In search of popular management: Sensemaking, sensegiving and storytelling in the excellence project

David Collins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Critical accounts of popular management have tended to caricature the authors of this literary genre and have, furthermore, made broad claims as to the nature and potential of the organizational storytelling which features in these texts. This paper re-examines such claims and proclivities. It argues that any attempt to explore the nature of popular management or to account for the organizing potential of its storytelling must be located within an account of storytelling practice. To this end, the paper offers a critical analysis of the excellence project that is situated within a review of Tom Peters' storyworld. Acknowledging the extent to which popular management deploys organizational storytelling in its endeavours, we offer - uniquely - a longitudinal analysis of Tom Peters' storytelling practices. Noting a tension between organizational sensegiving and organizational sensemaking processes, we argue that the storyworld of the excellence project acts to obscure the frictions, stresses and dislocations associated with the pursuit of business excellence. Highlighting the persistence of local sensemaking processes within and between those forms of public speech fostered by popular management, however, we argue that the tales which constitute the excellence project are, when viewed in context, more diverse and yet less productive than previously imagined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-61
Number of pages20
JournalCulture and Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


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