Sensemaking in organizational change

Sara Fönn Jóhannesdóttir

Student thesis: Master thesis


This research seeks to better understand employee sensemaking and leader sensegiving in the context of large scale organizational changes such as mergers. In particular, the research investigates the main characteristic(s) of the employee sensemaking process, the key factors that influence employees’ interpretation of uncertain and ambiguous situations, distinguishing characteristic(s) of the leader sensemaking process, and effective leader sensegiving tactics. In order to fulfil these objectives, a case study research strategy is adopted in this study. Specifically, this research explores the employee sensemaking and leader sensegiving processes in the context of the recent merger of two Icelandic banks, namely, Íslandsbanki and Byr Savings Banks. Data is collected from a small sample of employees and middle managers of the post-merger organization who had experienced the uncertain and ambiguous situations that existed prior to and after the announcement of the merger. Consistent with the interpretive research philosophy that guides this research, the narrative interview method was chosen for data collection. The research findings reveal that employee sensemaking is an evolutionary process that comprises of three distinct stages, namely, noticing and bracketing, selection, and retention. With respect to leader sensemaking, the research findings reveal that leaders’ sensemaking is more advanced than that of employees’ sensemaking as the former has the ability to reflect while in the midst of action, while the latter utilizes reflection-on-action. This study also shows that employees’ retrospective memory of personal experiences and experiences of facing an organizational merger, and middle managers’ sensegiving tactics have the most significant influence on employees’ interpretation of uncertain and ambiguous situations that arise as a result of mergers. In line, the study shows that both discursive and symbolic tactics are crucial for effective leader sensegiving.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages76