Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames
Academy of Management Review, 39(4), 463-487. doi: 10.5465/amr.2012.0341
Posted: 26 Mar 2014 Last revised: 30 Sep 2014
Date Written: March 25, 2014
Corporate sustainability confronts managers with complex issues and tensions between economic, environmental and social aspects. Drawing on the literature on managerial cognition, corporate sustainability, and strategic paradoxes, we develop a cognitive framing perspective on corporate sustainability. We propose two cognitive frames – a business case frame and a paradoxical frame – and explore how differences between them in cognitive content and structure influence the three stages of the sensemaking process, i.e. managerial scanning, interpreting and responding with regard to sustainability issues. We explain how the two frames lead to differences in the breadth and depth of scanning, to differences in issue interpretations in terms of sense of control and issue valence, as well as to different types of responses that managers consider with regard to sustainability issues. By considering alternative cognitive frames, our argument contributes to a better understanding of managerial decision-making regarding ambiguous sustainability issues and develops the underlying cognitive determinants of the stance that managers adopt on sustainability issues. This argument offers a cognitive explanation why managers rarely push for radical change when faced with complex and ambiguous issues, such as sustainability, that are characterized by conflicting yet interrelated aspects.
Keywords: Cognitive frames, business case, paradoxical thinking, corporate sustainability, sensemaking
JEL Classification: M10, M14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation