Making Sense of (Mis)Matched Frames of Reference: A Dynamic Cognitive Theory of (In)Stability in HR Practices

By returning to an old insight that frames of reference influence action, we theorize that actors’ frames influence their desired HR practices, and these practices will be stable if managers and employees share similar frames. When actors’ frames are mismatched, however, HR practices can violate employee expectations and trigger a sensemaking process, potentially leading to framing contests and conflict. We hypothesize predicted patterns of conflict and expected outcomes depending on the nature of the mismatched frames. Allowing for mismatched frames uniquely highlights the importance of recognizing managers’ and employees’ frames for understanding HR outcomes and conflicts observed in practice.

Animated introduction (video)


  • Dionne Pohler
  • John Budd
  • Wei Huang

Publication Type

Journal Name

Industrial Relations