Sense-making and Sense-giving: The Case of Dual Transformation

By Yazeed Alhezzani

It is well known that everything in life changes and the only constant thing is change per se. So, in order for organisations to survive, prosper and remain competitive, they need to change. Much has been written about the role of leaders to bring about change (radical and incremental) to their organisations. Nonetheless, few explored how leaders can lead a dual transformation type of change. Here, the author will shed light on and discuss the challenges encounter leaders who lead dual transformation.


Dual transformation is a type of change when two major transformations are being undertaken simultaneously. Transformation A considers repositioning the core business model to the modified marketplace. Transformation B is about creating a separate disruptive business through innovation to become the source of future growth.1 Apple is a good example of this. In 2007, Steve Jobs has led Apple, through dual transformation, to be ahead of the game. Apple developed their core business by introducing new Mac computers that massively increased its market share (Transformation A). Simultaneously, Apple penetrated a new business by launching its revolutionary iPhone that changed the way people use and perceive the value of mobile devices (Transformation B).  

Leaders face numerous challenges when they lead changes in their organisations. In times of dual transformation, the number and the intensity of the challenges are, more or less, doubled. These are related to their tasks such as sense-making, visioning, relating, sense-giving, enabling and supporting, and sustaining the change. Here, I will focus on sense-making and sense-giving.

Leaders continuously engage in the process of sense-making by seeking data from various sources, using observations to design small experiments to test ideas, and through involving others in diagnosing current issues to get different perspectives.

Sense-making requires mental representation of leaders’ environment to understand what they perceive as important and why.2 However, sense-making is not a one-off activity as situations change and thus leaders need to continually be aware of and then reflect upon how new developments may affect the agenda for change.3 Leaders continuously engage in the process of sense-making by seeking data from various sources, using observations to design small experiments to test ideas, and through involving others in diagnosing current issues to get different perspectives. In other words, it is a way of research to find out the ‘truth’ and make sense of it. But, at the end, every research has its limitations.

In times of dual transformation, the challenge of making sense could be greater because the leaders need to find out and understand the situation that embraces two changes. Since all the subsequent leadership tasks rely on the credibility of sense-making outcomes, leaders must get it right. Leaders are not only required to make sense of transformation A and B, but also the interdependencies between them. What makes sense for transformation A may undermine the message delivered for bringing about transformation B, and vice versa. Back to the Apple example, if the new iPhone were advanced enough that people don’t need to rely on using laptops anymore, the transformation of Mac computers business wouldn’t take off. So, leaders of dual transformation need to engage in the sense-making process for transformation A that goes hand-in-hand with the one for transformation B.

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Likewise, the sense-giving process for transformations A and B needs to be aligned. Sense-giving is the method of communicating the outcomes of sense-making (e.g. the vision). It is about the dialogue that leaders have to have with stakeholders. Leaders need to disseminate their interpretation of a new and better reality resulted from the sense-making process. Leaders need to win the trust of others by assuring them that their organisations have the capability to pursue the change, explaining the value of the new state, and demonstrating that the status quo is unsustainable. Again, the interdependencies between transformations A and B is crucial here. For example, highlighting the benefits of transformation A may make change recipients suspect the value of transformation B, and vice versa. Giving sense to those affected by the change has to be in alignment with transformations A and B.   

Leaders of dual transformation also have to give sense to change recipients when it comes to mitigating resistance. Studies on resistance to change explored strategies such as participation, manipulation, and coercion. Each of these strategies may require different modifications in the case of dual transformation since some change recipients might be mutually affected by the change. Participating change recipients in transformation A who may potentially resist transformation B may negatively affect their participation in transformation A and vice-versa. Manipulation could lead to future problems if change recipients feel manipulated. This could be too risky particularly for dual transformation leaders as the discovery of manipulation by change recipients of transformation A would lead to unfortunate results to transformation B. Coercion is the least favourable strategy to mitigate change recipients’ resistance. However, in times of dual transformation, change leaders need to reconsider their power over both transformations A and B as well as their change recipients’ power. This is essential because a group of change recipients may hold minimal power over transformation A but has the ability to derail transformation B. 

To conclude, the research about leading dual transformation is still in infancy and this is because, perhaps, there are still few examples of companies that undertook dual transformation. However, with the advanced technology that is changing the environment and created the fourth industrial revolution caused by AI, Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and many others, one can expect that many companies have to go through dual transformation. Thus, it is worth noting that future studies need to explore how leaders of dual transformation engage in the process of sense-making and sense-giving and to what extent they are different from other types of changes.


About the Author

Yazeed Alhezzani, PhD is Organizational Change consultant at a global consultancy firm. He worked at several academic institutions as a research supervisor at WMG Department at Warwick University and as an Associate Tutor at Coventry University Group. He is associated with the management team of the Management Consulting Division, the Academy of Management.

1. Gilbert, C., Eyring, M. and Foster, R.N (2012) Two routes to resilience. Harvard Business Review, 90: 65-73.
2. Weick, K. E. (2001). Making sense of the organization. Oxford: Blackwell.
3. Ancona, D.M., Thomas, W., Orlikowski, W.J. and Senge, P.M (2007) In praise of the incomplete leader. Harvard Business Review, 85: 92–100.


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