Title page for ETD etd-04132005-153531

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Barnett, Kathleen
Author's Email Address Kathleen.Barnett@selu.edu
URN etd-04132005-153531
Title Creating Meaning in Organizational Change: A Case in Higher Education
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Communication Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Loretta Pecchioni Committee Chair
Andrew King Committee Member
Becky Ropers-Huilman Committee Member
Renee Edwards Committee Member
Lawrence Mann Dean's Representative
  • stakeholders
  • organizational communication
  • symbolic interactionism
Date of Defense 2005-03-09
Availability unrestricted
As change is an inevitable part of organizational life, this study explores one aspect of communication in organizational change: the creation and use of meaning during the change process. The implementation of a new, higher education admissions criteria framework of a state master plan is the specific change under study. University administrators, contracted consultants, and board staff members participated in the study. Framed by symbolic interactionism and a stakeholder perspective, I pose four research questions:

RQ1: What meanings were created during the particular process of change under study?

RQ2: How were meanings intentionally and unintentionally created among stakeholders during this organizational change?

2a: How do the various elements (e.g., documents, meetings, etc.) of organizational change interact with and influence one another during the change process?

RQ3: How does the presence of similar and dissimilar meanings influence the change process?

RQ4: From a symbolic interactionist perspective, how does the concept of multiple levels of power affect the process of creating meaning during organizational change?

A qualitative approach, including interviews, text analysis, and observations was utilized to address these questions. In all, twenty interviews were conducted and fifteen texts reviewed for analysis.

As a result of data analysis, categories of meaning were determined. These categories help to define the experiences of the participants and reveal subtle details of the interactions taking place among the stakeholders. The concept that meanings are created intentionally and sometimes unintentionally through the use (or lack) of symbols was also evident. Examples of symbols in this study include meetings, workshops, and written documents.

Data analysis further revealed that both similar and dissimilar meanings were created through interactions. The existence of similar meanings helps to facilitate change processes while dissimilar meanings can hinder the process. Aspects of power are relevant to this study as evidence points to the concept that the type of power a person possesses impacts the meanings created.

Several strategies for more effective communication in organizational change are suggested as a result of the findings from this study. Finally, implications for future research are included.

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