Making Sense of Decoupling Through Narration: The Case of Anti-Corruption



How do actors make sense of compliance and goal achievement in the context of global governance? Previous research on decoupling in the context of organizations has suggested that there is a trade-off between complying with social or environmental policies and achieving the goals associated with those policies: trying to remedy the decoupling of policies from practices tends to jeopardize efforts to remedy the decoupling of the means that actors use from the ends they seek to achieve. Building on this research, we develop a process model of how temporally and spatially distributed processes of sensemaking help actors reinterpret and resolve through narratives the tensions that this trade-off potentially creates. We furthermore elucidate how and why this trade-off shifts the meanings, realities, and behaviors that it predicts and can thus become self-negating. Our theoretical model is underpinned by data from a case study on anticorruption at a large multinational corporation operating in heterogeneous countries with high and low corruption risks. We found that while the early narratives were heterogeneous and focused on the compliance–achievement gap, later narratives were largely homogeneous and focused on solutions and progress. Our study provides deep insights into the social dynamics of decoupling and sheds light on the conditions under which the compliance–achievement gap is socially deconstructed and the mechanisms that mediate this process.

Andreas Georg Scherer holds the Chair of Foundations of Business Administration and Theories of the Firm at the University of Zurich (Switzerland). His research interests are in Business Ethics, Critical Theory, International Management, Organization Theory, and Philosophy of Science. He has published nine books. His work has appeared in Academy of Management Review, Business Ethics Quarterly, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Management Studies, Organization, Organization Studies, and in numerous volumes and other journals. He is an associate editor of Business Ethics Quarterly and member of the editorial boards of Journal of Management Studies, Organization, and Organization Studies. Email:

Seminar Series on Grand Challenges in Management and Organizations
This event is part of the Seminar Series on Grand Challenges in Management and Organizations. We have invited leading researchers from business schools around the world who connect grand challenges to mainstream management and organizational theory and manage to publish their work in the leading journals of our field (AMJ, AMR, etc.). Each of the invited speakers will deliver a seminar and in addition to this will offer a short informal workshop as well.

March 29 Mark de Rond: Ethnography of war hospital in Afghanistan  
April 19 Juliane Reinecke: Social movements, framing and standard setting in societal change 
May 24 Andreas Scherer: Making Sense of decoupling through narration: The Case of Anti-Corruption

After summer Roy Suddaby: Title and exact date to be announced 
Tina Dacin: Title and date to be announced