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Journal of
Management The management of change: a
narrative perspective on
management development
682 Muayyad Jabri
University of New England, Australia and Lingnan University,
Hong Kong, and
James S. Pounder
Lingnan University, Hong Kong
Keywords Narratives, Stories, Management development, Change
Abstract Examines the role of narrative in management development. It contrasts the
characteristics of this genre with the more conventional approach to management development.
Using a management of change course delivered to management practitioners as an example, the
paper draws attention to the value of narrative in enriching knowledge of the effects of change on
individuals. It is argued that narratives express the richness and diversity of human experience
and thus challenge simplistic analyses of management issues such as change that can result from
adherence to narrow, mechanical models of human nature. Thus, narrative is recommended as a
valuable tool for conveying the reality of managerial situations to practitioners engaged in
management development.

We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope,
despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, gossip, learn, hate and love in
narrative (Hardy, 1968, p. 5). Narrative is the expression of actual human
experience, in the form of personal stories. Narrative analysis involves
examining the discourse that allows us to organise, account for, legitimise, and
give meaning to our lives (Griffiths, 1999; Anderson, 1997). In recent years,
management researchers have begun to undertake the study of narrative. This
extension of the scope of management studies is probably neither minor nor
transitory; it is still, however, a movement of individuals rather than of a main
representation. The movement that began in the 1980s with works such as
Martin et al. (1983) and Smircich (1983) has gathered some momentum in recent
years (e.g. Barry and Elmes, 1997; Boje, 1991a, 1991b; Boje et al., 1997; Hatch,
1996). While the later writings have given a decided impetus to the ever-
expanding potential of narrative in management studies, its potential in
management development has not yet been fully realised.
The objective of this paper is to emphasize the role of narrative in
management development. It outlines some of the characteristics of narrative
and indicates its potential for management development. A course on the
management of change delivered to management practitioners by the authors
Journal of Management Development,
Vol. 20 No. 8, 2001, pp. 682-690.
of this paper is used for the purpose of illustration. This is on the
# MCB University Press, 0262-1711 understanding that the value of narrative is not confined to management of
change courses. The paper draws attention to the need for a narrative turn. In The
terms of courses on the management of change, a narrative turn involves management of
trainers in management ``turning'' (taking a new direction) by encouraging change
management development participants' narratives that challenge the
assumptions underlying the traditional presentation of the subject. A narrative
turn also entails management trainers facilitating narratives to encourage
participants to scrutinise their own conceptions of change and its effects. 683
Narrative mode
An instructional mode is a ``preference for a way of delivery that usually
reflects on the part of the instructor (with or without awareness) some form of
personal dedication to a particular paradigm, theoretical world view, or
weltanschauung'' (Jabri, 1997, p. 510). In mainstream education, the mode of
using stories in the classroom is so well established it is difficult to argue with.
Narrative is employed explicitly in early schools where children are encouraged
to tell their stories in the classroom and to couple them with drawings, art, etc.
There is a long tradition of getting teachers to take their cues from the class and
to use stories to facilitate understanding. Additionally, personal narratives ±
journals, autobiographies, and diaries ± are increasingly regarded as having
merit in teachers' education. Other personal self-expressions, whether by staff
or by students, are also being used more widely in adult education (Gannett,
Across academe, many are realizing that the ``academic self'' in classroom
delivery does not act apart from the ``personal self'' of staff or students
(Goodson, 1994; Knowlton, 1995; Tompkins, 1987). Carter (1993) articulates a
definition of narrative as follows:
. . . story is a mode of knowing that captures in a special fashion the richness and nuances of
meaning in human affairs . . . [which] can not be expressed in definitions, statements of fact,
or abstract propositions. It can only be demonstrated or evoked through story. From this
perspective, story is a distinctive mode of explanation characterized by an intrinsic
multiplicity of meaning . . . [It] accommodates ambiguity and dilemma as central figures or
themes . . . [It] is a suitable form for expressing the knowledge that arises from action (Carter,
1993, pp. 7-8).

Narrative studies in management development are not common. This state of

affairs may reflect the prevailing epistemology in management and
organizational research that is concerned with establishing universal
paradigms, or in terms of narrative, meta-narratives, in management and
organisational research. Typical meta-narratives are the management
publications that seem to have proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s with authors
offering ``cures'' for various management ills through the application of their
particular formulas.
Further, management development programmes are often concerned to
demonstrate the relevance of such formulas to actual managerial and
organisational situations. The equivalent instructional mode involves the
management trainer employing various means to convey management
Journal of ``universals'' (i.e. theories, principles, concepts etc.) to participants. These
Management universals are often packaged in texts, lecture notes and cases (all of them
Development forms of stories) which imply that the inherently human problems of
management and organisation can be resolved through the ``objective''
20,8 application of formulae. Narrative departs from the search for universals and
reflects a conception of reality that involves a multiplicity of views and
684 interpretations. These views and interpretations are made known through
narrative or storytelling (Griffith, 1999; Anderson, 1997, Berger and Luckmann,
1996). An example of narrative is contained in Boje et al.'s (1997) ``restorying'' of
re-engineering, arguably on one the most popular management formulae of the
1990s. The narrative of Alice, a displaced worker, in the article by Boje and
colleagues, challenges the conventional wisdom on re-engineering and in so
doing enriches our understanding of the re-engineering process and its

Narrative and the experience of Chloe

In the field of education, Carter and Richardson (1989) argue that teaching is
embedded in, and emerges and develops from, teachers' experiences in the
classroom and from the freedom teachers give to students in sharing the
narratives they bring with them. To the extent that students are given freedom
to tell their stories and discuss their experiences, they are able to learn and
manage those experiences. Practising managers, for example, have a feel for
the ``game of change'' through their work experience and a sense of how it
impacts on others at work. The knowledge they bring with them to a
management development situation is never impersonal; it represents not only
the focused account of change in their organizations but also the tacit
knowledge that is part of their daily work activities (Polanyi, 1967).
The narrative they bring is embedded in the subtleties and complexities of
subjective and interpersonal understandings. What they bring is not
objectivity in their observations of change, but multi-sided and highly situated
interpretations. Such interpretations validate their working knowledge and
practices. Narrative is particularly powerful in exposing inequalities in the
distribution of power in a human situation by presenting the stories of the less
powerful whose voices might otherwise by suppressed. Thus, in a course on the
management of change, narrative can enable participants to comprehend the
impact of change efforts on those employees in organizations who may feel
victims of change. This comprehension is likely to surface as participants are
encouraged to recite their conceptions and the experiences they encounter in
their workplaces.
Noddings (1984) says a narrative should be shared ``in good company''.
Hence, what follows is a narrative from a participant named Chloe (all names
are pseudonyms), in a management of change course conducted by the authors
as part of an in-house management development programme for a large
company in Australia. This short narrative illustrates one understanding of the
experience and effects of change.
Chloe: The
Yes I know what a turnaround is. It is what they call the art of downsizing. My next door management of
neighbour lost her job, she and three other girls were fired. When I spoke to my neighbour she change
told me that it doesn't matter how hard you work, management couldn't care less about
people ± just profits. I couldn't help noticing that she had tears in her eyes as she was telling
me. She'd been working in the company since she was a girl.

In assessing the course, Chloe wrote, ``I have a deeper understanding of change 685
and its effects than ever before and I feel sad since I know so many people who
have been laid off in various organizations I have worked for''. This statement
illustrates an expression of more than one meaning. It shows that evaluation of
a change effort is neither fixed by definition nor freely chosen by the individual
but rather constructed in response to daily encounters.

The use of narrative in management development

The notions of multiple meanings and experiences underpinning the study of
narrative has connotations with some of the more recent debates on
postmodernism in management studies (e.g. Chia, 1995). This is highlighted
when narrative studies expose, for example, the views on change and its
impact, of those who experience hardship resulting from ways in which change
is put into practice. Most postmodernist viewpoints are therefore anti-
foundationalist ± that is they propose the need to accommodate multiple
explanations and levels of meaning.
Stories open new avenues for management development participants to
exchange their experiences of change. It also gives them a depth of knowledge
that conventional approaches to delivering management of change courses
cannot provide. This knowledge comes from comprehending more fully than is
the norm with more traditional instructional approaches, the connection
between theory and practice. Besides that extra knowledge on application, it
gives them and their trainer an opportunity to ``work the hyphen'' (Fine, 1998, p.
153). Fine writes:
By working the hyphen [between Self and Other], I mean to suggest that researchers probe
how we are in relation with the contexts we study and with our informants, understanding
that we are multiple in those relations (Fine, 1998, p. 135).

Thus, working the hyphen in a management of change course involves both

participants and trainer in a self awareness exercise centering on ``whose story
is being told, why, to whom, with what interpretation'' (Fine, 1998), and whose
story is being neglected or even suppressed, why, for whom, and with what
result. Working the hyphen is not only an important intellectual exercise, it is
important both for the practice of management and for the process of
management development. Regarding the practice of management, it prepares
managers to act as effective change agents by sharpening their awareness of
the effects of change on the less powerful and by teasing out managers'
personal perceptions and values associated with change. The authors of this
paper are conscious of their own perceptions and values in proposing that
Journal of empathy with others and self-awareness are important attributes of successful
Management change agents. In the spirit of narrative, the authors' proposition may be
Development considered as one of the multiplicity of meanings and interpretations
surrounding the issue of the management of change.
20,8 Regarding the process of management development, an extract from a recent
narrative between the authors is presented for reflection:
686 MJ:
Chloe has helped me locate myself closer to her singular experience. Now, I know that there is
a range of ``different subjectivities'', and that is what I have to be able to reach. Chloe has
shown me the true value of participants' involvement. She also made me more aware that, for
each individual, the meaning of concepts is coloured by experience.

Not only that, I am beginning to comprehend the meaning of a ``narrative turn''. I find that I
am experiencing a movement, an alteration, a revision, a ``turn'' in my thinking as I start to
question my own views on change and how it might impact on others.

The idea that, for example, change and concepts associated with change take
on universal meanings fails to take account of the fact that we are raised in a
plurality of peer subgroups, each exerting a multiplicity of influences on us.
Howard (1991) makes the point that each of us belongs to a racial group, a
socio-economic group, a gender group, a religious preference, and a political
constituency. The subjective culture of each of us is strongly influenced by the
degree of contact we have with people and institutions that focus on (or see the
world in terms of) their own subcultural perspectives. This fact can be seen as
the basis for the old saying ``Show me your friends, and I'll tell you the kind of
person you are.''
Subjective culture such as that denoted by Howard is captured by stories.
These are described as ``habitations''. Chloe and the rest of us ``live'' in our
stories and use them to reconstruct our ways of seeing things around us. Mair
(1988) describes this phenomenon as follows:
We inhabit the great stories of our culture. We live through stories. We are lived by the stories
of our race and place . . . It is this enveloping and constituting function of stories that is
especially important to sense more fully. We are, each of us, locations where the stories of our
place and time become partially tellable (Mair, 1998, p. 127).

Working the hyphen

Working the (selves-others) hyphen, in a management development setting,
involves participants and trainer in probing how they position themselves in
relation to others, particularly others whose voices may be suppressed.
Working the hyphen is not achieved by encouraging narrative accounts from
participants that amount to recitals of management formulae. Equally, Denzin
(1993) reminds us of the need to avoid academic colonization by ensuring that
no voice becomes an extension of the trainer's voice.
The Chloe experience has influenced the authors' approach, both singly and
working as a team, to delivering a management of change course to
practitioners, either in-company or at our university. The approach involves The
dividing the course into two-hour sessions. In the first session, topics are management of
explored from the ``objective'' viewpoint of relevant texts and articles. In terms change
of narrative, the hyphen (me-them) is maintained. Explanations are given in
terms of the texts and articles and presented ``objectively''. Maintaining the
hyphen at this stage allows participants to absorb the dominant narratives (one
aspect of reality) associated with the subject of change and prepares them for 687
the next step.
The second two hours' session is centered on building up relationships for a
possible working of the (me-them) hyphen. Participants are requested to form
groups of their own choosing comprising five or six members. Members of the
group are encouraged to talk before the authors return to each group in turn
pulling up a chair which symbolically begins to work the hyphen as they
physically become one of ``them''. The authors make a conscious effort to
minimise their own statements which is a further attempt to be absorbed in the
group and thus to continue to work the hyphen. Additionally, by minimising
their own statements, they can focus their attention on the stories of the
Participants' narratives are facilitated by the careful use of questioning.
Four types of questions have been identified in an instructional setting; lineal
questions (investigative intent), strategic questions (corrective intent), circular
questions (exploratory intent) and reflexive questions (facilitative intent)
(Griffith, 1999; Tomm, 1988). Lineal questions ask for a problem definition and,
in terms of the management of change, could, for example, request participants
to define the issues crucial to the successful implementation of change.
Strategic questions of a corrective nature would, for example, ask participants
to define change and then seek to ``correct'' the definitions. Circular questions
are of a comparative nature and, for example, could request participants to
identify the parties they think are least and most affected by a proposed
change. Reflexive questions ask about a hypothetical future and could, for
instance, ask participants to speculate what might happen if a particular
organisation did not go ahead with change.
Working the hyphen requires that strategic questions be banned. Strategic
questions merely reinforce the hyphen by permitting trainers to impose their
models of the world on management development participants. The idea of
correction implies rights and wrongs which are grounded on a preoccupation
with universals, which is inappropriate in a narrative approach to management
development. Conversely, circular and reflexive questions are liberally
employed because these empower the participants and generate narrative.
Typically, the narrative generated relates to a host of change related issues
such as modes of strategy formulation, minority groups, empowerment and
what it really means, job promotion, and discrimination on the basis of gender.
The authors' experiences with narrative indicate that, after a period of
adjustment, participants warm to the approach and become sources of
motivation for each other in their discussions of downsizing, restructuring,
Journal of outsourcing, and other ``buzzwords'' that are invoked to describe forces that are
Management altering employment relationships.
Implications for management development
20,8 It is important to recognize that very little has been done to reflect on the
contribution of narrative in management development. More importantly, little
688 has been done to examine ways and means of using narratives to capture the
background knowledge that participants bring with them to management
development situations. Narratives help participants to examine management
concepts and place them within the richness of human experience where the
concepts rightly belong. It is the authors of this paper's ``story'' that the practice
of management can only be enhanced when concepts such as change are
``clothed'' with the reality that results from narrative. Simply put, using the
management of change as an example, employing narrative enables
participants to become more aware of the complexity of change and the care
that needs to be exercised when it comes to implementation. Arguably,
developing an awareness of the human complexity surrounding many of the
issues facing practising managers is at the core of management development.
Equally, it is contended that the management development experience will
be enriched when trainers encourage the particular conceptions of their
students via their narratives. Thus, when management trainers listen, and
tease out participants' stories through the careful use of questioning,
management concepts that can seem to be divorced from reality become
powerful means of reflecting on reality. As a postscript, it is perhaps
informative to express the value of narrative by contrasting it with another
form of story, namely the traditional case study. Unlike a given case, a
narrative has a specific personal reference, or a ``subjectivity'', which can be
revisited, checked, challenged and modified by management development
participants themselves. Promoting narratives is not meant to demean the use
of cases or other conventional modes of management development ± it simply
makes the plea for more attention to be paid to less orthodox modes and sees
such variations as an important aspect of management development.
In management of change courses, narrative induces discussion of how
change impacts on others. It is likely to gives participants more exposure than
cases to sites of possible oppression that might result from the deployment of
certain change levers such as re-engineering. The notion of these sites should
enable participants to evaluate a variety of alternative ways to conduct change
that might alleviate the burden on those likely to be oppressed by change. It
enables them to become more aware of where they stand vis-aÁ-vis the
knowledge and application of change levers. It helps them to think of under-
privileged constituencies, the oppression of certain groups of stakeholders, and
how to sustain the momentum for change in the face of these challenges.

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