Organizational Ghosts as Resources for Sensemaking

SITE (Science, Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship)

Speaker:Prof. Ann Langley , HEC Montreal
Date: Thursday 20 February 2020
Time: 10:30
Location: DECK, Innovation Centre

Further details

Abstract: Scholars have studied the role of narratives, metaphors and material objects as resources for sensemaking. In this paper (work in progress), we focus on the role of a somewhat different, ‘not-quite-material’ and ‘not-quite-metaphorical’ resource: the ‘organizational ghost.’ By the term ‘organizational ghost,’ we refer to deceased organizational founders or historical leaders whose ‘presence’ continues to be felt beyond their demise. Our study builds on the nascent conversation on rhetorical history and uses of the past to examine the various ways through which deceased founder figures may be mobilized in the present both within and beyond organizational boundaries. We draw on five case studies developed from publicly available data to identify three distinct ways in which organizational ghosts are implicated in sensemaking: (1) encapsulating the ‘raison-d’être’ by distilling the founder’s ‘spirit,’ (2) humanizing the organization by retelling ‘ghost stories,’ and (3) interpreting events and actions by ‘channelling’ the founder. We note that although organizational ghosts are brought to life in the present by human actors, they partially escape their control despite their immateriality. Ghosts from the past may come to ‘haunt’ organizations, constructing meanings (or ‘making sense’) in ways that may sometimes appear problematic or constraining by contemporary managers as they look towards the future. This research is being conducted in collaboration with Joëlle Basque, Nora Meziani and Viviane Sergi.