Category predication work, discursive leadership and strategic sensemaking

Whittle, Andrea and Housley, William and Gilchrist, Alan and Mueller, Frank and Lenney, Peter (2015) Category predication work, discursive leadership and strategic sensemaking. Human Relations, 68 (3). pp. 377-407. ISSN 0018-7267

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Categorisation is known to play an important role in organizations because categories ‘frame’ situations in particular ways, which informs managerial sensemaking and enables managerial intervention. In this paper, we advance existing work by examining the role of categorisation practices in discursive leadership during periods of strategic change. Drawing on data from an ethnographic action research study of a strategic change initiative in a multi-national corporation, we use Membership Categorisation Analysis to develop a framework for studying ‘category predicates’, defined as the stock of organizational knowledge and associated reasoning procedures concerning the kinds of activities, attributes, rights, responsibilities, expectations, and so on that are ‘tied’ or ‘bound’ to organizational categories. Our analysis shows that discursive leadership enabled a radical shift in sensemaking about organizational structure categories through a process of ‘frame-breaking’ and ‘re-framing’. In so doing, the leader co-constructed a ‘definition of the situation’ that built a compelling ‘vision’ and concrete ‘plan’ for strategic change. We go on to trace the organizational consequences and material outcomes of this shift in sensemaking for the company in question. We conclude by arguing that ‘category predication work’ comprises a key leadership competence and plays an important role in organizational and strategic change processes. Keywords: Discursive Leadership, Ethnomethodology, Membership Categorisation Analysis, Politics, Power, Sensemaking, Structure, Strategy

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Journal Article
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Human Relations
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14 Apr 2015 15:16
Last Modified:
21 Nov 2022 23:08