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The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science

DOI: 10.1177/0021886305285455
2006; 42; 182 Journal of Applied Behavioral Science

Jean M. Bartunek, Denise M. Rousseau, Jenny W. Rudolph and Judith A. DePalma
by Others

On the Receiving End: Sensemaking, Emotion, and Assessments of an Organizational Change Initiated

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10.1177/0021886305285455ARTICLETHE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCEJune 2006Bartunek et al. / ON THE RECEIVING END

On the Receiving End
Sensemaking, Emotion, and Assessments of an
Organizational Change Initiated by Others

Jean M. Bartunek
Boston College

Denise M. Rousseau
Carnegie Mellon University

Jenny W. Rudolph
Boston University School of Public Health

Judith A. DePalma
Slippery Rock University

This study focuses on the interpretations and experiences of change recipients, those who
carry out organizational interventions initiated by others. Based on the ways nurses expe-
rienced a shared governance initiative implemented in their hospital, the authors investi-
gated change recipients’ sensemaking about organizational change through their ascribed
meanings, emotional responses, and perceptions of its impacts on them. Survey data
demonstrated how nurses subjectively assessed their gains and losses from the change
initiative. Participation in the initiative increased the experience of gains, as did member-
ship in a unit where change was implemented more fully. Textual analysis of open-ended
responses to the survey indicated that gains were linked with interpretations of the change
initiative and pleasant feelings and that there was considerable emotional contagion
within work units. Such effects are particularly likely in employee empowerment initia-
tives as experiences are linked to interpretation and mood among change recipients.

Keywords: shared governance; sensemaking; organizational change; change recipi-
ents; emotion

182

THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE, Vol. 42 No. 2, June 2006 182-206
DOI: 10.1177/0021886305285455
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Page 13

Implementation of Shared Governance at the Research Site

Although SG has been successfully implemented in numerous hospitals across the
United States, our results must be understood in the specific context studied. Inter-
views with several senior nurse managers charged with overseeing SG in the hospital
we studied (Rousseau & Tijoriwala, 1999) suggested that the intent of implementation
at the hospital was consistent with the positive expectations sketched out in our intro-
duction. Hospital change agents emphasized the following outcomes in their meetings
with nurses: increased professionalism, including point-of-service decision mak-
ing; increased nursing responsibility and accountability; improved quality and cost-
effectiveness of patient care; improved communication across nursing units and thus
improved work relationships; and shared decision-making processes between staff
and administration. Councils were developed as a means to facilitate these changes.
As noted earlier, change agents and hospital leadership agreed that some nursing units
were more effective than others in implementing the councils and other SG-related
practices.

SG is not simple to implement (Burnhope & Edmonstone, 2003; Scott & Caress,
2005), and senior nurse managers noted that the intervention encountered a number of
difficulties. Rank-and-file nurses at the hospital tended to blame SG for changes that
were the result of other initiatives recently or concurrently being carried out in nursing.
These included restructuring nursing administration by removing a layer of supervi-
sion within each unit, downsizing by voluntary attrition and transfer, and transitioning
to a new patient care model. The intermingling of these initiatives blurred the bound-
aries among them and added to the difficulties recipients had in responding to any one
of them. In particular, the restructuring of the nursing department removed first-line
managers early on in the SG implementation process before nurses were trained in
self-management skills and left them without daily coaching in these skills. Increased
patient ratios in some units—the result of downsizing—left many staff nurses feeling
that they had to struggle to keep up with the patient care load on top of the new manage-
rial and planning duties SG instituted. Education preceded implementation of new
processes, so nurses viewed the content as largely hypothetical. Moreover, the small
amount of education provided on SG and the skills needed to carry it out were un-
available to newcomers hired subsequently.

In consequence, SG’s implementation at the hospital was more complicated and
problematic than the ideal change agents and SG consultants portrayed. Insofar as
actual implementation is often more difficult than it is portrayed, sensemaking and
affect associated with the intervention are of prime importance in understanding the
change recipient experience.

Statistical Analyses

Means, standard deviations, and correlations among all the measures are shown in
Table 1. Mean scores indicate that the overall feeling associated with SG was mildly
pleasant (1.86 out of 3) and mildly activated (1.76 out of 3). However, no measure of

Bartunek et al. / ON THE RECEIVING END 193

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Page 14

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Page 25

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