Managerial Survival: Middle Manager Sense-Making during Organisational Change




middle managers, sense-making, organisational change, strategising-as-practice, reframing, constraints, restructuring, change implementation, thematic analysis, coping


Purpose: The lived experiences of middle managers within the messy realities of change offer valuable insight into how middle managers deal with disruptions. The purpose of this research was to explore the lived experiences of middle managers within the messy realities of strategising during organisational change.

Study design/methodology/approach: Using a qualitative, intrinsic, single-case study grounded in Weick’s sense-making theory, the sense-making practices of middle managers during organisational change were explored. Data was gathered through email journals over four months and enabled real-time tracking of microlevel strategising after change implementation. A constructionist form of thematic analysis was adopted and explored middle managers’ organisational social reality.

Findings: Sense-making occurs on a cognitive and emotional level. Participants attached meaning to actions and thereby created a sense for themselves and others towards organisational security and sustainability. Middle managers reframed the constraining organisational context through embodied sense-making for practical coping, which enabled them to rise above the organisational complexity and contradiction.

Originality/value: Recommendations are offered to support middle managers during organisational change.


Author Biographies

Ms Shereen Samson, Department of Business Management, University of South Africa

Shereen Samson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sout Africa. She completed her masters degree with distinction and her research deals with middle manager sense-making. She works as a lecturer in the private higher education industry in South Africa. 

Dr Charmaine Williamson, Department of Business Management, University of South Africa

Dr Charmaine Williamson is an Alumnus of UNISA and is currently an academic advisor to universities around Higher Degrees (PhD and M) candidates in the fields of academic argument and writing, theory and qualitative methodologies including facilitating ATLAS.ti support. She is an Academic Associate at Unisa and works in practitioner fields around research grant funding. She has published 10 peer reviewed articles/chapters and is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches. She currently holds an international advisory position as a peer mentor for the Society of Research Administration (SRA), USA and has worked extensively on research management practices co-developing the only African competency framework for Research Management under contract with SARIMA, where she currently still holds a part-time contract.

Prof Annemarie Davis, Department of Business Management, University of South Africa

Annemarie Davis is an associate professor in Strategic Management at the University of South Africa. She  conducted her doctoral research within the strategy-as-practice perspective. She is a qualitative researcher with a focus on micro-strategizing practices and favours studies in the middle manager context.