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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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.

References
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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