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The road not taken: narratives of action and organizational change

Zahra Solouki (ESADE Business School, Barcelona, Spain)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 8 May 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to advance the understanding of the importance and function of narratives in the context of organizational change.

Design/methodology/approach

Drawing on Schutz’s theory of human intentional action, the author introduces the concept of a mental plan – broadly referring to the mental rehearsal of a future act – and builds a conceptual framework that connects mental plans to narratives. Viewing actions through the lens of mental plans and narratives would prompt a combination of rigid clarity and flexible vagueness in both the action and the stories. Considering this, the author developed a longitudinal case study on organizational change in an international company amid an intense renewal process. Several narratives about the project of organizational change were studied, and these revealed some of the functions that narratives serve as well as their importance in connecting plans of human action with the actual execution of those actions. This paper identifies numerous distinct narratives, created by different actors, which focus on the process of setting and reaching a final goal. The content of these narratives reveals how different views and strategies co-exist simultaneously in the organization, even when actors are trying to achieve the same goal.

Findings

Traditionally, management takes an analytical approach to understand how change occurs in organizations. This paper emphasizes the importance and functions of narratives as a fundamental component of organizational change. On par with the linear plan of action, it is argued that the assortment of narratives delivered from various points of views in the organization are, indeed, the driver of change, and their dynamic interaction would determine the outcome of a change project.

Originality/value

The paper advances the understanding of the role of narratives in organizational change. This paper emphasizes the difficulties of using an analytical approach as a basis for understanding how action is implemented. This difficulty arises because of the variety of interpretations and meanings given to the project purpose and goal, and how these interpretations and meanings influence people’s future actions or project success.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper forms part of a special section. The rhetoric and narratives in management research.

Citation

Solouki, Z. (2017), "The road not taken: narratives of action and organizational change", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 334-343. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-10-2016-0201

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited