Scholars contend that our understanding of organizational change would benefit from research that more closely represents the lived reality of organizational change. Research on sensemaking is particularly valuable in this vein because of its focus on the individual’s experience and understanding. Existing empirical work on sensemaking about organizational change, however, is largely based on retrospective interview data and/or focuses on a narrow window of time during change implementation and thus does not thoroughly consider how individuals’ make sense of change over time. This thesis seeks to address this limitation through three complementary studies aimed at understanding how individuals make sense of organizational change over time from an emic (or insider) perspective.
All three papers are interpretive process-oriented case studies, which use grounded theory data analysis techniques to analyze interview data for the same 26 hospital employees collected at three points in time over a five year period of organizational change. Paper one is about the interpretation stage of sensemaking. This paper identifies four stable sensemaking lenses and develops two new concepts related to how individuals make sense of organizational change over time: (1) sensemaking constancy and (2) sensemaking scope. Paper two considers sensemaking triggers and explores how individuals’ retrospective sensemaking compares to their real-time assessments during change. Findings indicated that in “real-time” the experience of change varied in somewhat stable way between groups but that when “looking back” over the change, change agents tended to view the changes more positively than change recipients. Finally, paper three looks at the enactment stage of the sensemaking process and examines individuals’ strategies for coping with excessive change. Coping (from cognitive appraisal theory) and sensemaking are positioned as overlapping processes that individuals use to make sense of and respond to excessive organizational change. Five patterns, or stories about how individuals cope with and make sense of excessive change over time, emerged. Taken as a group, the three papers contribute to the research and practice of organizational change by offering novel insights and theoretical contributions related to how individuals experience and make sense of change over time.