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Is it me or is a sign of the times, that sense making and meaning tend to appear more often in academic literature? I had immersed myself into the subject of CSR and was surprised by  Hanke & Stark (2009) “Strategy Development: Conceptual Framework on CSR”. A concept which very simply states that CSR strategy development  has two main elements: Legitimization and sense making, where sense making here again is understood as “active, ‚negotiating expectations’ in collective and interactive processes”.

A CSR framework

If we look again at the model by Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2009) it could be very easy to avoid what Calvano (2008) calls “Stakeholder Perception Gaps” usually created by stakeholder power inequality. Stakeholder dialogues logically should be part of a viable CSR strategy process. The corporation “makes sense” to its internal stakeholders such as employees and management, but also to external stakeholders, such as the community or NGOs. One could even argue that this is a process of social integration. But what stakeholders should be approached and to what extend should their concerns be incorporated into the overall business practice without endangering the economic success of the company?

The Trade and Investment Division of UNESCAP writes 2009 in their STUDIES IN TRADE AND INVESTMENT 68 to ask the following questions:

• To whom do legal obligations exist?
• Who might be positively or negatively affected by the organization s activities?
• Who has been involved when similar issues needed to be addressed?
• Who can help the organization address specific impacts?
• Who would be disadvantaged if they were excluded from the engagement?
• Who in the value chain is affected?

Mitchel et al 1997 defined attributes of key stakeholders or salient stakeholders as being powerful, legitimate and urgent. However Calvano (2008) warns that stakeholders such as communities or NGO which might not be seen as powerful in the CSR strategy conception can develop certain dynamics when their interests are being infringed.  Longo et al, 2006 propose the following grid to what values stakeholders expect from the corporation:

The grid of values

Although the above values appear to be a bit anticipated, they very much demonstrate again how stakeholders make sense of a corporations action in the light of their own expectations. Above grid also shows how norms, values and culture of an organization impact CSR strategy. Corporate culture is thus in an interrelated web with values of the stakeholders, emphasizing that CSR is an activity which builds social capital.

The values web

The Values Web (McBain 2010)

This idea of a value web also demonstrates the necessity of the CSR effort to be authentically grounded in the organizational culture and be well linked with its core competencies to allow other actors to actually allow themselves to be associated with the corporation. Any sort of CSR effort should thus start with a careful audit of the company culture.

Sources:

Calvano, L. (2007) Multinational Corporations and Local Communities: A Critical Analysis
of Conflict, Journal of Business Ethics (2008) 82:793–805
CREATING BUSINESS AND SOCIAL VALUE: THE ASIAN WAY TO INTEGRATE CSR INTO BUSINESS STRATEGIES, STUDIES IN TRADE AND INVESTMENT 68, United Nations publication
Hanke, T. & Stark, W. (200) Strategy Development: Conceptual Framework on Corporate Social Responsibility; Journal of Business Ethics (2009) 85:507–516Copyright © United Nations 2009
Longo, M., M. Mura and A. Bonoli: 2005, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Performance: The Case of Italian SMEs’, Corporate Governance 5(4), 28–42.
Mitchell, R. K., B. R. Agle and D. J. Wood: 1997, ‘Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and
Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts’, Academy of Management Review 22(4), 853–886.
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Some papers deserve just more attention, because their simple  clarity and their will to create something helpful is just overpowering.

Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2009) have set out to see what people find meaningful. They clearly set out to distinguish between meaningful work in management literature, which looks at meaning creation as a tool to motivate people in a sense of vision and mission,  and the meaningful work humanities which looks at meaning in a more broader holistic sense.

First of all: All people strive to make sense of what they experience. it is part of the human condition  to create meaning. I am surprised how little this is discussed in the workplace. In what sense is our work meaningful?

Lips-Wierma and Morris present several themes of the humanities, such as authentic living, which underpins the wish of a life full of personal discovery and free choice as opposed to prescription and domination. Moral living deals with the question on “how are we to live?” and enacting virtues. Work becomes meaningful if it supports this wish for moral development. Dignified living deals with the inner wish to have just and diginifed work, the ability to resist and oppose. Finally Lips-Wierma and Morris mention living that serves an ultimate concern, a concern which transcends not only self, but also the organization to a “more universally beneficial legacy”.

These four cornerstones would be enough for every workplace to discuss and explore:

  • Do we offer possibilities for being authentic at the workplace?
  • Does our company enable our people to live up to higher moral standards?
  • Do we ensure the dignity of employees and how?
  • How do we serve an ultimate concern?

But Lips-Wiersma and Morris go a step further an uncover various elements of meaningful work and their relationship to each other.  They claim that there are four sources of meaningful work and life:

  • Developing and becoming self: The ability to enjoy moral development, personal growth and staying true to one self.  I can maintain and develop  the identity of my choosing.
  • Unity with others:  Belonging to a community, sharing values and working together
  • Serving others: To make a difference and to meet the needs of humanity. I can see that my work is relevant to something bigger.
  • Expressing full potential: Creating and achieving and influencing my surroundings.  I have impact with what I do.

Lips-Wiersma and Morris suggest the following framework to make “the various components of meaningful work visible”:

I would find it very interesting if any reader out there will one day work with this framework and perhaps can notify my what the results were.

In the classic view of leadership, it is the leader who shapes culture and provides meaning, through creation of a corporate identity.

This of course is a one-sided view as Lips-Wiersma and Morris put it  ” it is a condition of the being human to create meaning”

Coherence and wholeness are of prime importance as each individual creates meaning for him and herself subjectively by relating external events to an inner stock of values and experiences. Meaning thus is something very personal, it cannot be provided, but only be made. In this sense Lips-Wiersma and Morris follow up with  recommendations:

  1. Meaning should emerge from the collective.
  2. Tensions between vision and reality should be addressed openly because Because discrepancies  disrupt the individuals wish to find meaning in work.
  3. Make commonality on our human aspirations, while respecting the differences.
  4. Moral issues are just as important and should be engaged in just as actively as in the management of values.

Source:

Lips-Wiersma, M. & Morris, L. 2009, Discriminating Between ‘Meaningful Work’ and the ‘Management of Meaning’,  Journal of Business Ethics 88:491–511

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There seems to be an interlinked deep structured relationship between narrative, leadership and organization through the theme of narrative at different levels.

Level one: The organization is a collective narrative which is told by its members but framed by its leaders. This concept relates also to Appreciative Inquiry which builds on past success to dream and fulfill the future destiny. In the collective story telling process, the members become aware of their part of the narrative and how they play a vital role in building the story into the future.  Overcoming obstacles is a way to embody the story, continue its narrative and achieve a higher level of consciousness. The promise of all stories is to become more than what you are currently. The organization as narrative fulfills transformational and spiritual leadership and also relates to Otto Scharmers Theory U – leading from the future http://www.ottoscharmer.com . Future is anticipated and “written”  by deep listening and constant creation. Since all members are working inside of the narrative context, conflict and misunderstanding is minimized.  If leaders want to know where they will be going, they should look at the deep narrative structure of their organization.

Level two: Narrative as a vehicle for communicating values, creating consensus and expressing organizational culture. Following Denning http://www.stevedenning.com , but many other management scholars, storytelling is the essential leadership tool to shape communities and transmit messages. Denning claims that different stories fulfill different objectives such as:

  • Sparking action
  • Communicating who you are
  • Transmitting values
  • Fostering collaboration
  • Taming the grapevine
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Leading people into the future

As these messages are being decoded, they enhance the sense of purpose, meaning and belonging in people who listen to them.

Level three: Narrative as a means to understand community, culture and leadership. Narrative analysis, just like the critical incident technique, can serve as an a tool for extracting information. A tool which already has been used in researching leadership behavior (Danzig, 1999), and which can expand the thematic analysis to include a structural analysis by looking at how the story teller selects particular narrative devices (Riessman, 2003). Most researchers on storytelling and narrative analysis agree that in stories and narratives there is a form of equilibrium in the beginning of a narrative which is disrupted by an event and in which the protagonist, sometimes the narrator, tries to establish equilibrium again, usually on a new level (Franzosi, 1998). I want to highlight the structural components of Labov (1982), because Labov works on the assumption that not what is said is said will reveal the core of the story, but what is done, this being very much in line with Aristotelian conception of story and narrative.  Labov points out that a narrative has six common elements:

(1) An abstract (summary of the substance of the story)

(2) Orientation (time, place, situation, participants)

(3) Complicating action (sequence of events)

(4) Evaluation (significance and meaning of the action, attitude of the narrator)

(5) Resolution (what finally happened)

(6) Coda (returns the perspective to the present)

In a comparable analysis, the researcher is able to discover patterns in the stories themselves. How do people solve problems? How do they interpret events and gain what sort of lessons?  What are typical problems which one with struggles in the system?

If any interdependencies of the three levels exist needs to be verified, but I suggest the following cycle of analysis and practice:


Sources:

Danzig, A. (1999) “How might leadership be taught? The use of story and narrative to teach leadership”, International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, VOL. 2, NO. 2, 117 – 131

Franzosi, R. (1998) “Narrative analysis or why (and how) sociologists should be interested in narrative”, Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 517- 554

Labov, W. (1982) “Speech actions and reactions in personal narrative”, Analyzing Discourse: Text and Talk, ed Tannen, D., Washington DC: Georgetown University Press

Riessman (2003) “Narrative Analysis”, The Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods, eds. Lewis-Beck, M.S.; Bryman, A. & Futing Liao, T. , Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

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As with many good things in life, this book dropped by pure chance into my hands while browsing (physically) the library. Chance further helped me along: When I started reading the book from the beginning, I got stalled by its rigid nature (7 Zones/7 Steps), but when I started to leaf through and read passages at random, I got mesmerized.

Not only has Terry a brilliant overview over most leadership theories and training tools he also bridges artfully from concept to practice, and it becomes obvious what training should be taken on by what leaders to what purpose.

The absolute highlight of the book however is its chapter on how to deal with chaos and uncertainty:  “Zone 6: Creating Meaning in Chaos”.  In this zone the task of leadership is to uncover deep patterns in chaos and constantly through the art of improvisation and co-creativity derive meaning from the passage through chaos. “Life is art” at this stage, claims Terry and one can only agree when he proposes to use improvisational theatre and ad hoc group story telling as training and awareness raising tools. Strategy is emergent at this phase and direction is given by metaphors and symbols, which can be interpreted individually while at the same time giving guidance to the community. While this zone requires constant reframing and reinterpretation, Terry recommends also to see the organization as theatre from this vantage point, since just as drama elucidates underlying currents in humanity, so can a leader help the “shadow organization” to surface and be explored by the community members, something which I would call the subtext of action or subtext of drama or in this case subtext of the organization. An example how to demonstrate Zone 6 leadership in chaotic situations and meaning creation:  In the ad hoc group story telling process, one can create shared meaning easily when setting a topic as a point attractor to direct the emerging pattern (the narration in its classical sense of exposition, turning point, struggle and regaining equilibrium) to a certain direction while dealing with a maximum of chaos and loss of control.  The essence of storytelling with its paradox essence that a hero pursues what he wants but in the subtext gets what he needs, should be paradigm in consulting and management alike. In my talk with Mathias Gritzka (see podcast on consulting, unfortunately only in German) we also discussed the issue of “deeper, hidden problems” and how consultants are faced with observing that what an organization wants to be solved is rarely identical to what it needs to be solved.

I absolutely agree with Terry: The theme of “meaning” is vital, because we as humans are in constant need of it, and we fill meaning individually with subjects, such as success, justice, empathy, etc. and strive towards creating our environment in this framework.  We need meaning to carry on. And this craving for meaning must be satisfied on the individual level, but also on the community level.  Mintzberg proposed the term “communityship”  (http://bit.ly/cF001c) and distances himself from the term “leadership”.  Quite rightly so! Because if we see leaders from the perspective of the community, then we see the emergence of communities through the facilitation of leaders, which sets communities in the centre of our attention, much less than looking at the individuality of the leader.  If one understands that community is meaning but also a vehicle for meaning co-creation then one can say to have arrived at the beginning of leadership.

Robert Terry died on September 20, 2002. For more on his work: http://www.action-wheel.com/index.html

Sources:

Robert Terry

7 Effective Zones for Leadership

Jaico Publishing House, New Delhi

ISBN 8179921085

Paperback

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