. Researchers collected data through in-depth interviews with 55 participants (leaders n=26, employees n=29) who had experienced at least two examples of radical organizational change in organizations with greater than 1000 employees. Findings confirm different sensegiving and sensmaking in each of four change phases and reveal a systematic, needs-based communication framework with discursive and symbolic components.

Specifically, during the first phase of change, exploration, due to the often-contradictory nature of rumors, employees experience uncertainty and seek stability. Leaders’ receptive sensemaking is expressed through addressing discourse among peers, understanding origins of rumors and taking in concerns. Symbolic expressions of availability and attentiveness such as open doors and responding to requests for time with statements such as, “this is what I’m here for!” serve to reassure employees during this phase. During the second phase of change, preparation, as employees receive more information about how the change will occur, they begin to analyze how it will affect them. Leaders’ discursive participative sensemaking is demonstrated through facilitating joint discussions about possible opportunities as a result of change. Allowing employees the opportunity to visualize and work through concerns serves symbolizes support. During the third phase of change, implementation, employees express a need for balance which leaders can respond to with a compensating sensegiving strategy. Characterized by a tendency to focus on negative aspects of change, employees often demonstrate frustration and impatience during this phase. Leaders’ complimenting employees on change progress provides balance. Finally, in the evaluation phase of change, employees’ need for acknowledgement can be met with leaders’ evaluative strategy for sensegiving. Looking to make sense of their own role in change, employees’ personal evaluations can influence confidence and the organization dichotomously. Balanced evaluative conversation, such as asking for feedback on the two greatest successes and two greatest opportunities following the change represents leaders’ evaluative sensegiving through discourse. Evaluative sensegiving is sustained symbolically through encouraging future change.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) understand the relative and individual process of sensemaking and utilize regular one-on-one meetings with employees during change to best understand and account for employee needs (2) pay close attention to verbal and symbolic expressions of availability and attentiveness to encourage leader-member exchange (3) encourage peer collaboration before change so employees increase and rely on their sensegiving network during change.

Location of Article
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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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