Making Sense of Organizational Change: A Storytelling Approach

  • Graham Abbey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis aims to analyse organizational change, focusing on the meanings attributed by participants in planned and unplanned processes of organizational change, in a large, UK hospitality company. Framed within the narrative meta-paradigm, this research employs a qualitative, interpretive, social-constructionist perspective, and considers change in organizations as constituted by alterations in people’s understandings, encoded in narratives, and shared in conversations. The thesis draws on prior publications in the fields of narrative and organizational change, including the sensemaking, power and identity literatures. Data was co-created through sixty-six semi-structured interviews in a single, multi-site case study, augmented by informal observations and assessment of written materials. The research account tells the stories of: organizational change; the responses from members to change; and the shifts in power, control and autonomy. These narratives of change were prepared through an interpretive analysis of the interview transcripts, and the study provides a reflexive commentary on the research, through vignettes of the researcher’s experience. In the discussion, three readings interpret the case study from a narrative, an organizational change and an autoethnographic perspective. The primary contribution of the thesis is empirical, providing an in-depth case study that describes a complex organizational landscape, at two luxury hotels, into which a managerial initiative, Shine, was launched, and addresses the limited presence of narrative case studies on change. Through the application of existing theory to this empirical resource, the thesis contributes to understandings of sensemaking, power and identity during continuous change. The study argues for the significance of reflexivity in storytelling research, and the need for practitioners to embrace the socially constructed nature of ‘realities’ in working with organizational change. More generally, the thesis has demonstrated the value of a storytelling approach to understanding the complexities of organizational change, while identifying limitations to plurivocal storytelling as a research method.
Date of Award1 May 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAndrew Brown (Supervisor)


  • sensemaking
  • identity
  • story
  • reflexivity
  • change
  • power
  • vignette
  • hotel
  • Narrative

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