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Temporal sensemaking: Managers’ use of time to frame organizational change

Business

Published

Discovery

2010-01-01

Time is a fundamental context within which we do our work, coordinate activities, and achieve results. The way we typically think about time—the clock—is only one way of many ways of thinking about time. If we don’t understand or utilize time/temporality in ways other than with the clock template, there is a serious risk of harm for organizations, for people in organizations, for customers, and for society as a whole.

One area where Dr. Elden Wiebe, dean of the Leder School of Business, noticed the importance of time was in organizational change. Change happens in organizations all the time. Sometime those changes are large-scale, where massive reorganization is taking place.

When Wiebe studied a massive reorganization, he noticed that managers involved in implementing the change had very different understandings of the change, which in turn led to very different actions and attitudes that impacted their subordinates profoundly.

The variety of understandings of the change came from the managers’ use of time—especially their use of the past, present, and future.

First, managers tend to think about the link between the past, present, and future either as having continuity (continuous flow from one to the other), or as being discontinuous (there are breaks between the past, present, and future).

Then, managers tend to have a particular focus on either the past, the present, or the future.

Together, these two orientations create a particular time-based understanding of the organizational change that is happening around them, which in turn leads to particular actions that conform to their understanding 

The most effective temporal orientation is to view the past, present, and future as a continuity, and to have a focus on the present. These types of managers are creative and pragmatic, and have a sense of control over the changes taking place.

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Dr. Elden Wiebe

Associate Professor, Leder School of Business P: 780-465-3500 Ext. 8072 F: 780-465-3534
Education
  • PhD, University of Alberta, 2005
  • MCS, Regent College, 1988
  • BA, Trinity Western University, 1984