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Employee Experiences of Acquisition Processes.

This paper addresses multiple employee interpretations during acquisition processes. The overall purpose of the paper is to use an ambiguity approach to further the understanding of how employees interpret the postacquisition process. Unlike much of the present research, which relies on stereotypical experiences gleaned from management, this study examines acquisitions largely from an employee viewpoint. Rather than denying inconsistencies and confusion through more or less simplified stereotypical interpretations, an ambiguity approach is used as a conceptual lens to bring these inconsistencies to the surface and examine them as potential key characteristics for a more subtle understanding of the human side of acquisitions. An ambiguity approach can thus help managers during acquisitions by raising the awareness of the existence of ambiguity and multiple interpretations of the acquisition process. For example, it can help to avoid illusions of familiarity that nearby cultures and acquisitions within the indu stry may bring about. Such illusions could add to ambiguous interpretations. Awareness of ambiguity can also bring managers to focus on issues that may risk losing key people in the acquired company.

An overview of existing acquisition literature indicates that most acquisition research has been done from a unitary view of organizations where each organization is treated as a cooperative system in pursuit of common interests and goals (c.f., Putnam, 1983), that is, everybody in the organization shares the same views, values and goals. Lohrum (1996) stated that most acquisition research is taken from a manager's point of view. This means that many acquisition researchers seem to believe that the organization is best represented by the managers (e.g., Chatterjee, Lubatkin, Schweiger, & Weber, 1992; Lubatkin, Schweiger, & Weber, 1999) while leaving out the representation of other organizational members. In other words, one could say that most acquisition literature states that the managers' interests and goals represent the interest and goals of the whole organization, as everyone in the organization is sharing them all. Accordingly, this research orientation brings about a view of culture as harmonic and u nequivocal (c.f., Kleppest[phi], 1991). However, organizations are not monolithic entities (Putnam, 1983). They should be viewed as sets of coalitions of participants with different priorities where individuals negotiate their goals, actions, and meanings. However, the individuals never abandon their different aims; they simply subjugate them to the immediate needs of the group. Hence, to view organizations as monolithic entities where the managers' goals and values represent the whole organization is not a fair description as it leaves out many other representations of the organization.

One way to try to understand acquisition processes is by studying the integration phase. Such studies have been made in the acquisition literature focusing the so-called human side of acquisitions. Much of these researches are to a great extent made from a cultural perspective (e.g., Walter, 1985; Nahavandi & Malekzadeh, 1988; Buono & Bowditch, 1989). The focus is on acquisition problems and failures that are explained by differences in cultures and clashing cultures. The cultures compared are most often top-management culture (Chaterjee et al., 1992).

In literature on international mergers and acquisition the focus has also to a great extent been on cultural differences. However, what researchers in this field stress is that in international acquisitions the differences are expected. A common suggestion in these studies was heightened cultural awareness as a way to overcome the differences; differences that were seen as causing problems and cultural clashes. Olie (1994), for example, concluded that national cultural differences could be obstacles to integration and performance. Weber, Shenkar, & Raveh (1996) found that national cultural differences better predict co-operation, stress and negative attitudes towards the merger than corporate cultural differences do. In international acquisitions, the differences are expected, and the managers of the acquired company are therefore less likely to resist changes because of those differences. These findings are consistent with those of Larsson & Risberg (1998) where the highest degree of acculturation between m erging firms was found among those with the highest cultural differences. Others, like Very, Calori, & Lubatkin (1993) found that in addition to corporate cultural differences there may also be national cultural differences that can affect the financial outcome of the acquisition. Similar results were found in Calori, Lubatkin, & Very (1995) where national heritage was found to influence control mechanism.

International acquisitions are, however, not only about cultural differences. There are other problems that are invoked by, for example , geographical distance and market structures. When people do not have the possibility to meet face-to-face misunderstandings and misinterpretations are more likely to occur than when they meet on an everyday basis. The parent company could also have difficulties understanding the different market structures. Another issue could be the misunderstandings and difficulties because of the use of foreign languages.

This paper brings up multiple understandings and experiences of acquisitions as a complement to the dominating managerial view. By using two case studies of international acquisitions, it is illustrated how acquisitions can be interpreted and understood as diversity of understandings rather than monolithic understandings of the acquisition. One way to grasp diversity is to use a bottom-up as well as a top-down perspective. That is, instead of solely focusing on managers' views of acquisitions views from employees at all levels in the organization will be included. Moreover, instead of taking a cultural perspective of acquisitions the focus will be on understanding how people experience and interpret the acquisition process. To be able to interpret and understand such a variety of experiences an ambiguity approach will be used. Ambiguity is here defined as contradiction, confusion and paradoxes (c.f., Martin, 1992). It means that something can be interpreted in more than one way (c.f., Feldman, 1991) but can also refer to a lack of predictability, contradiction to manifestations, interpretations that are capable of double meaning, and ignorance because of lack of information (c.f., Meyerson, 1991a, b, 1994). An ambiguity approach is thus a way to acknowledge and further the understandings of multiple interpretations and multiple understandings of acquisitions.

Raising the awareness of ambiguities in acquisition will hopefully initiate a debate in organizations. Such a debate might increase the tolerance for ambiguity, by focusing on how to avoid ambiguities during the acquisition process--ambiguities that might derail the integration of the two companies. Moreover, acknowledgment of ambiguities might bring about an understanding that ambiguity in organizations can be both good and bad for the organization. Topics for debate could, for example, be the illusion of familiarity that may occur when a company is acquiring a company from the same industry or with a seemingly similar culture. Other issues could be the risk of losing key personnel because of ambiguities. Ways to avoid ambiguities during the acquisition process could, for example, be mixed work groups, rotation and visiting each other's companies. These implications will be further discussed later.

The next section of the paper will discuss what an ambiguity approach is and what it can bring to acquisition studies. Thereafter, two international acquisitions made by a Finnish company will be presented. The reader will be presented with a few examples of how an ambiguity approach can be used to analyze these two acquisitions. After the analysis, the results of the study will be presented. It is discussed that there exist different and multiple employee interpretations of the acquisition process: shared interpretations and ambiguous interpretations at different levels of the organizations. Finally, practical as well as theoretical implications of the study are discussed.


A way to capture the multiple interpretations of acquisitions could be by focusing on individual experiences of acquisitions. However, individual experiences seem to be left out in most acquisition research as the researchers aggregate individual informant data to group data and organizational patterns within an acquisition case. Starting on an individual level, capturing the multiplicity of understandings of the acquisition process, one could then understand the acquisition process at a group or organizational level in a more balanced way. Whyte (1943) pointed out that, "The general patter of life is important, but it can be constructed only through observing the individuals whose actions make up that pattern" (p. xix). An initial focus on individuals is thus a useful platform for further developing our understanding of the acquisition process from an organizational or group perspective. Eventually, understanding the acquisition process from an organizational or group perspective may require different questi ons and methodologies.

The solution in this study has been to settle for an interpretive approach focusing on experienced ambiguities among the acquired employees: an ambiguity approach. Instead of searching for similarities among employee experiences (either between or within the joining companies), the focus on ambiguities is a way of grasping multiple interpretations and thereby a more pluralistic understanding of the acquisition process (c.f., Meyerson, 199 la, b, Feldman, 1991). Aggregated consensual and even differentiated views of this process (for example, in the sense of cultural clashes) do not capture inconsistencies and confusion between and within various individuals. An ambiguity approach can be used to reinterpret the found contradictions, confusion, and other multiplicities in acquisitions in meaningful ways to contribute a more individually informed understanding of the collective acquisition process.

By this ambiguity approach I refer to embracing interpretations of contradictions, confusion, and other heterogeneities (instead of denying them in a search for mere homogeneity). It is through recognizing the multiplicity of employee interpretations that we can move beyond simplified stereotypes of the human side of acquisitions. The way ambiguity is used in this paper is inspired by, for example, Meyerson (1994; 1991a, b), Martin (1992), and Feldman's (1991) view of ambiguity that embraces multiple realities but also more traditional works on ambiguity, such as, March and Olsen's (1976) book on the effect of organizational ambiguity on decision making. Meyerson's later work (Meyerson, 1994) where she states that ambiguity can be experienced in an organization at two levels, within the organization and within individuals' experiences, was an important input to focus the study on individual interpretations whereas retaining the possibility of dealing with patterns of ambiguous interpretations at the organiza tional level.

There exist many different views and definitions of ambiguity almost to the extent that most, if not all, situations can be interpreted as ambiguous. There are, however, in the organizational literature two dominating meanings of ambiguity. The first one is where ambiguity is understood as multiple realities, something unavoidable and sometimes positive (e.g., Meyerson; 1994, 1991a, 1991b; Martin, 1992; Feldman, 1991; Eisenberg; 1984). The second is where ambiguity is understood as something abnormal that must be resolved, often interpreted as misunderstandings (because of lack of or failure in communication) (e.g., McCaskey, 1982; March; 1976; Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964; Thomas, 1988). Although it is important to recognize this prevalent potential ambiguity (rather than denying it) an overly broad view of ambiguity can result in the analytical problem of becoming almost everything. To avoid this trap, ambiguity is here defined as multiple interpretations that are contradictory, paradoxical and/or inconsistent. This delimits the use of ambiguity from any multiple interpretations.

Such a definition of ambiguity provides for the possibility of acknowledging the diversity and multiplicity that represent organizations today. Ambiguity will, in this paper, be used as a device to study and understand acquisitions and to see and acknowledge multiple realities in the acquisition process. To capture ambiguities in acquisitions, I have built on previous research on ambiguity (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964; Cohen & March, 1974; March & Olsen, 1976a, b; Feldman, 1991; Meyerson, 1991a; see also Risberg, 1999 for further discussion) and used different classifications of ambiguity. These classifications have been used as a basis to understand what it is that makes a situation more or less ambiguous (see Table 1) to be able to emphasize and illustrate possible multiple interpretations of different situations. Examples of situations that might be experienced or interpreted as ambiguous during the acquisition process are given in the left column of the table. The examples given are more or less negative experiences of ambiguity. But how ambiguity is experienced differs from individual to individual. Ambiguities of power can, for example, be experienced as something positive. If it is not clear who the leader is it could mean that the individual is freer to make his or her own decisions and to define the job situation. Ambiguities of purpose could mean that the individual might define his or her own goals for the job. It is, however, likely that during the early periods of the acquisition process, when the whole situation is very ambiguous, ambiguity is experienced as more negative than later in the acquisition process.

It should be noted that ambiguity is not ignored in the acquisition literature. On the contrary, quite a few researchers have brought it up. For example, Jemison & Sitkin (1986) contend that many ambiguities arise during the negotiations and that managers need to focus on them because if they remain, the postacquisition performance may not be met. Schweiger, Ivancevich, & Power (1987) found human resource related issues that were perceived as ambiguous by the employees. Likewise, Sinetar (1981) found that ambiguity during acquisitions might cause employees to question their ability to deal with acquisition related events.

Ambiguity, however, has been treated mostly as obstacles to acquisitions, as an effect of the acquisition that causes problems. I believe this to be a key point. In the literature, ambiguities are treated as something bad, as a threat to the acquisition outcome. Ambiguity is seen as something that must be resolved. Jemison & Sitkin (1986) claimed that ambiguity should not be eliminated but focused. However, their focus on ambiguity was intended to resolve some ambiguities and ignore others. The way ambiguity is treated in the acquisition literature indicates assumptions of clarity, consensus and homogeneity. As ambiguities are viewed as something problematic, different views of the world and different interpretations of the acquisition are not acknowledged.

Ambiguities do not have to mean obstacles to the organization. In some situations organizational members may thrive on working under ambiguous conditions as they allow them freedom and flexibility, and may also be the best condition for the organization (e.g., Meyerson, 1991a). In other cases, ambiguous conditions may harm both the organization and its members (e.g., Weick, 1991). How ambiguity is interpreted and experienced differs from situation to situation and from person to person. Hence, in some situations ambiguity is experienced as normal and desirable, whereas in other situations it may be best for the organization and its members to try to decrease the ambiguity. Acceptance of ambiguity can allow individuals greater freedom to act, to play, and to experiment (Meyerson & Martin, 1987).

An ambiguity approach shall be seen as a complement to traditional explanations of the integration problems as human obstacles. For example, employee resistance (e.g., Buono & Bowditch, 1989), culture clashes (e.g., Walter, 1985; Buono, Bowditch, & Lewis, 1985), and unwillingness to perform from the acquired company's part (e.g., Sinetar, 1981; Schweiger, Ivancevich, & Power, 1987). An ambiguity perspective indicates that situations that usually are explained as problematic might have occurred because of multiple interpretations. If multiplicity is truly acknowledged, failures and perceived misunderstandings should no longer be blamed on only one party. One can only say that it was interpreted differently; that there were different understandings of the situation. An ambiguity approach that stresses multiple meanings does not view communication as a device or solution to resolve ambiguity and misunderstandings. Instead, communication becomes an on-going interactional process of interpretation and reinterpret ation of meanings.

An ambiguity approach is, thus, an approach to organizations involved in acquisition processes that does not assume consensual organizations but focuses on the mere formations of meaning that occur in the organization, among and between the organizational members. This ambiguity approach, using the ambiguity themes in Table 1, can thus be a help to further the understanding of how employees experience and interpret the postacquisition process.


The international dimension of acquisitions can invoke ambiguities, as international encounters always bring about ambiguities when people from different cultural, societal, political and legal backgrounds meet. Geographical distance can, for example, bring about ambiguous situations. Communication via e-mail, letters, memos, and other kinds of written forms, is always open for multiple interpretations. If there is no possibility to clarify and verify how the information has been interpreted, because of geographical distance, many different interpretations of the information are most likely to occur. Telephone conversations may decrease such ambiguity, but there is always a risk of ambiguity or misunderstandings if one or both parties are communicating in a foreign language.

Some of the ambiguity themes may be more relevant in cross-border situations than others. Power has different meanings in different contexts. For example, in some cultures employees expect the manager to explicitly show who is in charge by giving orders and supervising whereas in other cultures a manager is more of a person who provides directions. Thus, a different management style in cross-border acquisitions may be the reason for many ambiguous interpretations. Second, an understanding of how things should be done (ambiguity of understanding) is likely to differ in cross-border acquisitions where the employees and managers of respective company are trained in different cultural, societal and legal systems (e.g., Morosini, Shane, & Singh, 1998) but it could also be because of different market structures. For example, the consumers may value different things in different markets, or there could be different traditions of how things are done. The notion of success is also likely to be differently interpreted in different cultural contexts and may be the cause for ambiguities in cross-border acquisition as what one shall do to be successful varies a lot. Identity could be another sensitive issue in this context as the national identity of the parent company often is important for employees of the acquired company but also for other people and organizations outside the acquired company. For a country to lose a large and strategically important company to another country could be difficult (c.f., Risberg, Tienari, & Vaara, 2000).

Although these ambiguity themes could be found in almost any organization, they are more obvious in acquisitions because of the turbulence and radical changes such activities causes. They are likely to be enhanced in cross-border acquisitions where so many more aspects may cause ambiguities: geographical distance, foreign languages, different understandings of the market, different societal and legal systems and different traditions. The next section describes two international acquisitions.


Kone Cranes is a company of Finnish origin producing and selling cranes. Like many companies from countries with small home markets it started to internationalize its business early. One of the Kone OY's (the parent and original company) first international relations was in 1933 when the resolution of the continuation war [1] imposed heavy war reparations on Finland to be paid to the Soviet Union. Kone Cranes' first acquisition was a Norwegian company called Wisbech Refsum in 1973 and is one of the cases discussed in this paper. The second case used is an acquisition of a Scottish company, in 1989, called GH Carruthers. The interviews were made during 1993.

When Kone Cranes acquired Wisbech Refsum A/S the company had some financial troubles, which was the primary reason for the owners to sell the company. For Kone Cranes the acquisition was an opportunity to enter the Norwegian market. After the acquisition Kone preserved the autonomy of Kone Kraner, the Norwegian company, a strategy that caused many problems according to Kone Cranes' representatives. However, some major changes took place after the acquisition. Firstly, Kone Cranes introduced its accounting and financial reporting system. Secondly, it gradually introduced Kone products and components in Kone Kraner. Thirdly, it introduced service and started to build up a service and maintenance organization within the acquired company. Because the acquisition, Kone Kraner has changed from a large crane producer to a standard crane producer with a focus on service and maintenance. Today, Kone Kraner does not produce any cranes as the production has been moved to Finland.

When Kone Cranes acquired GH Carruthers they had previously had a license agreement when Carruthers sold Kone standard cranes and components. When the owner and managing director of Carruthers decided to retire, he made Kone Cranes an offer to take over the company. After the acquisition, Kone introduced their accounting and financial reporting system. They also audited the production function, started to introduce Kone cranes and components as well as modernize the production. Kone Cranes' management expected the newly acquired company to start making changes in the Kone Carruthers. This is something that has caused much confusion in Kone Carruthers, which will be depicted later in the paper. At the time of the study the company had started to perform well after a period of recession.

The focus of the study has been the acquisition experiences and interpretations of the acquired company's members. The study is retrospective whereby the informants have been asked in interviews to reflect on and talk about the postacquisition process. I have talked to informants at different levels in the acquired subsidiaries as well as with top managers in Kone Cranes to obtain multiple perspectives of the acquisition processes. In all 31 interviews were done: three top managers in Kone Cranes, six top managers in the subsidiaries, eight middle managers and, fourteen staff members. The multiple perspectives in the acquired organization came from people at all levels: managers, designers, secretaries, people in the workshop, sales-people, and so forth. Talking to the individuals was a way to understand the larger more general patterns of the acquisition process at a group and organizational level. The interviews were transcribed, verbatim, and then analyzed.

To capture ambiguities in acquisition processes I have built on previous research on ambiguity and used different themes of ambiguity (Table 1). These themes have been used as a basis to understand what it is that makes a situation more or less ambiguous to be able to emphasize and illustrate possible multiple interpretations of the situation. The next section presents only a few examples of the analysis and is not a full case description. The excerpts of the interviews have been chosen as illustrations of ambiguity in acquisition processes.


In this section two situations that occurred during the acquisition processes will be analyzed to illustrate how the ambiguity approach and the themes can be used to understand acquisition processes (for a full analysis see Risberg, 1999).

An ambiguity approach cannot only be used to understand the postacquisition process but also to understand the relation between Kone Cranes OY and Kone Kraner today. Some of the informants indicated that the people working for Kone do not understand how the Norwegian market works, and that they do not understand how things ought to be done in Norway. For example, many of the informants express that there is too much emphasis on financial reporting. This could be interpreted as "ambiguities of understanding" about how the job should be done and how the company should be run. One can understand the situations as ambiguities of understanding shared by a group of people. The parent company believes the financial reporting should be done in one way and the subsidiary believes another way is better; thus there are interpersonal ambiguities between different units. The interpersonal ambiguities can be understood as occurring on an organizational level in the interstices between parent company and subsidiary.

One of the informants indicates that this matter was ambiguous to him at an individual level. I have interpreted this as intrapersonal ambiguity as he on the one hand wishes he could do something about it, to change the reporting system, but on the other hand he says that there is nothing he can do about it, and he seems to accept that. I let this informant represent the shared ambiguities of understanding discussed above, and to illustrate interpersonal ambiguities between the organizations as well as intrapersonal ambiguities.

If we had been a pure Norwegian company, hadn't belonged to a group of companies, then there would be no need for many of the financial costs.... Well all companies are like that really as they are here to make money. But it is more than what is normal in Norway. I think so. Well, there are a lot of things here that are the way they shouldn't be. It is not so that I have had another job in the company or in another company [to compare with], but all those reports cost money. It costs good money. Maybe one should use the money for other things, but that is the way it is with Kone, so that's the way it is....

...[If you are a part of a group], then it is of course easy to believe there is a difference to make your own decisions, that is a difference for all that is well. But I have been here for so long and I guess I can see the positive thing of being part of a group of companies that is much, much larger. And I guess some people want to make their own decision, but the advantages of belonging to a large group of companies are so much greater. (Norwegian Manager 2)

The informant disagrees with the headquarters on how the reporting should be done and about financial overhead costs. This can thus be interpreted as interpersonal ambiguities regarding the understanding of how things shall be done in the company.

This specific informant keeps coming back to Kone's financial reporting. He says that Kone Cranes has control of what happened in the past, but he thinks one should look more into the future. He means that it is no good knowing what happened a few months after it happened.

They have especially good control over what has happened, that is financial reports come fast afterwards. One does not maybe care about to plan and look ahead, but has very good control over what has happened ... An important thing is that we on the whole are here in Norway to sell parts that are produced in Finland, one can say that, one sort of notices that. I believe that maybe it had been easier to sell if it hadn't been produced abroad [in Finland]. I'm primarily here to sell what they have produced. And if we can't make it to sell, they may as well close us down because we are supposed to sell.... [As we are only a small part of a large group]. One just has to get used to the job and the conditions that are ... One cannot have the objective to change the Finnish way of thinking within the group. So it is like you update your conditions here and rules that are ruling here, and when you've done that it's kind of awkward and you know that you have no influence.... No, we are an independent joint stock comp any registered here in Norway and so on. So it is not evident that they sit up there, over in Finland they take some decision which has affected us here, and of course if they had talked to some of us down here, they would have heard some other things. But as I said we are 60 people in the whole company down here and we are smaller than, I'm sure we are comparable with those who work in the canteen to make the food for the large factory [in Finland]. (Norwegian Manager 2)

The informant starts by saying that in Kone one has good control over what happened last month, but that one does not plan ahead. However, he quite quickly moves over to talking about how little control Kone Kraner has over its own business. He means that Kone Cranes only wants them to sell what is produced in Finland, and unless Kone Kraner can reach the required numbers, it will be shut down. He seems to be very frustrated about the lack of control Kone Kraner has over decisions regarding their own business. Besides ambiguities of understanding (that he disagrees with Kone's way of doing things) one can sense ambiguities of power. He does not really know how much power he and the company have in making their own decisions. Nor does he feel comfortable with the power Kone Cranes has over the subsidiary. Moreover, the informant means that if Kone Cranes managers only took time to talk to the people in Kone Kraner, they would be able to understand Kone Kraner's working conditions and the decisions made might h ave been different.

This informant is not the only one disagreeing with some of Kone Cranes' routines. The following quote speaks about the financial reporting too:

There are cost estimates before and after everything we do. All offers must be forestalled with a cost estimation.... Moreover, there is financial reporting from the accounting department to Finland once a month. Then you can see the outcome of the last month, so the follow up is very short sighted. (Norwegian Draftsman 2)

These two quotes talk about the same theme. The two informants are not always pleased with the way Kone does things, but on the other hand, Norway is such a small part of the Kone group that there is not much Kone Kraner can do about it. The first informant states that it is a good idea to be part of a large group too, as one has access to many different resources. One could, for example, see it as the people in the subsidiary feel that they have no control over their own situation. In the day-to-day business, they can make their own decisions and the informant even said he sort of runs his own business. But when it comes to bigger decisions and long term planning, Kone Cranes imposes its way and sometimes also make decisions against the will of the subsidiary. This can be interpreted as ambiguities of understanding taking place at an interpersonal level. That is, when looking at the organization as a whole, one can see the parent company saying one thing about how things should be done and Kone Kraner saying another thing.

The quotes from the two informants have illustrated how an ambiguity approach can be used to understand the relationship between Kone Cranes and Kone Kraner. The themes of ambiguities used, illustrate how Kone Kraner experiences the relation. Many informants share the view. An ambiguity approach can, thus, put not only the postacquisition process but also the subsidiary-headquarters relation in a new light.

This was an example from the Norwegian case. The following example comes from the Scottish case.

In the Carruthers acquisition the pace of change was mentioned several times during the interviews and seems to have been an important issue. The pace was experienced as very slow from both the Kone Cranes' and Kone Carruthers' sides. According to the Kone Cranes' representative, Kone experienced the changes in Kone Carruthers as taking far too long. Kone Carruthers expressed thoughts that Kone Cranes had been far too slow to initiate change in Kone Carruthers. One can ask oneself why the change process followed the pace that it did.

It took a long while, of course, to get the old Carruthers system out. It wasn't a dramatic change, which I think was correct at the time because Carruthers at the time had a lot of projects they were working on and the orders were coming. And if we would have gone back to the customers saying we won't build you a Carruthers crane we will build you a Kone crane, the chances are we would have been out of the business. Because of that it took longer here to get the Kone practices in here than it should have been, but once we got through the first job then we started doing Kone methodology, if you like, in to the place and Kone planning....

I think some of the staff, very much the same; they didn't know whether they had a job or what the job was to do. I think some of them maybe found it very difficult, I think as I did at the time, to accept Kone coming in, always thinking we've been doing it this way for forty years and we know it better. It took time to change that, and it changed. I think some people thought well Kone's coming in here; it's a big company that will appear as a big box, something like that. Again that was something that stopped....

I think some of the guys on the shop floor found it difficult to accept that we had to change the way we built the cranes and how [we] did the job, and so forth It had to be forced then. Certain issues had to be made, certain changes had to be forced in after a period of time. And I think some of them may have found it difficult and some of them would just go out to have employment. In 1992 employment was difficult, and the recession was here. The same as you have in Sweden and other places else. Before that, people could get a job some place else without any problem. (Scottish Manager 1)

What the informant describes here is how long it took for some of the Carruthers people to change and to do things the Kone way. In traditional research, this would probably have been explained as resistance to change or unwillingness to abandon old practices or something in those terms. However, to understand why it took so long to start using Kone's practices, one has to contextualise the situation. As Carruthers had a lot of ongoing projects when the company was acquired, the employees worked parallel with Carruthers' products and routines and Kone products and Kone's ways of doing things for quite a while. This must have influenced people's ability to change to Kone. The situation can be understood in terms of people experiencing ambiguities regarding their own work experience and knowledge. People are uncertain of what skills and what work experiences are valid and useful after the acquisition.

The acquisition made people feel ambiguous about the purpose of the company; that is, they did not know what the company was supposed to do after the acquisition. Similarly, they did not know what they were supposed to do for their company. This is closely connected to the fact that people were suspicious of the introduction of Kone's way of doing things. They could at first not understand why things that they had done for forty years, were no good any longer. One could, again, understand it as they experienced ambiguities regarding their own experience. if a person has done his job in a certain way for his whole life, it is difficult to change, unless he understands and accepts the reason and logic for changing. Introducing new ways of doing things means that the person's old knowledge is threatened, as it may become redundant.

To look at a situation like this in terms of ambiguities illustrates that an ambiguity approach provides a less conflicting view of the acquired company and its members than would more traditional explanations that talk in terms of resistance, clashes and unwillingness to change. Talking in these terms (of resistance, clashes, or unwillingness) implicitly means that it is someone in opposition causing the problems. An ambiguity approach, on the other hand, allows for multiple ways of doing things and multiple interpretations of a situation. Ambiguity, in this case, illustrates that the situation can be understood differently depending on who is telling the story. It also illustrates that contextualisation is important to understanding why a situation may have been experienced and interpreted in a certain way. This particular case can be understood as the Carruthers members did not actually resist the change; rather it was the situation that made it difficult for them to change. The situation can also be unde rstood as ambiguous as the workers did not know if they were supposed to work according to Carruthers' practices or according to Kone's practices.

The situation mentioned in the quote could have been different had it not been for the recession. The informant says that those who found it most difficult to change; those who had the most trouble adapting to Kone, would have looked for new jobs which they also did to some extent. However, because of the recession it was difficult to find jobs. If it had not been for environmental factors, those who had difficulties accepting new things would probably have left the company at an early stage. Maybe, then the transition would have been faster. Consequently, to get a richer and fuller understanding of an event or a situation, one must contextualise it. Multiple perspectives and contextualisation are important to further the understanding of acquisitions. The pace of change in this acquisition is understood differently when taken into consideration with other issues, such as on-going projects and the recession. I will discuss change in the next story.

In the following quote, the informant talks about production-related changes that took place within Kone Carruthers after the acquisition. There were a lot of things that had to change, both in terms of product and production. According to a Kone Cranes representative, the changes took too long to come through because people were unwilling to change. In the interview material from the parent company, Kone Cranes, one can see the notion of resistance to change coming from the parent company. The Finnish representative kept saying that people in Kone Carruthers had difficulties with changing and that some people in the company did not want to change. However, it is not as simple as that. Comparing the Kone Cranes representative's statement with the statement from the Scottish manager below, the situation is described differently.

And as long as people could see these advantages coming in, like more computer technology, easier ways of doing the quotations, quicker design times. As long as people could see that, they were always willing to go forward. If something was seen as a negative step, then that made them a problem, nobody wanted to do it, and then you had to force the issue and prove an advantage to it. As long as you sold it, you sold the change to the people, whether it was a customer or whether it was your own people then you could get it through. (Scottish Manager 1)

The informant says that as long as the workers could see the advantage of the new things and as long as they could understand the meaning and purpose of the changes, they didn't have problems with change. However, the advantages were not always explained to them, at least not so they could make sense out of it. Therefore, the workers experienced ambiguity regarding the way they used to do things, their experience. Thus, three different ambiguities can be seen here; communication, experience and purpose. It indicates that many different factors play a role when understanding a certain situation. One cannot explain it just in terms of people resisting the changes or clashes between the Finnish and Scottish cultures. What seems to have occurred is that the workers did not understand why they had to make the changes, nor were the changes explained to them. Hence, they were not sure why the old way of doing things would no longer suffice. Therefore, they could not understand why they had to make the changes anyway . Consequently, to achieve an understanding of the situation, that is more than a superficial explanation or understanding, one needs to interpret the situation from different perspectives. So instead of just simply explaining the problems, such as employee resistance, one can see that there were many different factors having an impact on the situation. Communication played a role, which made people become uncertain of their own skills, which in turn made them uncertain of what they could do for the company. The Kone Cranes representative has one interpretation of the situation whereas the Kone Carruthers manager has another. Multiple views are needed to illustrate that there is not only one correct way to understand something; there may be many different ways of understanding something, and that each way, each perspective, adds a different understanding.

The quotes above have illustrated how some interpretations are shared between the acquiring and acquired company and that some are not shared. In the cases it also happened that the people working in the acquired organization had different interpretations. In the Kone Carruthers case the opinions of the managing directors of the company after the acquisition differed widely. The managers of Kone Carruthers did not like them and claimed that they had managed to turn the company around despite the managing directors. The people working on the shop floor, on the other hand, thought they were very good compared to the Carruthers managing director.

And we weren't, more importantly, we weren't being allowed to be the managers of the company. Because they kept putting other people in who didn't do anything but were technically the managers. But that's OK. If you got someone coming in who is good at what they do, we reckon in here that if somebody comes in and works, who ever that is, but works and are seen to work, they get all the help they need. But if they come in and they just think they are in for an easy time, people help them for a month or two and then they'll ignore them. That's what's happening then. We're not ignoring Mr. B as managing director. But it's now a year and a half, and he still doesn't do anything. So you reach a point where you say, I am not going to waste any more time in here. It doesn't matter what we tell you, you don't do anything.... We keep records of the fact that he disappears for hours at a time and doesn't come in till later in the morning. First out at night and some days he just doesn't turn up, but nobody wants to do anything about it because the company is doing better. But it is nothing better because he is doing anything about it.... So that's causing the company problems. It's causing the staff morale problems, cause they see the managing director never doing anything. I mean anything. He may have lift, what yesterday morning when somebody phoned him and asked him something but that's it. He never does anything on his own. He never starts anything or comes up with any ideas or anything. He never does anything. So you've got to wonder about Kone's ability to pick managers. And I don't just mean because of us, I mean generally. (Scottish Manager 3)

When this quote is compared to the quotes from people working at lower levels in Kone Carruthers, the view of the managing directors is very different.

I would say most of the gaffers in here, most of the bosses in here, are easy to talk to. I would say they are OK to talk to we can have a laugh and a joke. As I say Master B, Master G, they come to the boys, they can talk to them. And I think as far as the bosses go, I would say they are OK to talk to. If you go to them, they listen. They might not take any action on it, but they certainly would listen to you and listen to your point of view. (Store worker S5 292-297)

We are on our second one. We had Mr. D when the take-over came and then he moved over to Canada and Mr. B came in. The two of them have different ways of working. They were nice guys to talk to and that was one thing about the two of them; [they] know how to treat the work force. If they come out, they don't ignore you or anything. They talk with you and all that. Everyone seems a lot happier. We've actually only had two of them. Two changes.... And then, the first the director of Kone, Mr. D, he actually took time to talk to the people on the shop floor, which we never had experienced before. (Workshop worker 1)

The opinions about the present (and the first) managing director differ depending on whom you talk to and what position that person holds in the company. Different people appreciate different values in a person. The managing director does not make life easier for one of the directors but he does for the men at the shop floor because he treats them like human beings. These different stories illustrate how impossible it is to only look at one level of the company, the management level, to understand an acquisition. One cannot ignore some of the organizational members if one wants to understand how the organization experiences the acquisition. Similarly, it is almost impossible to try to get one clear, unambiguous interpretation and explanation of the postacquisition process and the events taking place during the process. Understanding the acquisition comes when one takes several stories into account, when one acknowledges that the acquisition is not unequivocal but that it is ambiguous.

These were two examples of how the interviews were analyzed. The next section presents the results of the study.


During the analysis of Kone Cranes' acquisitions of Wisbech Refsum and GH Carruthers I used ambiguity themes to interpret the informants stories about the postacquisition process. The ambiguity themes were used as illustrations of how the acquisition process in each case was experienced and understood by the informants. It is important to note that the informants' stories do not represent any "truth" of what happened at the time of the acquisition. What the informants told me represents their sense making of the acquisition process in retrospect (c.f., Weick, 1995) and as every interpretation is subjective, stories may differ between informants.

By acknowledging ambiguities in the analysis of the field material, I allowed multiple voices of the employees from the acquired companies to speak. The ambiguities discussed are not to be seen as facts that actually exist "out there," but are reports on pluralistic constructions. The acknowledgment of ambiguities can lead to a better understanding of the unavoidable multiplicity of understandings taking place during the postacquisition process as well as a better understanding of the acquired company's situation.

An ambiguity approach can thus help us see that integrated companies form a more or less fragmented entity as a matter of course, rather than the typical expectations of the acquisition literature of frictionless integration or cultural clashes. In this section I will address and discuss multiple interpretations of the process and common patterns found in the stories to illustrate the multiple as well as shared experiences of the acquisition process.

Even though an ambiguity approach emphasizes diversity, one can also see common interpretations in employees' experiences of the postacquisition process. Some of the interpretations of the acquisition process were shared by many of the organizational members while others were more individual experiences. In this section I will summarize what interpretations were shared between the acquiring and the acquired company, what interpretations were shared differently between these companies, and what interpretations were ambiguous rather than shared among the members of the companies.


An ambiguity approach does not mean that one will only find diverse interpretations of the acquisition process. Neither is it so that the acquired and the acquiring company always have different or opposing views. Sometimes the interpretations of a certain situation can be shared across the companies. Such joint interpretations were to some extent found in both the Norwegian and the Scottish case. However, in the Norwegian case, because of the time that had passed since the acquisition, I was not able to talk to any of the Kone Cranes people that were directly involved in the acquisition of Wisbech Ref sum. The representatives of Kone Cranes that I talked to about the acquisition had learned about it from their co-workers. It is also important to remember that the focus has mainly been on the acquired company.

Some of the informants in the Norwegian case talked about how they felt that the Kone Cranes management did not understand Norway and that they would be much better off being an independent company on their own. This was actually an interpretation of the postacquisition process that was shared by a Kone Cranes representative. Even though this informant was not involved himself during the initial time after the acquisition process, he interpreted what had happened as if Kone Cranes managers did not understand Kone Kraner and did not pay much attention to the company. Thus both companies shared, at the time of the interviews, the interpretation that Kone Kraner and its employees had been somewhat "mistreated" by the Kone Cranes managers.

In the Scottish case, for example, the experience of the pace of changes taking place after the acquisition was shared between the companies. Representatives from both the acquiring and the acquired company said that they experienced the pace to be too slow. Both expected the change to take place much faster, even though they had different interpretations of why the change took so long.

These two examples indicate that the two companies, acquired and acquiring, do not always disagree about interpretations of the acquisition process. In the Norwegian case, the agreement seemed to have been in retrospect and Kone Cranes' interpretation was probably a reconstruction of an earlier interpretation. I doubt that this was the ruling interpretation in Kone Cranes at the time when the situation took place.

Shared interpretations provide an impression that the acquisition process may be unanimously interpreted by all people involved. If one is only looking for sharedness one will miss other aspects of the acquisition process, especially heterogeneity of interpretations. Neither will one see that different individuals or groups have different interpretations.


Quite often in the case studies, the representatives of the acquiring and the acquired company had very different interpretations about different events and situations during the postacquisition process. These are the kind of interpretations often reported in acquisition research--opposing views of the acquisition process that are shared within each of the joining sides.

A theme that has been running throughout the informants' stories is interpretations about change of production and technology, where the acquiring and the acquired company often seem to hold different views. In the Norwegian company, a Kone Cranes representative talked about the closing down of the production of components and spare parts. He mentioned that the employees in Kone Kraner were satisfied with that decision because the production was handicraft and now they used modern components made in Kone's factory in Finland. However, the employees in Kone Kraner had a different view. At first they thought that their production and their components in many ways were superior to Kone's, and second, that not making their own components and spare parts caused difficulties for the service-men when they had to do maintenance and service on the old Wisbech Refsum cranes. Hence, whereas Kone Cranes saw the introduction of modern components in Kone Kraner as positive, Kone Kraner saw the same thing as something caus ing them trouble. Thus, there were inconsistent interpretations of the situation between the companies.

In the Scottish case, the matter of changes, especially in production, also caused different interpretations between the acquiring and the acquired company. One example is the pace of changes taking place after the acquisition. Even though both companies agreed that the pace was too slow, they had different interpretations of why it was taking so long. Kone Cranes was sure that the changes were not taking place because the employees in Kone Carruthers did not want to make the changes. Kone Cranes thought the problems originated because employees objected to leaving their old ways of doing things behind and therefore resisted the changes. This seems to be a clear-cut case of employee resistance if the situation had been interpreted from a traditional acquisition research point of view where the focus is on consensual integration. The employees in Kone Carruthers, however, were more than willing to perform the changes. They were just waiting for Kone Cranes to tell them what to do. When they never received suc h orders from Kone Cranes, they thought that for some reason, Kone Cranes did not want the changes to happen. So both companies thought that the other was slowing down the changes.

Another differently shared interpretation between Kone Cranes and Kone Carruthers was about whom should get the credit for turning the company round and making it profitable. Kone Cranes had changed the managing director and put in what they called "a local guy." The Kone Cranes manager thought that because he was Scottish, he could co-operate with the employees in a way the earlier managing directors had not been able to do. However, Kone Carruthers had another view of the story. The people working in Kone Carruthers claimed that they had made the company turn around despite the managing director. They believed that it was their hard work that created the change and that the managing director had done nothing for the company.

Interpretations that were shared in both the Norwegian and the Scottish company were the employees' initial reactions and attitudes towards the acquiring company. In both cases, there were very similar reactions among the individuals who seemed to share their initial interpretations of the acquisition process. Common themes in the acquisition stories were that employees expected the acquiring company to close the acquired company after the acquisition. Another closely related theme was that one expected the acquiring company to make major reorganizations, which would lead to large redundancies in the staff.

These kinds of worst-case scenario stories often seem to be based on taken-for-granted assumptions. Some people "know what happens during acquisitions" as they have read acquisition stories in the papers or seen them in the news. Media seem to shape people's assumptions of how acquisitions unfold (c.f., Schneider & Dunbar, 1992). These assumptions affect people's attitudes towards the acquisition and the acquiring company during the first period of the acquisition process. In both cases in this study, almost all informants were unanimous in their first interpretations about the acquisition. They were all uncertain of what would happen to their company after they had been acquired. In the Norwegian case, everybody was sure the company would be closed down. In the Scottish case, people worried whether they would lose their jobs or not.

Organization or group-shared interpretations indicate that the acquiring and the acquired company sometimes within each company have organizationally congruent interpretations but that interpretations vary between the companies. Although such a view provides part of the picture of how employees and organizations experience the postacquisition process, it fails to capture other aspects. As was mentioned above, these descriptions of acquisition processes are the kind of reports that are often found in acquisition research, where the acquiring and acquired companies are put in opposition. From such a view, it is easy to come to conclusions such as employee resistance and cultural clashes. However, it misses, not only the point that interpretations can actually be shared over the organizational boundaries, but also that the intraorganizational interpretations are not always unanimous. Quite often interpretations vary within the organization, not only between groups, but also between different individuals who hav e different interpretations. Moreover, one individual can also have inconsistent interpretations. Such a view also fails to recognize that individuals do not always share "their" group's interpretation but that the interpretation can differ because of the context or the situation at hand.


Among the cases there were examples of many different interpretations of the postacquisition process among the employees.

Ambiguous interpretations can depend on people's position and involvement in certain matters. In Kone Carruthers, for example, different people differently interpreted the negotiation period. Although most employees in Kone Carruthers experienced the negotiation period as very ambiguous, and all employees and managers agreed that this had been an ambiguous period for all employees, there were two managers who experienced the negotiations as still ambiguous--but different. These two men were both involved in the negotiations. They had more information than the employees and could therefore form different interpretations. A secretary was another person who experienced the negotiations differently from everybody else. To her, the negotiation period was not so ambiguous because she saw a lot of information that no one else, except the managing director, knew of. Thus, people with different positions, in this case, different groups of people, had ambiguous interpretations between the groups.

Opinions about the managing directors differed a lot between people working in CH Carruthers. Some thought that the former as well as the current managing director were useless. Others, especially people employed in the workshop, thought they were great. According to the workshop men, the managing directors took time to talk to them, which the GH Carruthers managing director never had. Employees' interpretations of the managing directors thus vary across the organization.

Another issue that was ambiguous and varied from person to person was whether it felt like they worked in a Kone company or if they still felt like GH Carruthers. Some people claimed it felt like they still worked for Carruthers whereas others said they had become Kone. One person, however, had difficulties in making sense of whether the company was a Kone company or whether it still was Carruthers. She went back and forth between different interpretations and thought that keeping Carruthers in the name might have made it more difficult for her to become Kane.


Employees and managers working in the acquired companies do not interpret the postacquisition process homogeneously. Interpretations are ambiguous for individuals, between individuals, and between groups. The groups that share interpretations are not stable groups but vary from situation to situation. These are aspects of the postacquisition process that are usually not reported in acquisition research as ambiguity and inconsistency are left out.

For managers to enter and realize an acquisition with an ambiguity approach means that the acquiring managers have a different view of the acquisition than if they have a unifying and unequivocal approach. That is, entering the situation with the notion that everybody has different interpretations, and trying to understand why people react and act the way they do, instead of assuming everybody has more or less the same interpretation, will be a good start for managing the acquisition process. It means that managers will have more tolerance for people in the acquired company. It means that the managers will have a different understanding when the acquired company does not behave as expected, an understanding of the multiple realities in the organization. In international acquisition it could also help to avoid judging people from one's own cultural and societal platform. An ambiguity perspective of different situations could enhance understanding the multiple interpretations and views of the acquisition.

In the two cases some ambiguity themes occurred more frequently during different stages of the acquisition process (see Figure 1). This could indicate for managers what issues are most ambiguous and uncertain for employees during different stages, and what managers need to focus on to get a successful outcome of the acquisitions.

There were two themes of ambiguity present in all stages of the two acquisitions processes: ambiguity of purpose and ambiguity of communication. This indicates the importance of communicating the motive for the acquisition, and the goals and objectives for the company after the acquisitions. It does also indicate that employees in the subsidiaries always seem to feel a lack of communication from headquarters.

Looking at the preacquisition period and the initial integration, employees have a need to know what is going to happen with their company. As was discussed in the analysis, worst-case scenarios were frequent during this period. Employees were afraid their company would be shut down. Acquiring companies therefore need to communicate as much as possible during both the negotiations and the initial integration period. One way could be to have someone or a group of people from the acquiring company frequently traveling to the acquired company. Other ways could be to have integration coordinators in both organizations. It must be easy for the employees to contact and ask questions to these persons. It is important that the communication is not just one-way information, but that a dialogue is possible for the employees.

Another risk during the preacquisition period, and the first period after the acquisition, is that if people are left in ambiguity they may leave the company. Managers in the cases mentioned that they looked for new jobs right after the acquisition, because they did not know what was going to happen with their company. There is a great risk of losing the best people if the ambiguities are unattended.

Attitudes set during the preacquisition period and the initial integration period could set the stage for the whole acquisition process (c.f., Buono & Bowditch, 1989; Bastien, 1987). If the management acquiring a company is aware of how ambiguities of purpose can affect the acquired employees, they can be more conscious in their communication. For example, Schweiger, Ivancevich, & Power (1987) pointed out that almost all employees experience a lack of communication during the acquisition. It is however difficult for the managers to reveal any information during the negotiation as this must often be kept a secret especially in companies listed on the stock exchange.

Many acquisition researchers have spoken for full and open information (e.g., Mirvis & Marks, 1986) early information (Shrivastava, 1986), and information throughout the acquisition process (Sinetar, 1981). One should remember though that the need for communication is subjective and situation-dependent. From the acquiring management's perspective, providing a lot of information is not a way to prevent or solve the problems. If the acquired employees are experiencing ambiguities then acquiring companies may actually try to communicate "until they are blue in their faces" and the acquired employees can still feel as if communication is lacking. In cases of international acquisition the communication maybe even more difficult. The communication itself maybe ambiguously interpreted because of, for example, communication in a foreign language and different cultural backgrounds. The only thing one can learn is that communication is difficult but important during the postacquisition process.

During the initial integration period experience was ambiguous. This is most likely because of changes starting to take place in the organization, and especially in the production. This is when people started to doubt their own skills and experience. One way to deal with such ambiguities could be to have mixed teams with people from the newly acquired company and people from the acquiring company working together. Another way could be to let people from the acquired company visit either other subsidiaries or the headquarters to learn more about how things are done in the new company. The visits could be in groups organized as guided tours or for individuals that work at headquarters for a shorter period.

This could also be a way to decrease ambiguities that occur because of geographical distance. Long distance communication and co-operation work better when people have met and got know each other, than if they only have had e-mail or telephone contact. All these efforts cost money but could be well invested if it leads to a smoother integration. Many of these measures were not done in the Kone cases. People from the acquired companies said that they would like their people to visit the headquarters but they could not afford to send them.

Power was ambiguous during the integration period. This is most likely connected to the fact that the subsidiaries feel a lack of power over their own situation. It was also connected to vague leadership, either because of a weak managing director or because the managing director was never there. It seems as if those working in the acquired company required strong or at least clear leadership during the first uncertain period after the acquisition. This is because they do not know the motives for the acquisitions. Later in the acquisition process the ambiguity of power does not have to be experienced as bad. One manager in one of the cases said that he appreciated the vague leadership and the vague directions from Kone. It meant more freedom for him as he could interpret the goals and objectives in his own terms and the subsidiary gained more autonomy.

Threatening changes, such as the acquisition or changes taking place during the integration, appear to involve tendencies towards both heterogeneity of various ambiguous interpretations and homogeneity through sharing certain ambiguities, perhaps as collective defense against common threats. The concept of shared ambiguities may then contribute to a more subtle and balanced view of interpreted differences and similarities in acquisition processes. It attempts to recognize a "middle ground" between shared clarity and diverse inconsistencies at the collective level of analysis. Multiple interpretations in joining companies are hardly ever only clear and shared or only inconsistent even though the traditional search for similarities as well as a contrasting search for ambiguities tend to favor one at the expense of the other.

An important and difficult question, arising from the above discussion of differently shared or not shared ambiguities, is what kind of processes there are that make some interpretations be shared and some not. Why do the people working in the companies agree on some interpretations yet disagree about others? A step towards an answer to that question could be found in the cases presented here. It could be so that important matters that engage and maybe threaten the whole organization initiate an interactive sense making process, where the interpretation is constructed from the interaction between people. At other times, it could be questions that only engage a group of people. Other aspects could also affect the processes, which have been mentioned above. People's positions in the organization, their engagement in different events, contextual factors both internally and externally to the company can affect their sense making process that make them come to an interpretation that is either ambiguous at a perso nal level, is shared by a group, or by the whole organization. Whether the interpretation is ambiguous or not could maybe also depend on such factors as well as the sense making process.

The discussion above indicates that single and shared interpretations are not fair representations of acquisition processes. Instead the discussion suggests that acquisition processes can be understood in terms of multiple and ambiguous interpretations. Acquisitions can thus not be interpreted in one single way, neither can the process be described in one single way if one wants to capture more than one group's interpretation of the same. To gain understanding of acquisition process one needs to take many representations into consideration. Ambiguity is often, both in acquisition literature and by managers, regarded as something bad that causes anxiety for the employees and that may overturn the acquisition. However, different individuals perceive ambiguity differently in different phases of the acquisition. Ambiguity is not always something bad. Whether ambiguity is perceived as stressful or not depends on the situation (c.f., Levine, 1985; Eisenberg & Witten, 1987; Meyerson, 1994) as well as on the individ uals involved. Ambiguity could actually be a necessity for organizations to be able to be flexible and act quickly in a changing and turbulent environment.

An ambiguity approach offers opportunities to understand the difficult postacquisition process in a way that provides an understanding of people's reactions to the process and embraces the multiple meanings and heterogeneous interpretations of the process. It has also proven to be a way to understand acquisitions differently from the tradition in acquisition research.

Ambiguity is not only prevalent in acquisitions. However, it could, be that situations like acquisitions make ambiguities more obvious than in "normal" organizational life. I would like to emphasize though that ambiguity is something that is always present in organizations, yes, in everyday life in general. Thus, studying ambiguities in acquisition, where they are enhanced, can help us learn something about organizations in general. Acknowledgment of ambiguity in organizations can be a way for the organization to be more flexible and to allow individual initiative in a way more rigid and consensual thinking organizations cannot do.


(1.) The Continuation War, June 1941-September 1944. A continuation of the Finnish Soviet Winter War, November 1939-March 1940.


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                      Meanings of Ambiguities Used to
                   Interpret the Categorise the Stories
Ambiguities of purpose       The organization appears to have ill-
                               defined preferences.
                             The members do not know what the organization
                               is doing, should do, or intends to do.
                             The members do not know what they are suppose
                               to do for the organization.
                             The members do not understand the purpose of
                               the acquisition.
Ambiguities of identity      When it is difficult for the employees to
                               find an identity in the work situation and
                               the organization.
                             When their identities get altered.
Ambiguities of power         When a person does not know.
                             What power she or he has.
                             What he or she can do for the organization.
                             Who the leaders are.
                             Who is supposed to give orders.
                             Why they have this leader.
Ambiguities of negotiation   Events and actions taking place before the
                               actual acquisition, for example, during the
                               negotiations, that affect people and their
                               attitudes towards the acquisition and the
                               acquiring company.
Ambiguities of understanding Competing ideas of how the organization
                               should do what it does.
Ambiguities of experience    When past experiences become redundant or
                               when people are not sure if their past
                               knowledge will be useful in the future.
                             Difficulties in abandoning old practices.
Ambiguities of success       When are the company, the manager, and the
                               employee successful?
                             When the employees do not know who defines
                               success and how it is defined.
Ambiguities of communication Misunderstandings in communication.
Ambiguities of the future    The employees experience doubts about their
                               own future, in terms of redundancy, and the
                               company's future, in terms of closing down.
Ambiguities of organizations Fluid participation among organizational memb
                               members in decision making. People are
                               differently involved in the organization at
                               different times.
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Article Details
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Author:Risberg, Anette
Publication:Journal of World Business
Geographic Code:4EUFI
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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