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Managing false starts: managerial sensegiving and sensebreaking in response to an interrupted strategic change effort

Mantere, S. and Schildt, H. and Sillince, John A.A. (2009) Managing false starts: managerial sensegiving and sensebreaking in response to an interrupted strategic change effort. In: Academy of Management Conference, 2009-08-10 - 2009-08-12. (Unpublished)

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We examine managerial sensegiving in the context of a false start, a planned strategic change that was cancelled. Based on a longitudinal, ethnographic study of an organizational merger process, we examine an early success in managerial sensegiving to the merger and the subsequent failure in responding to its cancellation. We find that the staff's rejection of managerial sensegiving was connected to the management's previous sensegiving efforts. The managers, faced with employees' ambivalence about change, wanted to facilitate strategic change by discrediting the established strategy. After merger cancellation, the managers failed in convincing the staff to return to a strategy similar to one they had discredited. We highlight organizational cynicism as an outcome of sensegiving failure and discuss the problems of 'organizational sensebreaking', the discrediting of prevailing strategy in order to facilitate change. We find that organizational sensebreaking, by dissolving ambivalence among the staff, also dissolves resilience if unexpected environmental shocks are encountered.