Making sense of the organisation from the front line : the call centre context
Sensemaking is a key concept supporting managerial and organisational cognitive research, and the analysis of various intervening processes that mediate how organisational members simplify and make sense of their environments. This study has directly responded to the challenge set by researchers to extend the utility of the sensemaking concept to contexts other than management. Here it was applied in the context of the United Kingdom call centre sector, where concerns have been expressed regarding a variety of key working practices that have been reported to be less than desirable, and focused upon the call centre front line worker. Reflecting a number of recent methodological debates, the study applied a multidisciplinary approach, and the employment of cause mapping data elicitation procedures. The research methodology developed enabled the collection of 200 cause maps across 5 organisations, spanning public and private sectors, in a manner that was meaningful for study participants and sufficiently rigorous to allow comparisons to be made between individual maps and across various subgroups. A variety of situational factors and individual differences variables were taken into consideration in terms of their potential impact upon, and ability to be influenced and shaped by, the processes of sensemaking. It was found that the various attempts to institutionalise call centres into an industry has not yet penetrated the lower reaches of the organisations in this study, and numerous additional insights were revealed regarding the differences in patterns of sensemaking across organisations and various sub-groups. The study has provided insights ultimately enhancing our understanding of the processes required to improve the working conditions of such front line employees. Management and employee relations were particularly salient issues for this study population. However, the variance in sensemaking revealed in this study implies that the realities of management and employee may be quite different, with these multiple realities potentially leading to fundamental misconceptions between the two parties. This has implications in terms of a wide range of organisational factors, for example job design and performance measurement. More attention is now required to take account of the sensemaking of non-managerial populations who, in and beyond the call centre context, make up the largest part of almost any contemporary work organisation.