Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 20

vol. 46, 2006/4, pp.

397 416

Anne-Marie Sderberg

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis in a Study of a Cross-border Merger


Abstract

Narratives are important tools in constructing an organization, and individual and collective narratives about key actors and critical events compete in defining the organization and making sense of the challenges faced in organizational change processes. This article introduces narrative interviewing and narrative analysis as qualitative methods relevant to international business research, with illustrations from a case study of a cross-border merger.

Key Results

Narrative interviews offer access to the plurivocal organizational world. A narrative analysis focuses on interviewees story-work and how it constitutes organizational reality.

Author
Anne-Marie Sderberg, Professor, Department of Intercultural Communication and Management, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark. Manuscript received August 2004, revised February 2005, final revision received November 2005.

vol. 46, 2006/4

397

Anne-Marie Sderberg

Introduction
Many international business studies point to the fact that mergers and acquisitions often fail to deliver the benefits strived for, and that acquiring and merging across borders create many problems for the people involved (Buono/Bowditch 2003, Stahl/Mendenhall 2005). It is not only top managers who tend to frame mergers and acquisitions as integration processes: the majority of researchers within the field also adopt a fairly conventional integration perspective for understanding mergers and, moreover, apply methodological and analytical tools that do not necessarily capture the socio-cultural and political dynamics in complex organizational change processes. There is, however, a growing interest among scholars within international business studies to apply qualitative research methods. Recently, this interest has been accentuated by the publication of a comprehensive handbook of qualitative research methods (Marschan-Piekkari/Welch 2004), introducing and reflecting on methodological issues related to all stages of the research process. This article introduces narrative interviewing and narrative analysis as qualitative methods and shows their potential relevance to field studies of international business issues. It draws on theoretical and methodological contributions within a cross-disciplinary field consisting of discourse analysis, narratology, organization studies and international business studies. Employing empirical illustrations based on a qualitative analysis of a large body of narrative interviews with key decision makers in four merging companies, this article aims to demonstrate how a narrative analysis provides a specific methodology for uncovering elements of integration, differentiation and fragmentation discourses (Martin 2002) in the interviews given and the company texts produced during the complex merger processes. The main questions addressed are: How can organizational change processes be studied through the stories told in the polyphonic organization? How can an analysis of narrative interviews shed light on different attempts to make sense of and give sense to critical events and actions? The article is organized as follows. The introductory part includes sections on narrative and narrative discourse analysis. Subsequently, the research design is presented, including reflections on the organizational context in which the narrative interviews were conducted. Then follows an analysis of two narrative interviews with a focus on the narrators selection and sequencing of events, their choice of focal actors among the organizational members, and their development of these actors characters as part of specific plot constructions that fit well into their retrospective interpretation of a course of events and the obstacles they face. A concluding section summarizes some benefits of narrative interviewing and narrative analysis as qualitative methods in an international business research context, and reflects on potential limitations of a purely narrative approach. 398 vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

Narratives and Story-work


Narratology is the theory of narrative texts. Narratologists distinguish between three layers (Bal 1985): the text itself as a system of linguistic signs, the fabula, and the narrative.1 Events, actors, time and location are the basic building blocks of a fabula; these elements are organized by the narrator into a narrative/a story. Narratives may construct the same events differently and interpret the actions of the selected actors from different points of view. It means that when, for example, deep disagreement between members of an organization are uncovered in their narratives, crucial questions related to the company vision, strategy and organizational change processes are often evoked (Boyce 1996). Drawing on narrative studies such as Bal (1985), Boje (2001), Bruner (1991), Czarniawska (1998, 2001) and Gabriel (2000), I will focus on some necessary characteristics of a narrative and describe the story-work through which everyday experiences are transformed into narratives that make sense to the narrators and their audience. A narrative has a chronological dimension. It is made up of a sequence of actions and events along a timeline. A narrative should include a beginning and an end, and account for a transition from the initial state of equilibrium to another situation, irrespective of whether it moves from something good to bad or vice versa. A narrative is a retrospective interpretation. A narrative always has an identifiable voice reflecting the specific point of view from which the narrator views a selected number of events. This retrospective interpretation involves a temporal arrangement of the events one which may differ from the chronological sequence and include flash-backs and flash-forwards. The narrator thus prioritizes and orders the events and places them in a particular context in order to suggest connections between the events and provide causal explanations. This kind of story-work, through which an underlying meaning is generated, involves the use of certain poetic tropes (Gabriel 2000, p. 38). These interpretative devices include: attribution of motive; attribution of causal connections between two incidents; attribution of responsibility, such as blame and credit, for example; attribution of unity, where a group is treated as an undifferentiated entity; and attribution of fixed qualities in opposition. The selected events and actors are integrated into a given plot structure and related to the narrators specific project. A narrative focuses on the action of the narrator and others, whereas a description or report invariably focuses only on facts. What happens in a narrative is explained by the narrator who may consciously attribute unintended meaning to the actions of the focal actors. These actors are often provided with distinctive traits and in this way transformed into characters (e.g., a hero, a villain). Based on analyses of the morphology in folk tales, Greimas (1966) developed a model, with six actants arranged as three pairs in binary opposition, which vol. 46, 2006/4 399

Anne-Marie Sderberg Figure 1. Greimass Actantial Model

Source: based on Greimas 1966

describes fundamental patterns in narratives. The actants may be either persons or abstractions (e.g., survival, cleverness, hard work). Greimass actantial model is widely applied in narrative analysis of plot structures, and above it is applied to a fairy tale of a prince who combats a force of evil to free a princess, after which he receives her hand in marriage from her father, the king (Figure 1). This model will be used to elucidate how different managers understood the change processes in a cross-border merger, how they interpreted the challenges they faced, and which roles they gave themselves and other focal actors. What were they aiming to achieve when they installed themselves as subjects? Who did they regard as their helpers, allies and their opponents? Who were emplotted as their heroes and villains? Narrating is part of identity constructions. In daily language use identity is often defined as a stable and well-defined entity, but in line with the tradition within sociology and anthropology that conceptualizes identity as a social construct (see, for example, Ainsworth/Hardy 2004, Hall 1996), identity constructions are viewed as ongoing negotiations of meaning. Narrative interviews can thus be treated as a site for the narrators identification processes rather than as a textual object for the study of identities as products. Based on this theoretical understanding, the narrators retrospective interpretations of events and actions are seen as closely related to their shifting constructions of themselves and the groups to which they belong: the other whom they relate to, marginalize or exclude. The social identities created in narrative interviews are relational. They may be defined by place or function, referring to different geographic locations or national communities (Wodak et al. 1999). They may be defined by generation and relate to the groups within the company that share certain historic events; for example, people who survived economic crises in the financial sector in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as opposed to those who were employed since then. The narrators may also identify with a particular profession or business area (Parker 2000, Sackmann 2003), 400 vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

or whatever makes sense in the specific situation in which organizational changes challenge the narrators interpretation patterns and for a while induce them to divide their cognitive universe into us and them (Kleppest 1998). The wide repertoire of possible identifications constitutes a symbolic resource that can be actively mobilized and creatively constructed by members of an organization in their narratives. They may, for example, serve the function as resistance to a hegemonic integration discourse in the struggles between merger partners and business areas (Ailon-Souday/ Kunda 2003). A narrative is co-authored by the narrators audience. Narrators often want to create impressions of their rationality through their use of substantive arguments a logos proof, to use a rhetorical term. At the same time, narrators want to establish their authority as credible sources and convey an impression of their brightness and professional experience, an ethos proof in rhetorical terms. Sometimes, they also make efforts to present themselves so that their emotions of anger, fear, admiration or indignation seem reasonable and worthy of the audiences empathy, a pathos proof in rhetorical terms (Cheney et al. 2004). Moreover, narrators may use an interviewer not only as their audience, but also as a potential mediator of their interpretations and their world-view. It is thus extremely important, as part of a narrative analysis, to draw special attention to, and reflect on, the quality of the social interaction between narrator and audience.

Narrative Discourse Analysis


Narrative analysis is a subfield of discourse studies. Whereas discourse studies have gained more solid ground within organizational and management studies during the last decade, with many scholars taking a linguistic turn (see, for example, Alvesson/Krreman 2000, Grant et al. 1998, 2004, Phillips/Hardy 2002), it is a fairly novel approach within international business studies (see, for example, Sderberg/ Vaara 2003, Tienari et al. 2005, Vaara/Tienari 2004). It is important to emphasize that a study of discourses, such as the one presented in this article, rests on a set of meta-theoretical assumptions concerning the constructive effects of language, the researchers position and the organizational as well as the wider social context. Narrative discourse analysis is not just a set of techniques and practices of data collection, analysis and interpretation of texts; it rests on the basic assumption that social reality cannot be approached and understood separately from discourse. An organizational reality is produced through the discourses that frame the organizational actors sense of who they are. It means that texts and talk such as, for example, company documents, and individual and collective narratives about the organization are not merely representing and mirroring a social vol. 46, 2006/4 401

Anne-Marie Sderberg

reality; they are constituting the world. In other words, they are creating, maintaining or changing the organization (Czarniawska/Gagliardi 2003, Mumby/Clair 1997). It is the discursive practices of various organizational actors that shape the organization and frame their sense of who they are and what the organization stands for. Cross-border mergers and acquisitions can thus be seen as socially constructed by various discourses (e.g., discourses of integration, differentiation and fragmentation (Martin 2002)), produced by the organizational actors and circulating among them inside and outside the merging companies. Elements of these various organizational discourses are sometimes juxta-positioned or intertwined in the same texts or pieces of social interaction (Ybema 1997), such as can be observed in the narrative interviews analyzed below. Weick (1995) emphasizes that in situations in which an organization undergoes dramatic changes, for example after an international merger or acquisition, there is a need for stories to create coherence and order in the cognitive universe of organizational actors. Storytelling is part of the process through which actors in an organization attach meaning to events and activities by entering them into the plot they have created on the basis of their personal experiences. However, senior managers spearheading organizational change processes are not only involved in sensemaking activities; they also have a certain power to define the situation. They may try to impart their interpretation of the company vision or propagate their understanding of specific events and difficulties met, and thus offer an interpretative pattern to other members of the organization. In that respect, they are also involved in sensegiving, as they are making conscious efforts to influence the sensemaking processes of others (Gioia/Chittipeddi 1991, Weick et al. 2005). As a researcher studying individual and collective narratives from the case study of a cross-border merger, I consider it not only my right, but also my professional duty, to go beyond the plots constructed by the narrators in their poetic interpretation of a course of events, and to make an analytical interpretation and a recontextualization of the empirical material.2 My reading is based on a theoreticallyinformed understanding of narratives as cognitive tools in sensemaking and sensegiving activities, and as sites for the social construction of multiple identities in the face of organizational changes. I am interested in narratives as symbolic means by which meaning is variously negotiated, shared and contested (Humphreys/Brown 2002, p. 422). My reading also takes into consideration the fact that people through their texts and talk constitute specific social relations, identities and images of the organization, either maintaining specific social and organizational structures and practices or contributing to their change (Fairclough/Wodak 1997, Fairclough 2005). In line with Czarniawska and Gagliardi (2003) and Weick et al. (2005), I argue that narratives have important organizing functions because different narratives create or constitute different organizations. I am therefore concerned with the issue of to what extent the senior managers in their narratives wholeheartedly identify with their roles as the corporations committed change agents, sensegivers and 402 vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

strategic communicators, and support the announced socio-cultural integration through special company initiatives. Furthermore, I am concerned with the extent to which their narratives add to differentiating and fragmenting forces at work within the merging corporation.

Narrative Interviewing about a Cross-border Merger


If we are to understand individual and collective narratives and their potential organizing effects, we must also understand and reflect on the organizational context in which they emerge. The interviews from which I quote below originate from a longitudinal case study of a quadruple Nordic merger leading to the formation of the firm Nordea. A Nordic group of researchers3 undertook participant observations and carried out narrative interviews in 2001 with 53 senior executives and key decision makers for the purpose of collecting their individual stories about critical events and actions in relation to merger negotiations and the subsequent change processes. This research design reflects an understanding that organizations are not discursively monolithic, but rather polyphonic. It gives voice to a multiplicity of organizational actors, representing different nationalities, business areas, staff functions, professions and hierarchical positions. All narrative interviews were performed in situ, in the interviewees own office or in a company conference room, and they typically lasted from one-and-a-half to two hours. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. Most interviews were carried out by one researcher of the same nationality and sharing the same native language as the interviewee.4 The group of researchers involved in the research project attached great importance to this for two main reasons. They assumed that most people find it easier to express themselves in a more varied and unrestrained way in their native language (see also Marschan-Piekkari/Reis 2004), even though English is the companys corporate language, at least at top management level. They also expected that it would be easier for an interviewee to tell an interviewer of the same nationality about possible disagreements and perceived cooperation problems with the merger partners from the other countries and thus create an ad-hoc national community with the interviewer as co-author of the narratives. Afterwards, all interviews were distributed within the research team, and all interpretations were discussed in detail with the person who had conducted the interview and made field notes, in order to avoid misinterpretation through a context-free reading. The intended focus in the narrative interviews was the senior managers personal experiences and thoughts about the merger, not the official story about the merger known from the companys strategic communication articulated, for example, in press releases, newspaper interviews and annual reports. Such company documents vol. 46, 2006/4 403

Anne-Marie Sderberg

were, however, also part of the empirical material collected and analyzed. It is the reason why the managers narratives are set in contrast to the company document Making It Possible in the empirical analysis below. The focus on the multiple and dissonant voices within the polyphonic organization presents an opportunity to elucidate a potential discrepancy between, on the one hand, the corporate identity construction in top managements strategic communication about the merger the hegemonic stories of what the organization is and what it stands for and, on the other hand, the multiplicity of narratives told by those who more or less challenge an integrative perspective (Martin 2002) of the organization and struggle with each other about the interpretation of a series of critical events. In my capacity as interviewer, I was participant and co-author of the narratives told to me by the Danish executives. The interviews were carried out on my initiative, and I told the interviewees about the objective of the research project. In contrast to standardized or semi-structured interviews, I asked only very few questions to set the scene. Most of the time, I just listened or asked a few clarifying questions intended to stimulate the storytelling. I deliberately tried to avoid commenting and evaluating in the course of the interview. I encouraged the interviewees to give accounts with specific examples of their working situation and to tell me about their perception of critical events in relation to the merger and its integration processes. It is crucial for the interview process and the dyadic relationship that the interviewee feels that the few questions asked are relevant to facilitating a deeper insight into his or her5 cognitive universe. An understanding of the interviewers role as the narrators empathic fellow traveller (Gabriel 2000) has guided the efforts. The strong emotions that in places characterize the senior executives narratives or disagreements as regards visions for the future and problems in the integration processes show that this kind of empathic relationship was established to a great extent. For a researcher trained in conducting surveys and semi-structured interviews, it can be quite demanding to conduct narrative interviews because you tend to think about how to bring the interviewee back to the point (Czarniawska 1998, 2001), instead of acknowledging that what matters is not the interviewers own categories and research questions, but rather what the narrators themselves select for their plot construction in order to make sense of their own world. Moreover, it is particularly challenging to interview senior executives (Welch et al. 2002). They possess much more social and economic power than researchers, and some of them do not refrain from emphasizing it, as can be seen in the examples of managers impression management given in the narrative analysis below. They are also professional communicators with years of experience in giving sense to their decisions and actions. Many of them have been systematically trained at issues management courses to cope with business journalists and have the answers ready for every critical question asked. Nevertheless, my colleagues and I tried hard to create interview situations that could facilitate the individual storytelling about the merger(s), and it was our 404 vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

concern to avoid being presented with the official story of the company as we knew it from press releases and annual reports. Afterwards, several of the interviewees spontaneously remarked that the narrative interview had provided them with a welcome opportunity to reflect on a number of events across the categories they usually used for reporting internally and externally about their own and the companys successes and failures. In retrospect, however, it is obvious that top managers, especially in their attempts at sensegiving, also tried to exploit the interviewer as a possible mouthpiece in a situation still marked by struggles for position, power and influence, and by debates on how to implement the company vision.

Analyzing Narratives: Two Examples


In the following section, I will trace some of the plots invented by the senior managers in their retrospective interpretations of critical events and actions in the merger process. I will look at how these narrators do their story-work through their sequencing of selected events and actions, their casting of the primary actors and the causal links they establish through their emplotment. I will also give some examples of how multiple and shifting identities are discursively constructed and reinforced, among them the social identities of the interviewee/practitioner and the interviewer/researcher. The two narrative interviews analyzed below are chosen because they demonstrate very different plot structures and identity constructions. They are told by narrators who cast themselves in very different positions as an innocent victim, and as a hero and survivor, respectively. They disagree about the company vision and how to implement it, and their competing narratives create very different images of the merging organization and focal actors within it.

A Danish Insurance Directors Story-work

The narrative interview with the Danish insurance director starts with an extensive presentation of his own successful career path: Ill venture that I am probably one of the most experienced managers in the financial sector I have worked in all parts of the sector and know practically everybody, and how people think and work. He presents himself to the interviewer as being experienced, dynamic and successful: Wherever I have been, things have happened. There have been mergers and acquisitions along the way. This is where I feel my experience is. My continuing education has been the job changes. He selects a few events that took place over a long time span. Some events mentioned by other narrators are excluded, while other events are briefly touched upon. vol. 46, 2006/4 405

Anne-Marie Sderberg

A few events are given a more detailed representation. He begins with a flash-back to 1990, when Unibank was established through a merger between three smaller Danish banks. He then talks about the merger in 1998 between Unibank and Tryg-Baltica, an insurance company, in which he played a key role. These are two events on which he has built his vision for Nordea. He then skips to the Nordic merger in 2000, where he was not involved in the negotiations, and in a flash-forward ends up in December 2001, six weeks ahead of the interview, when all merging companies in the subsequent corporation were to change name to Nordea, except for the insurance company. After this assertive self-presentation, he introduces two other focal actors, a helper and an opponent to his vision of the company. The Danish CEO of Nordea has been a close colleague over many years, and in the merger between the Danish bank, Unibank, and the insurance company, Tryg-Baltica, they were equal partners, sharing a vision of an institution with broad-spectered financial services. The Danish insurance director supports the CEOs long-term vision of developing a leading Nordic financial services organization that has respect for the diversity of the business areas and the potential synergies between them. But the Nordic merger, heavily weighted toward banking, has in many ways changed the relationship between the two former allies. The insurance directors influence was dramatically reduced when he became only one of 15 directors in the transnational companys executive management. Moreover, he feels that the Danish CEO is constrained in his ability to implement their joint strategic vision by the Swedish executive chairman. He is the other focal actor in his narrative and functions as a contrast figure to the CEO: He got a bankrupt Swedish bank and restructured it in a very narrow way. He is a very tough and competent bank director orienting himself to shortterm goals and focusing all the time on the bottom line. He makes use of poetic tropes such as attribution of blame and attribution of a motive: the executive chairman was the first to voice a skeptical attitude towards insurance when the Nordic merger was announced. The insurance director interpreted that as an omen of the problems that insurance as a business area faces in the corporation. In his choice of metaphors associating a merger with a marriage (i.e., wedding day, unfaithful), he discursively frames the post-merger process as something very different from a honeymoon: He (the executive chairman) sowed the seeds of that which has developed into a bigger problem. It appeared on the wedding day that one of the partners may be unfaithful to insurance as an integrated part of the merger. This is one of my personal challenges. In his plot construction, the focal crisis is related to the ongoing discussions about the change of company name and the related corporate branding strategy. The plot focuses on the insurance directors undeserved misfortune. He talks about how he is fighting against the other directors in the groups executive management to have both life assurance and indemnity insurance accepted as valid business areas. He is frustrated and feels isolated and left out of the family when the other senior executives talk about the bank, whereas he insists on talking about the financial 406 vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

services institution. He experiences that the other managers display indifference when he presents issues from within his business area:I do understand the reason why the Swedes cannot see insurance as part of their daily activities But I dont think they have handled it very well. Its their body language when I talk about insurance they dont have to start yawning, as soon as I start talking. Im usually able to keep my audience awake! If you are expected to mobilize enthusiasm for the Nordic merger project, a prerequisite is that you are a persona grata and an integrated part of the furniture, not a new chest of drawers which has to attract the others attention to you all the time. At this stage, the interviewee gives a more elaborated presentation of a situation with strong emotional impact. He explains his feelings and appeals to the interviewers sympathy (a pathos proof): This is the reason why I take on like that. It is in such situations that my adrenaline level climbs dramatically. The predicaments in his plot are: the threat represented by the executive chairmans vision of a merger of Nordic banks, the insults he experiences in meetings with the bank directors, and an overall feeling of misrecognition in spite of his former successes as a top manager. It is not only the Swedish executive chairman who is cast as an opponent. With an attribution of unity as poetic trope, all Swedes are perceived as fundamentalist and narrow-minded. They are just people who think in silos, and they want to force a misplaced uniformity upon everybody in the Nordic corporation, even though there is hardly any area where they perform better than the average, except short-term cost reductions. The narrator also blames the Swedes for speeding up the integration process before the decisions have been digested. From his perspective the corporate branding project will not only undermine his company vision, but also threaten the corporations financial plans because it makes it impossible to preserve the corporate brands developed within those of the merging companies that already have a strong reputation. The insurance director ends up by distancing himself from the locally embedded retail bankers by positioning himself as a much more internationally oriented leader. This is an example of the narrators use of another poetic trope: the attribution of fixed qualities by juxtaposition. In order to appear as a credible source and committed change agent, the insurance director describes himself as someone who struggles loyally and determinedly to realize the new transnational corporations vision: Ive been put on this earth to create my share of the corporations added value. I feel deeply responsible for the bottom line. But he also casts himself as protagonist in the role as a hero-victim increasingly confronted with strong opponents and anticipating his own defeat: If I put on the Nordic cap, the Group CEO and the rest of us in the executive management group have some of the most difficult jobs in Europe. In this way, he also tries to make the interviewer understand that if the realization of his ambitious vision does not succeed, it will not constitute proof of his own managerial incompetence.6 Applying Greimass actantial model, the narrative structure of the Danish insurance managers interview can be systematized as in Figure 2. vol. 46, 2006/4 407

Anne-Marie Sderberg Figure 2. Plot Structure of the Danish Insurance Directors Story

Source: based on Greimas 1966

A Swedish Bank Directors Story-work

A Swedish bank director selected some other events from an equally long time span, but he also started with a presentation of his own career in order to establish himself as an authority in the eyes of the interviewer (an ethos proof). The Swedish bank directors plot is significantly different from the insurance directors as it is a tale of heroic achievements. In a flash-back to 1993, he talks about the successful restructuring of a Swedish bank after a severe financial crisis; this experience has strongly formed his ideas about sound banking activities. He recounts that soon after the restructuring was accomplished, the management team of the Swedish bank articulated the idea of establishing a Nordic champion within the financial services industry. The next event mentioned is the first meeting between Finnish and Swedish bankers, which after a long period of fruitful exchanges of experiences led to a crossborder merger in 1997. Then he mentions successful negotiations in 2000 culminating in the quadruple Nordic merger. These selected events form a platform for reflections on challenges to overcome. He finally cites some recent examples of increasing power struggles, especially between the Swedes and the Danes, but also between some of the business areas. In a flash-back, he draws parallels to his experiences from similar power plays between regional units of another Swedish bank, and states that: it is one of my high-priority tasks to fight against such tendencies every time they emerge because I know for sure how devastating they can be. 408 vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

In his retrospective interpretation of the selected events, the bank director plays the roles of a key negotiator and decision maker who is fascinated by the mergerwork: I would not claim that I have an entrepreneurial spirit, but the systematic development of this new corporation is an El Dorado. Another focal actor and an ally in the merger-work is the former CEO of the Swedish merger partner, now Nordeas executive chairman. In contrast to the insurance directors plot, the bank director casts him as a very sympathetic character with strong cross-cultural competence. They share a vision of making the transnational corporation into the Nordic champion among banks, and from their perspective a new corporate brand is a helper in this process. They want the Nordic corporation to distance itself from the brand of the Swedish bank that struggled so hard to survive the financial crises in the early 1990s. As helpers in this project, the narrator singles out the Swedes and the Finns, and uses attributions of both unity and responsibility as poetic tropes. The Swedes have been successful in restructuring their bank, they are cost conscious and now they are ready to speed up the socio-cultural integration. The Finns are seen as hardworking people who always keep their promises and quickly implement joint decisions. They are allies and helpers in relation to the ambitious merger project: Swedish and Finnish bank directors get along very well. They support each other a lot, work a lot ... I think that Swedes and Finns feel that if you understand each other at the professional level, you also sort of trust each other. There is a kind of Japanese conception of honor in the Finnish mentality, which implies that you do not go back on previous agreements As soon as the Danish directors enter the picture, the whole thing becomes more unpredictable. The Danish managers are seen as opponents to the narrators project and attributed with a conscious motive to deconstruct the Swedes interpretation of the company vision. With attribution of unity, he describes Danes in very negative terms, creating a picture of the Danish nation as being self-satisfied and isolationist. He starts out with Swedes positive stereotypes about Danes:The European continent begins in Denmark, this is where freedom begins. You can drink beer in the morning and stay out late at night, thats what we have always thought. But, in reality, Denmark is parochial as hell The Danes sit in their small communities with their small companies and feel no particular need for the rest of the world. Its no coincidence that they have chosen not to join the European Monetary Union, and they are reluctant to take on international commitments. This is also reflected in the internal culture of a corporation like ours. There is a very typical Danish attitude, even high up in the organization: Arent we okay as we are?, Why do we need to change that?, and Try to convince me!. With the use of attribution of blame as a poetic trope, the Danish managers are characterized as having an inclination to debate the decisions Swedish managers want to implement, but they have to remember that a business is not a democracy. The Danish managers are consequently regarded as not constructive and antiauthoritarian, displaying behavior totally incompatible with professional corporate vol. 46, 2006/4 409

Anne-Marie Sderberg

management and the vision of creating the Nordic Champion through the crossborder merger. These bursts of anger and indignation can also be seen as a result of the social relations developed between the Swedish executive and the Swedish interviewer, who are drawn into an ad-hoc national community. But the presence of a researcher at the same time leads the practitioner to qualify his own perceptions of cultural differences between nationalities: I have not yet finished my amateur psychological observations; that is to say, these statements are not based on my professional competence. To sum up his narrative, the Swedish bank director assumes the protagonists role of hero. He has succeeded in restructuring the Swedish bank, he has played a key role in the negotiations with Finns, Danes and Norwegians, and he has taken great responsibility for retail banking activities in the Nordic merger. In the retrospective interpretation of the course of events, he emphasizes that merger processes are about the survival of the fittest. He foresees that some of the top and middle managers will soon realize that his motto perform or die will be applied in evaluations of their individual performance, but he constructs himself as a successful performer who will undoubtedly survive. Applying Greimass actantial model, the narrative structure of the Swedish bank directors interview can be systematized as in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Plot Structure of the Swedish Bank Directors Story

Source: based on Greimas 1966

410

vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

Individual versus Collective Narratives

An analysis of the whole body of narrative interviews with senior executives representing all four merger partners showed that these potential change agents did not speak univocally about the merger (Sderberg/Vaara 2003). They did not tell very much about their concerted efforts to bring the new transnational corporation forward, and one and a half years after the merger there was still a lack of consensus, even at top management level, on how to implement the vision. The senior executives fabricated very different plots about the merging organizations and about key actors inside the new corporation. They tended to cast themselves in the leading role as dynamic heroes seeking challenges and trying to solve emergent crises (Gabriel 2000, pp. 73 et seq.), whereas some of the merger partners were cast as their allies, and other partners as their enemies or adversaries. The articulated vision and ambition of all narrators was to create a major Nordic financial corporation. Statements referring to the merger processes drawing on an integration discourse can be found in most of the narrative interviews, as well as expressions of pride and commitment to bring the merger partners together and manage various integration projects. But it is obvious that the common vision had very different meanings. In the late 1990s the Danish merger partner, number two in its national market, created a comprehensive financial business by merging retail banking and insurance and boosting asset management. The Swedish merger partner succeeded in rebuilding a bank in severe crisis by cutting it back to its core activities in retail banking. The Finnish merger partner was number one in the Finnish market and already world leading in e-banking. With such very different experiences and backgrounds, it is understandable that the plots constructed by senior executives in the different countries and business areas also differed significantly. Many of the narrators used their positioning as corporate heroes as a platform for expressing skepticism towards and criticism of the other partners. They more or less invented national differences in order to explain the existence of communication and cooperation problems across national borders. And they tried to do it by establishing a national community with the interviewer and a corresponding demarcation from the merger partners in the neighboring countries. Drawing on a reservoir of national stereotypes, many narrators reproduced images of nations and nationalities that could be viewed as examples of banal nationalism (Billig 1995, Vaara et al. 2003). Strong conflicts between the merger partners, particularly between Swedes and Danes, and to a certain extent also between Swedes and Finns, were articulated without any explicit questions from the interviewers about perceived national differences. The managers also established and reinforced dichotomies between the different business areas and professions involved in the merger, even though their main task was expected to be that of constructing a corporate identity of the new transnational corporation and giving sense to the change processes. Instead of acting as vol. 46, 2006/4 411

Anne-Marie Sderberg

change agents, the managers involved themselves in power struggles with their merger partners from other nations and other business areas. The multiple identity constructions displayed in their narratives brought with them a high risk of fragmenting the multinational matrix organization to the extent that the managers narratives about critical events were also circulating in the merging organization and their plots were giving sense to specific actions. Participant observations showed that this was the case, especially in the initial stage of the post-merger processes, where the individual narratives contributed to establishing and upholding barriers between key people who were supposed to communicate, collaborate and thus spearhead the complex integration processes. Consequently, there was at this point in the merger process, one-and-a-half years after the Nordic merger was publicly announced, a strong need to launch socio-cultural integration initiatives. A booklet entitled Making It Possible was distributed to all managers and employees within the transnational corporation. Produced by Nordeas Identity and Communications department for internal branding purposes, it can be seen as an example of conscious efforts to monitor and control processes of corporate identity formation and as a representation of the companys integration discourse emphasizing coherence and consistency across national borders and business areas. Here, the managers and employees were told that:We are sufficiently similar to be able to cooperate and sufficiently dissimilar to inspire each other, and There is no contradiction between the ambition of creating a common culture and the aspiration to reach other goals as well. On the contrary, a common culture, which helps all managers and employees to move in the same direction, actually makes it easier to reach other goals. They could also read about the new corporate brand and about their task as translators of the new corporate vision, mission and set of corporate values into daily social practices:The combination of our Nordic way of thinking and our Nordic ideas is what distinguishes us from our competitors, and the same applies to our redefined offers in the financial services market: combining banking and insurance into financial partnership. Now all that remains is to fill these Nordic ideas with real substance. To provide superior service across our business areas and countries through practical action, so our Nordic ideas become infused with such meaning to our customers that they identify with them and appreciate their real value. In the foreword to Making It Possible, Nordeas CEO stated that the vision and the strategic goal are to make the corporation a larger player in the financial sector in the Nordic and Baltic regions. The managers and employees are seen as those who can help make the vision possible by living the corporate brand guided by Nordic ideas and a new corporate values statement. In the present stage of our knowledge about the power struggles displayed in the individual narratives and the managers seeming failure to act as change agents, it is somewhat surprising that no challenges to the corporate identity and branding project are explicitly mentioned, 412 vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis

and no obstacles are acknowledged. This applies both to Making It Possible and to the instructions given by the HR and Communications departments before the internal branding process was launched.

Concluding Remarks
This article started out claiming that narrative interviews and narrative analysis have potential not only in organization and management studies, where they have already been acknowledged, but also in international business studies, where a narrative approach is almost untried. In this study of a cross-border merger, narratives are seen as a means by which organizational members create the social reality that frames their sense of who they are. Narrative interviews can thus be viewed as one entry into the plurivocal organization and competing understandings of critical events and actions. In narrative interviews, the individual narrators themselves define what is most relevant and central at a certain point of time and in a specific context. They select the focal actors and the critical events that fit into their actual understanding of themselves, the organization and its environment, and they explain to the interviewer their own and others actions and reactions through their plot constructions. This does not mean that narrative interviewing comes closer to any objective truth than other interviewing methods, but it opens a window to the diverse worlds that key actors in an organization construct, and often act upon as if they were real. When organizational scholars in the 1970s and 1980s turned their attention to narrative studies (Martin 1982, Mitroff/Kilmann 1977), some of them started to collect stories from the field as if they were artifacts just waiting to be picked up and afterwards analyzed by the researcher as fictional texts. But if the narrative texts are isolated from the specific organizational context in which they are produced and received, and the interaction between divergent narratives that compete in creating and defining the organization is overlooked, the analysis will not be able to shed light on the narratives organizing functions. A second risk arises through taking narratives for granted as facts about the organization and through using narrative interviews as a means of obtaining information about the organization, instead of reading and treating the narratives as narrators retrospective interpretations and poetic elaboration on a course of events and their sensemaking of them. Even though the two senior managers, whose narratives I have analyzed above, invested a lot of energy and rhetorical skills in presenting themselves as credible sources, they were obviously interpreting the events and actors they selected from a certain point of view, with a specific purpose and as an integrated part of a power struggle. vol. 46, 2006/4 413

Anne-Marie Sderberg

A third risk arises through regarding nearly everything in an organization as narratives, with the unintended consequence that actions and events are not approached from other relevant theoretical angles. In the narratives analyzed above, the managers discursively constructed dichotomies between the different nationalities and business areas in the cross-border merger as part of their social identification processes. But there might also be some relevant and fundamental national differences between the labor markets, between the banking and insurance industries, as well as country-specific ways to foster a career as a manager through education and training. Such national and industry related differences might be better accounted for, for example from a national business systems perspective (Whitley 1992). An analysis of individual and collective narratives focuses both on the stories told, the story-work (the selection of actors and their development into characters, the sequencing of events as part of the plot construction, the use of rhetorical proofs and poetic tropes etc.), and the different accounts organizing effects. A narrative analysis permits the researcher to identify the different ways in which the participants and the organizations themselves actively employ various categories in their talk about themselves, the organization and the Other, and how they create competing and conflicting images of the same organization. In addition, a narrative analysis provides valuable tools to explore how individual narrators retrospectively make sense of and give sense to critical events in ways that legitimate their actions and serve their interests, and how these interpretations either support or undermine the organizations strategic communication about the same events.

Acknowledgements
I am grateful for the insightful and constructive comments on previous versions of this article made by the editors and the reviewers as well as by my colleagues from Copenhagen Business School: David Barry, Lilie Chouliaraki, Eric Guthey, Paul Richmond and Dorte Salskov-Iversen.

Endnotes
1 Some scholars do not distinguish sharply between narrative and story whereas, for example, Czarniawska (2001) and Gabriel (2000) agree that stories in contrast to narratives evolve around critical events and dramatic actions where people meet serious obstacles in relation to their ambitions. It means that a story plot always entails predicaments, not only a transformation from one state to another. Gabriel (2000), furthermore, emphasizes that a story must generate strong emotions in narrator and audience. I therefore regard the two narratives analyzed in this article not only as narratives, but also as stories. 2 I draw on Gabriel (2000) when introducing the distinction between the nave readers poetic interpretation and the critical readers analytical and theory-based interpretation.

414

vol. 46, 2006/4

Narrative Interviewing and Narrative Analysis 3 The case study was conducted by a team of Nordic researchers: Ingmar Bjrkman, Tore Hundsnes, Christine Meyer, Annette Risberg, Anne-Marie Sderberg, Janne Tienari and Eero Vaara. 4 The interview with the Danish insurance director was conducted by the author, whereas the interview with the Swedish bank director was conducted by Annette Risberg. 5 In spite of the ongoing social discourse on equality in the Nordic countries, top management in Nordic companies is still male dominated. The interviewed key decision makers included 51 men and two women. 6 In June 2002 the general insurance business was sold in order to enhance the Nordic corporations focus on core banking activities.

References
Ailon-Souday, G./Kunda, G., The Local Selves of Global Workers: The Social Construction of National Identity in the Face of Organizational Globalization, Organization Studies 24, 7, 2003, pp. 10731096. Ainsworth, S./Hardy, C., Discourse and Identities, in Grant, D./Hardy, C./Oswick, C./Putnam, L. (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Organizational Discourse, London: Sage 2004, pp. 153173. Alvesson, M./Krreman, D., Varieties of Discourse: On the Study of Organizations through Discourse Analysis, Human Relations, 53, 9, 2000, pp. 11251149. Billig, M., Banal Nationalism, London: Sage 1995. Bal, M., Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1985. Boje, D. M., Narrative Methods for Organizational and Communication Research, London: Sage 2001. Boyce, M. E., Organisational Story and Storytelling: A Critical Review, Journal of Organizational Change Management, 9, 5, 1996, pp. 526. Bruner, J., The Narrative Construction of Reality, Critical Inquiry, 18, 1, 1991, pp. 121. Buono, A. F./Bowditch, J. L., The Human Side of Mergers and Acquisitions: Managing Collisions Between People, Cultures and Organizations, Washington, DC: Beard Books 2003. Cheney, G./Christensen, L. T./Conrad, C./Lair, D. J., Corporate Rhetoric as Organizational Discourse, in Grant, D./Hardy, C./Oswick, C./Putnam, L. (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Organizational Discourse, London: Sage 2004, pp. 79103. Czarniawska, B., A Narrative Approach to Organization Studies, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage 1998. Czarniawska, B., Narrative, Interviews, and Organizations, in Gubrium, J. F./Holstein, J. A. (eds.), Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage 2001, pp. 733750. Czarniawska, B./Gagliardi, P., Narratives We Organize By, Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins 2003. Fairclough, N., Discourse Analysis in Organisation Studies: The Case for Critical Realism, Organization Studies 26, 6, 2005, pp. 915939. Fairclough, N./Wodak, R., Critical Discourse Analysis, in Dijk, T. A. (ed.), Discourse as Social Interaction, London: Sage 1997, pp. 258283. Gabriel, Y., Storytelling in Organizations: Facts, Fictions, and Fantasies, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000. Gioia, D. A./Chittipeddi, K., Sensemaking and Sensegiving in Strategic Change Initiation, Strategic Management Journal, 12, 6, 1991, pp. 433448. Grant, D./Keenoy, T./Oswick, C. (eds.), Discourse and Organization, London: Sage 1998. Grant, D./Hardy, C./Oswick, C./Putnam, L. (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Organizational Discourse, London: Sage 2004.

vol. 46, 2006/4

415

Anne-Marie Sderberg Greimas, A. J., Smantique Structurale, Paris: Larousse 1966. Hall, S., Introduction: Who needs Identity?, in Hall, S./du Gay, P. (eds.), Questions of Cultural Identity, London: Sage 1996, pp. 117. Humphreys, M./Brown, A. D., Narratives of Organizational Identity and Identification: A Case Study of Hegemony and Resistance, Organization Studies, 23, 3, 2002, pp. 421447. Kleppest, S., A Quest for Social Identity: The Pragmatics of Communication in Mergers and Acquisitions, in Gertsen, M. C./Sderberg, A.-M./Torp, J.-.E. (eds.), Cultural Dimensions of International Mergers and Acquisitions, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter 1998, pp. 147166. Marschan-Piekkari, R./Reis, C., Language and Languages in Cross-cultural Interviewing, in Marschan-Piekkari, R./Welch, C. (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for International Business, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar 2004, pp. 224226. Marschan-Piekkari, R./Welch, C. (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for International Business, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar 2004. Martin, J., Organizational Culture: Mapping the Terrain, Thousand Oaks: Sage 2002. Martin, J., Stories and Scripts in Organizational Settings, in Hastrof, A. H./Isen, I. A. (eds.), Cognitive Social Psychology, New York: Elsevier 1982, pp. 339359. Mitroff, I./Kilmann, R., Stories Managers Tell: A New Tool for Organizational Problem Solving, Management Review, 64, 7, 1977, pp. 1328. Mumby, D. K./Clair, R. P., Organizational Discourse, in Dijk, T. A. (ed.), Discourse as Social Interaction, London: Sage 1997, pp. 181205. Parker, M., Organizational Culture and Identity: Unity and Division at Work, London: Sage 2000. Phillips, N./Hardy, C., Discourse Analysis: Investigating Processes of Social Construction, Qualitative Research Methods No. 50, Thousand Oaks: Sage 2002. Sackmann, S., Cultural Complexity as a Challenge in the Management of Global Companies, in Mohn, L. (ed.), Corporate Cultures in Global Interaction, Gtersloh: Bertelsmann Foundation 2003, pp. 5881. Stahl, G./Mendenhall, M. E. (eds.), Mergers and Acquisitions: Managing Culture and Human Resources, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2005. Sderberg; A.-M./Vaara, E. (eds.), Merging across Borders: People, Cultures and Politics, Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press 2003. Tienari, J./Sderberg, A.-M./Holgersson, C./Vaara, E., Gender and National Identity Constructions in a Cross-Border Merger Context, Gender, Work and Organizations, 12, 3, 2005, pp. 217241. Vaara, E./Risberg, A./Sderberg, A.-M./Tienari, J., Nation Talk: The Construction of National Stereotypes in a Merging Multinational, in Sderberg, A.-M./Vaara, E. (eds.), Merging across Borders: People, Cultures and Politics, Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press 2003, pp. 6186. Vaara, E./Tienari, J., Critical Discourse Analysis as a Methodology for International Business Studies, in Marschan-Piekkari, R./Welch, C. (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for International Business, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar 2004, pp. 342359. Weick, K. E., Sensemaking in Organizations, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage 1995. Weick, K. E./Sutcliffe, K. M./Obstfeld, D., Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking, Organization Science, 16, 4, 2005, pp. 409421. Welch, C./Marschan-Piekkari, R./Penttinen, H./Tahvanainen, M., Corporate Elites as Informants in Qualitative International Business Research, International Business Review, 11, 5, 2002, pp. 611628. Whitley, R., European Business Systems: Firms and Markets in Their National Contexts, London: Sage 1992. Wodak, R./Cillia, R. de/Reisigl, M./Liebhart, K., The Discursive Construction of National Identity, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 1999. Ybema, S, Telling Tales, in Sackmann, S. (ed.), Cultural Complexity in Organizations, Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 160186.

416

vol. 46, 2006/4