Making sense of the future – sensemaking and sensegiving efforts of management consultancies during COVID-19 pandemic

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
116 + 8
In Spring 2020, the world was hit by an unforeseen crisis, the corona pandemic. During this fundamental shock, management consulting firms took a role as message brokers, market mediators, and crisis strategists and published multiple reports and articles on how businesses can survive through the crisis but also how they can rebuild themselves for the future after the crisis. During the COVID-19-crisis, management consulting firms engaged in sensemaking and sensegiving processes which materialized in reports and articles. The purpose of this thesis is to study how the corona pandemic was made sense of and sense given in management consulting reports. This thesis intends to contribute to the emerging research on future-oriented sensemaking by examining the sensemaking and sensegiving efforts of an ongoing event. Also, this study adds knowledge to existing scarce research on the narratives of management consultancies. This thesis is conducted as data-driven, inductive qualitative research. I analyse the texts published by four leading multinational management consulting firms. The empirical material was mainly collected from March 2020 to December 2020. The thoroughly read and analysed reports numbered 48 and comprised 699 pages of material for analysis. The data were analysed inductively, using the Gioia method as a basis to bring rigour to the data analysis and find meaningful themes from the texts in a structured way. The findings of this thesis present that management consultants utilize both retrospective and prospective sensemaking in their narratives. By labelling concepts and describing future implications in reports, I find that management consultancies engage in a theorization of ideas (Strang & Meyer 1993) and legitimating novel categories (Navis & Glynn 2011) which may create change in current institutions. In addition, management consultancies utilize tools of environmental sensemaking and attempt to market the corona pandemic as the redefining critical event to shift the minds of the elite and mass public. This study suggests that sensegiving narratives of management consultancies constructed via three steps: first the disruptive COVID-19-related changes are explained, secondly speculations of the future development are presented, thirdly recommendations on how organizations can prepare for the future are stated. My findings also present that the corona pandemic is considered a fundamental crisis that is believed to change the current economic order. In this study, I explain how COVID-19 is described to disrupt multiple business areas such as supply chains, crisis management, healthcare, consumer business, working practices, and technology.
Thesis advisor
Luoma, Jukka
Schildt, Henri
sensemaking, sensegiving, COVID-19, corona pandemic, management consulting firms, narratives
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