Broadening Management Bandwidth Through Organizational Mindfulness in Strategy Formation Processes

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BROADENING MANAGEMENT BANDWIDTH THROUGH ORGANIZATIONAL MINDFULNESS IN STRATEGY FORMATION PROCESSES. AN INTERPRETIVE APPROACH.

Alain B. Guiette ABSTRACT Organizations face increasing availability of information at all managerial levels. This induces challenges to efficiently and effectively use this information during scanning and sensemaking phases of strategy formation processes. This conceptual paper proposes how the emerging research on organizational mindfulness can broaden management bandwidth during organizational scanning and sensemaking. Organizational mindfulness broadens the strategy formation funnel at two stages. First, during scanning, organizational mindfulness focuses attention on weak cues, increases an organization’s field of vision, enhances sustained attention capabilities, and induces a shift from conceptual to perceptual noticing. Secondly, during sensemaking, organizational mindfulness stimulates direct experience, reduces bias caused by cognitive maps and alerts organizations derailing in active inertia through unlearning. These effects are primarily accomplished through mindful organizing processes of preoccupation with failure, sensitivity to operations and reluctance to simplify interpretations. INTRODUCTION Mintzberg describes managing in the 21st century as “one damn thing after another” (Mintzberg, 2009, p.19), i.e. managers facing continual interruptions caused by information overload. Organizations are challenged not to be overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of information availability and to direct their attention to those events relevant for survival and development. These challenges occur while attaining information both from within the

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organization and the external environment; while interpreting information to construct meaning; and while acting and making decisions – a process referred to as strategy formation (Narayanan, Zane & Kemmerer, 2011). However, an emerging stream of literature on organizational mindfulness demonstrates that organizations can consciously direct their attention and create meaning in dynamic, complex, interdependent and hypercompetitive environments, leading to higher performance. This paper theorizes on the contribution of organizational mindfulness on an organization’s capacity to efficiently and effectively attain and retain information in an environment that is characterized by increasing levels of information-overload. I approach these organizational cognition processes from a strategy formation perspective, depicted as a management bandwidth funnel consisting of the processes of attaining (scanning) and retaining (interpreting) information. I focus on scanning and sensemaking, and exclude decision making, given (1) the high interdependency between scanning and sensemaking, and (2) the antecedent nature of scanning and sensemaking as compared to decision making, as highlighted by Fiol and O’Connor (2003), arguing that mindfulness broadens scanning and sensemaking processes, impacting subsequently the organization’s decision making process. This paper contributes to the emerging literature of organizational mindfulness by (1) building a link with the strategy formation and organizational cognition literatures, (2) integrating processes of mindful organizing with organizational scanning and sensemaking, and (3) developing propositions to further research the application of organizational mindfulness in organization theory. The objective is to develop an organizational mindfulness perspective on challenges posed by information overload during strategy formation. This is important for at least three reasons: (1) allocating attention mindfully to capture meaningful information is an increasing scarce resource for organizations (Fiol & O’Connor, 2003); (2) in organizational contexts, the role that mindfulness could play regarding performance-related processes and

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outcomes remains largely untapped (Dane, 2010); and (3) research on sensemaking...
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