Sensemaking: Reframing Change Management

 |  8 April 2024

Sensemaking: Reframing Change Management

Throughout the course of my ten-year career in change management, I've witnessed how companies are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace and growing complexity of change. Although there's encouraging evidence that the importance of change management is being recognised, many still approach change with apprehension, despite our best efforts with PowerPoint presentations, Town Hall’s, training programs, and increased transparency.

But why? I think it's a result of our limited perspective and understanding of change. One that implies people's innate resistance to change. A viewpoint that suggests the change process as inherently difficult, something we must brace ourselves for.

Let's shift our perspective. Change isn't merely a business problem to overcome; it's a profoundly human experience. When we shake upthe familiar rhythms of work and life, people aren't resisting change; they're reacting to it. And those reactions, far from attempting to avoid them, should be facilitated as a cruicial part of the sensemaking process.

Karl Weick coined the term "sensemaking" in 1979 to describe the process of extracting meaning from confusion and discovering clarity in the face of uncertainty. It happens naturally when individuals and organisations work with change and attempt to understand its implications. Despite its vital role in the success and survival of organisations, its importance for innovation, and its crucial role in the development of agile teams and organisations, sensemaking is often overlooked (Ancona et al., 2020). 

At the core of sensemaking for change are three vital roles: Drivers, Enablers, and Contributors. 

  • Drivers, or leaders, have a crucial role in guiding others through the process of making sense. They excel at guiding their teams, offering valuable support and ensuring everyone is on the same page with the organization's vision. Drivers also maintain momentum, prevent confusion and keep change initiatives on track. 
  • Enablers play a crucial role in facilitating the sensemaking process by offering straightforward and efficient information about change. They provide valuable insights into the factors driving change, how the organisation responds, and the overall impact. Enablers make sure that project and change plans include dedicated time for sensemaking, recognising its crucial importance in the change process.
  • Contributors are those who need to contribute to change, which is everyone! Regardless of our role, we need to embrace change, seek clarity when needed, and leverage our unique strengths to make a meaningful contribution. 

Sensemaking, although highly important, often goes unnoticed in many people's ideas of leadership. Leaders often engage in the process of sensemaking, although it is not always openly recognised. Unfortunately, many companies fail to recognise the importance of sensemaking skills in their hiring, development, and promotion processes, even though these skills are crucial for organisational success. This was highlighted in a study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review titled "The Overlooked Key to Leading Through Chaos"   (Vol. 62, No. 1, Reprint #62125). 

Understanding and adapting to change is not only important but essential for successfully navigating the challenges of today's professional environment. By fully embracing the power of sensemaking and giving individuals at all levels of the organisation the freedom to navigate change on their own terms, we can cultivate a culture that thrives on resilience, adaptability, and ultimately, success. 

Are you prepared to enhance your sensemaking abilities? Discover our Reframe Change programme, a dynamic approach that encourages fresh perspectives on change, promotes a positive mindset, and nurtures essential sensemaking skills. Click here to learn more. 

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