Sense-making in the process of reengineering: A symbolic interactionist study of administrative cognitive styles in a community college

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

John H. Croghan, Committee Chair


The purpose of this study was two-fold: (1) to investigate campus administrators' sensemaking processes as compared to their cognitive styles (defined as the scores and sub-scores on the Gregorc Style Delineator and the Cognitive-Style Inventory) during a community college's reengineering initiative, and (2) to study the unfolding nature of sensemaking as community college administrators gave local meaning to reengineering: its definition, ambiguity and uncertainty, symbolic events, and metaphors. Weick's (1995) theory of sensemaking in organizations was used to investigate sensemaking characteristics and orientations of three groups of community college campus administrators $(N=35)$ during reengineering.The study's design used a mixed inductive-deductive paradigm within a naturalistic inquiry model. Data were collected from structured open-ended interviews, on-looker observations, archival documents, the Gregorc Style Delineator and the Cognitive-Style Inventory.The primary findings were: (1) local meanings of high ambiguity and uncertainty, reengineering, symbolic events and metaphoric language revealed sensemaking patterns among administrative groups. Based on McCaskey's (1982) model, levels of high ambiguity and uncertainty formed around 10 of the 12 characteristics. Administrators interpreted reengineering in terms of effectiveness and efficiency (senior and mid-level), organizational change (mid-level), and suspicious jargon for down-sizing (first-line supervisors). The Reduction-in-Force (RIF) and the campus presidential realignment were two symbolic events reported by all groups, although meanings ascribed differed. Metaphoric language emerged into four themes: betrayal, chaos, mystification, and transformation. (2) Emergent sensemaking patterns yielded an organizational model designated as "Significant Other" versus the traditional paternalistic organizational view. (3) Senior and mid-level administrative groups were oriented to Action-driven sensemaking, Concrete Sequential information processing, and Split-Style learning. First-line supervisors were oriented to Belief-driven sensemaking, Abstract Random information processing, and Split-Style learning. (4) Positive correlations were obtained between group membership and the sensemaking and Gregorc variables. No statistically significant relationships were determined between group membership and the Cognitive-Style Inventory variables.


Education, Community College; Education, Administration; Engineering, Industrial; Psychology, Cognitive; Education, Higher

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