Mayer Julie
Envisioning risks: the attentional cycle of risk framing

In an increasingly complex and uncertain environment, envisioning risk has become a critical managerial ability. However, determining ex ante which issues are relevant “risk” is challenging, since it requires organizational attention, which is a scare resource. This paper explores the process “risk framing”, i.e. the process through which risk is constructed as a frame that both shapes and reflects managerial attention. By examining the processes through which twelve organizations from various sectors determine their risks, we reveal four modes of risk framing: capture, revelation, incorporation and assimilation. Each mode relies on distinct attentional mechanisms, and results in particular frames of risk. Findings suggest that each mode constitutes a stage of an attentional cycle, through which organizations build their own representations of risks, which become, in turn, a structure that drives managerial attention. Those findings provide a better understanding of what organizations call a “risk”. This study sheds light on the mechanisms through which managers envision risk, by constructing collective representations of their environment.