Making sense of CSR: translation between setters, enforcers and enactors

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies are mobilised by organisations as a way of rectifying negative impacts of their business activity, improving reputation and making positive differences to society, the economy and the environment. Arguably, CSR strategies are set by Strategic management which are then interpreted, enforced and diffused by middle management. Such enforcement and diffusion is then further interpreted and enacted by operational staff. It cannot be assumed that strategic management (setters), middle management (enforcers) and operational staff (enactors) interpret and make sense of CSR in the same way, nor can it be assumed what is enacted, matches what was envisaged by the setters. Sensemaking is a continuous process of understanding individuals experience when faced with new information. In order to explore the on-going hierarchal process of interpretation when enacting a CSR strategy, a sensemaking lens is adopted to investigate the understandings, motivations and behaviours within a national construction organisation. Qualitative interviews were conducted with various practitioners in an attempt to discover how different levels of the organisational hierarchy made sense of a CSR strategy. Drawing from Weick’s (1995) seven principles of sensemaking, analysis of the qualitative data revealed sensemaking to differ across those who set, enforce and enact CSR strategies. The research confirms arguments about the way strategies are typically assumed to diffuse and also draws in arguments regarding the separation between formulation and implementation of strategies.