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Builders and cleaners: A longitudinal study of strategic narratives

Svante Leijon (School of Economics and Commercial Law, Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden)
Arne Söderbom (University College of Borås, Borås, Sweden)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 23 May 2008




The purpose of this research paper is to contribute to strategy theory by differentiating different types of top management narratives and trying to understand the interplay between them as well as the dynamics over time.


The study was designed from an interpretative narrative approach. Narratives were produced from deep interviews and organisational documents covering a period of more than 25 years.


Two kinds of narratives were detected – builders and cleaners. The builders' narratives illustrate how personal life‐stories are embedded in the strategic development processes but the cleaners' narratives are organisational stories without personal life‐stories and cover no actual development. The concept meta‐narrative helped to understand strategic changes over time and was embedded in the myth‐periods involved. The meta‐narrative identified was built on an idea of a going concern and on the role to produce physical large objects for long‐term use.

Research limitations/implications

Owing to the longitudinal design of the study a cyclical pattern with related managerial narratives were produced. The dichotomy builders and cleaners could be developed studying other longitudinal business strategies and also by connections to meta‐narratives derived from more general economic theories.

Practical implications

Builders and cleaners focus on either business or organisational/financial aspects but neither of both. Awareness of this, learning strategic management requires co‐operation between different actors.


The longitudinal design describes and analyzes a cyclical pattern of managerial patterns, while other studies based on narratives cover more limited organisational events in time and space.



Leijon, S. and Söderbom, A. (2008), "Builders and cleaners: A longitudinal study of strategic narratives", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 280-299.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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