Coordination under uncertainty: A sensemaking perspective on cross-functional planning meetings
Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management
Article publication date: 18 April 2016
This paper aims to examine how managers use planning meetings to coordinate their actions in light of an uncertain future. Existing literature suggests that coordination under uncertainty requires a “dynamic” approach to planning, which is often realized in the form of rolling forecasts and frequent cross-functional exchange. Not so much is known, however, about the micro-level process through which coordination is achieved. This paper suggests that a sensemaking perspective and a focus on “planning talk” are particularly helpful to understand how actors come to a shared understanding of an uncertain future, based upon which they can coordinate their actions.
This paper builds upon a qualitative case study in the Austrian production site of an international manufacturing company. Drawing on a sensemaking perspective, the paper analyses monthly held “planning meetings” in which sales and production managers discuss sales forecasts for the coming months and talk about how to align demand and supply.
The authors show how collective sensemaking unfolds in planning meetings and highlight the role that “plausibilization” of expectations, “calculative reasoning” and “filtering” of information play in this process. This case analysis also sheds light on the challenges that such a sensemaking process may be subject to. In particular, this paper finds that competing hierarchical accountabilities may influence the collective sensemaking process and render coordination more challenging.
The paper contributes to the hitherto limited management accounting and control literature on operational planning, especially its coordination function. It also extends the management accounting and control literature that draws on the concept of sensemaking. The study shows how actors involved in planning meetings create a common understanding of the current and future situation and what sensemaking mechanisms facilitate this process. In this respect, this paper is particularly interested in the role that accounting and other types of numbers can play in this context. Furthermore, it theorizes on the conditions that allow managers to overcome concerns with hierarchical accountabilities and enact socializing forms of accountability, which is often necessary to come to agreements on actions to be taken.
Earlier drafts of this paper were presented to ACMAR 2013 (Vallendar), EAA 2013 (Paris), MASOP 2013 (Copenhagen), the Beyond Budgeting Workshop 2013 (Bergen), the Finnish Doctoral Accounting Colloquium 2014 (Samnas) and to research seminars at HEC Lausanne, ESCP Paris, HEC Paris, the University of Innsbruck, Monash University, the University of Sydney, Queensland University of Technology, Université Paris-Dauphine and Helmut-Schmidt University Hamburg. The authors would like to thank the participants of these events for their valuable feedback. They also would like to thank Hans Englund, Jonas Gerdin, Kalle Kraus, Theresa Libby, Kari Lukka, Susan O’Leary, Tobias Scheytt, David Smith and Nicole Sutton for additional comments. Finally, particular thanks go to Silvia Jordan, who helped with collecting the data used in this paper and who provided helpful feedback. The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Austrian Science Fund (project P 26902-G11).
Goretzki, L. and Messner, M. (2016), "Coordination under uncertainty: A sensemaking perspective on cross-functional planning meetings", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 92-126. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRAM-09-2015-0070
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