Monday, April 20, 2009

Executive Sensemaking

Sensemaking scholars often emphasize the lowly, the small, and the local aspects of the organizing process. Studies tend to conclude that local tactics are more important than global strategy; that improvisation is more effective than planning; and, of course, that sensemaking, rather than decision-making, determines the fate of organizations. Such conclusions normally follow from a focus on micro-processes over macro-structures. Perhaps the most striking example can be found in Karl Weick’s analysis of premise controls, which culminates in what can well be called a 'modest' proposal, namely, that "the best organizational design [may be] to do away with top management" (Sensemaking in Organizations, p. 117)*. This idea was foreshadowed in earlier work, where he proposed that executives should consider "using tables of random numbers to make decisions" (Social Psychology of Organizing, p. 262). What these two suggestions have in common is the idea that top management (the locus of strategic decision-making) plays a marginal role in organizational life and that the less they try to intentionally affect the course of events the better it will be for everyone.

I've been thinking about this in relation to events at AIG Financial Products. Here it seems that top management played an important role in controlling premises (even through organizational design) and that this, not sensemaking at lower levels in the organization, was what caused the mess.

*This gave Martin Kilduff (1996) pause in his review.

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