A study investigates how top management teams in higher education institutions make sense of important issues that affect strategic change in modern academia. A 2-phase research approach was used that progressed from a grounded model anchored in a case study to a quantitative, generalizable study of the issue interpretation process, using 611 executives from 372 colleges and universities in the US. The findings suggest that under conditions of change, top management team members' perceptions of identity and image, especially desired future image, are key to the sensemaking process and serve as important links between the organization's internal context and the team members' issue interpretations. Rather than using the more common business issue categories of "threats" and "opportunities," team members distinguished their interpretations mainly according to "strategic" or "political" categorizations.
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