Sub-theme 20: Invisible/Silent Aspects of Change: The Role of Phronesis in Managing Organizational Change

Elena P. Antonacopoulou
University of Liverpool Management School, UK
Olav Eikeland
Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway
Ingunn Dahler Hybertsen
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

Call for Papers

A major challenge for organizational change, if we are to more fully appreciate the complexities underlying the way managers engage and experience the process of changing, is to move beyond visible aspects that signal their reactions. In this respect, the growing body of work (Balogun & Johnson, 2004; Fugate et al., 2008; Ford, et al, 2008; Chia, 2014; Huy et al., 2015) drawing our attention on arresting the process of change invites greater engagement with the silent and less visible aspects. One such aspect is the way managers form their phronesis (practical judgment) as they act and react to organizational change. This goes beyond the ways managers understand change and resistance to change as experiences. Instead, it focuses on the ways in which managers form their predispositions (Chia, 2009).

The Aristotelian notion of phronesis (prudence, wisdom, practical judgment) has attracted the attention of scholars in management studies as a basis for rethinking leadership, management education and organizational change (Shotter & Tsoukas, 2014; Badham et al., 2012; Antonacopoulou, 2010; Antonacopoulou & Psychogios, 2015). Phronesis demonstrates through the actions man takes 'his' capacity to exercise judgment with regard to what is deemed good or bad (Dunne, 1993). Phronesis is associated with what Chia & Holt (2009, p. 480) name as Knowledge-by-exemplification, "… an in-situ acquired way of operating, a modus operandi that is transmitted through exemplars of social practices".


Hence, phronesis is a way of acting, thinking, knowing and living, which reflect the character of man described as phronimos (Noel, 1999) or homo phroneticus (Antonacopoulou, 2012). Phronesis then opens up the scope to better appreciate that reactions to change are part of the practice of judging, acting and living, where such practices are bounded by personal choice as much as by social, cultural and political values. We therefore need to better understand how organizational politics and complexity (Psychogios & Garev, 2012) influence managers' practical judgments as well as, how judgment can shape the character of leadership, as much as the character of change (Antonacopoulou & Bento, 2016).

This sub-theme encourages the development of new theoretical and/or empirical studies on phronesis and change management and celebrates the ideas of Robert Chia who has addressed both of these themes with a notable body of scholarship over the years (Chia, 2014; Nonaka et al., 2014; Chia & Holt, 2009; Chia et al., 2013; Tsoukas & Chia, 2002).


The intention of this sub-theme is to form a platform that can synthesise theoretical ideas, methodologies, knowledge and applications in variety of different organizations, industries and contexts by engaging with questions such as:

  • What are the aspects of managers' phronesis affecting the way change as a practice is performed?
  • How is leadership is related to phronesis and what are the leadership behaviours demonstrating (or not) managers' phronesis?
  • What is the role of emotions in managers' phronesis?
  • How organizational politics influence phronesis?
  • How specific management practices are related to phronesis?
  • How does phronesis contribute to the character of organizational change?

Professor Robert Chia will open this sub-theme with a key-note presentation on Phronesis & Organizational Change.




  • Antonacopoulou, E.P. (2010): "Making the Business School More 'Critical': Reflexive Critique Based on Phronesis as a Foundation for Impact." British Journal of Management, 21 (1), 6–25.
  • Antonacopoulou, E.P. (2012): "Leadership: Making Waves." In: H. Owen (ed.): New Insights into Leadership: An International Perspective. London: Kogan, pp. 47–66.
  • Antonacopoulou, E.P., Bento, R. (2016): "Learning Leadership: A Call to Beauty." In: J. Storey (ed.): Leadership in Organizations: Current Issues and Key Trends. 3rd edition. London: Routledge (forthcoming).
  • Antonacopoulou, E.P., & Psychogios, A. (2015): "Practising Changing Change: How Middle Managers Take a Stance towards Lived Experiences of Change." AOM Conference, 14448.
  • Badham, R., Mead, A., & Antonacopoulou, E.P. (2012): "Performing Change: A Dramaturgical Approach to the Practice of Managing Change." In: D.M. Boje, B. Burnes & J. Hassard (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Organizational Change. New York: Routledge, pp. 187–205.
  • Balogun, J., & Johnson, G. (2004): "Organizational Restructuring and Middle Manager Sensemaking." Academy of Management Journal, 47 (4), 523–549.
  • Chia, R. (2009): "The nature of knowledge and knowing in the context of management learning, education and development." In: S. Armstrong & S. Fukami (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Management Learning, Education & Development. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 25–41.
  • Chia, R. (2014): "In praise of silent transformation – Allowing change through 'letting happen'.’" Journal of Change Management, 14 (1), 8-27.
  • Chia, R., & Holt, R. (2009): Strategy without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Chia, R., Holt, R., & Li, Y. (2013): "In praise of strategic indirection: Towards a non-instrumental understanding of phronésis as practical wisdom." In: M. Thompson & D. Bevan (eds.): Wise Management in Organizational Complexity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 53–67.
  • Dunne, J. (1993): Back to the Rough Ground: Practical Judgement and the Lure of Technique. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Ford, J.D., Ford, L.W., & D'Amelio, A. (2008): "Resistance to Change: The Rest of the Story." Academy of Management Review, 33 (2), 362–377.
  • Fugate, M., Kinicki, A.J., & Prussia G. (2008): "Employee coping with organizational change: an examination of alternative theoretical perspectives and models." Personnel Psychology, 61, (1), 1–36.
  • Huy, Q., Corley, G.K., & Kraatz, S.M. (2015): "From Support to Mutiny: Shifting Legitimacy Judgments and Emotional Reactions Impacting the Implementation of Radical Change." Academy of Management Journal, 57 (6), 1650–1680.
  • Noel, J. (1999): "On the Varieties of Phronesis." Educational Philosophy and Theory, 31 (3), 273–289.
  • Nonaka, I., Chia, R., Holt, R., & Peltokorpi, V. (2014): "Wisdom, management and organization." Management Learning, 45 (4), 365–376.
  • Psychogios, A., & Garev, S. (2012): "Understanding Complexity Leadership Behaviour in SMEs: Lessons from a Turbulent Business Environment." Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 14 (3), 1–22.
  • Shotter, J., & Tsoukas, H. (2014): "Performing phronesis: On the way to engaged judgment." Management Learning, 45 (4), 377–396.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): "On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change." Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.


Elena P. Antonacopoulou is Professor of OB at the University of Liverpool Management School (UK) where she is Director of GNOSIS – a collaborative research initiative advancing impactful research on Organizational Learning, Knowing and Change. She is published in a range of international journals on these themes and has been instrumental in applying the ideas of her scholarship in her own scholarly practices. She holds various leadership roles (at Board, Council, Executive and Committee level) in International Professional bodies in her field including: EGOS, AoM, EURAM, BAM, SAMS.
Olav Eikeland is Professor and Vice-Dean at the Faculty of Education and International Studies, Department of Vocational Teacher Education, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway.
Ingunn Dahler Hybertsen is Associate Professor at the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.