Top-Level Managers' 'Business Knowledge' in a Transition Economy: The Case of Ethiopia

Woldesenbet, Kassa (2007). Top-Level Managers' 'Business Knowledge' in a Transition Economy: The Case of Ethiopia. PhD thesis The Open University.



The research reported in this thesis explores the work of knowing which managers bring to their roles in a transition economy context. It focuses on the processes by which a sample of managers in Ethiopia know how to make sense of, and act upon, the differences that make a difference. The point of departure was the contemporary Western construct of 'business knowledge'. But the research problematises this and reveals the processual nature of knowing using a sensemaking perspective.

The empirical work involved interviews with 40 top-level managers in five case studies supplemented with 18 interviews with analysts, industry experts and officials at national level.

The study found that at the national level, Ethiopian top-level managers' business knowledge tended overall to be uncertain, differentiated, politicised and rapidly evolving. At the organizational level of analysis a number of important differences were revealed in the ways in which these senior managers made sense of the business environment and of their own organizational strategies and capabilities. Four main factors seemed to explain these differences. These were: (a) the degree of perceived reliance on the state for legitimacy and critical resources; (b) the extent to which managers were exposed to market pressures; (c) path dependence; and (d) managers' interpretive orientations.

This thesis contributes to the ongoing debates on how top-level managers' judgements on key organisational issues are based upon their sensemaking, their interpretative work and the forms of knowledge which they utilise to frame their decision making. The thesis adds to the conceptualisation and understanding of the nature of managers' knowledge in general and how, in particular, managers make sense of and act upon what they know in a transition economy context. On a wider plane also, this thesis represents a serious attempts to span the cultural divide between, on the one hand, Anglo-centric debates about knowledge and knowing, and, on the other, the Ethiopian business practice. Hence, it offers a novel alternative to the idea that management should be as 'scientific as possible' by illuminating the variety of ways in which different people make sense of experiences in different ways. In doing so, it raises questions about the utility of received thinking about management in various social and cultural contexts.

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