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Organizational Identity

Linking: Organizational Identity
Editors: Mary Jo Hatch and Majken Schultz
Paperback: 608 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (April 23, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0199269475 
Book Review:

Organizational Identity presents the classic works on organizational identity alongside more current thinking on the issues. Ranging from theoretical contributions to empirical studies, the readings in this volume address the key issues of organizational identity, and show how these issues have developed through contributions from such diverse fields of study as sociology, psychology, management studies and cultural studies. The readings examine questions such as how organizations understand who they are, why organizations develop a sense of identity and belonging where the boundaries of identity lie and the implications of postmodern and critical theories' challenges to the concept of identity as deeply-rooted and authentic.

In a world of increased exposure to critical voices, many organizations find creating and maintaining their identities problematic. For example, the media is taking more and more interest in the private lives of organizations and in exposing any divergence it finds between corporate images and organizational actions. This exposure is fed by business analysts who now routinely supplement economic performance data with evaluations of internal business practices such as organizational strategy, management style, organizational processes and corporate social responsibility. As competition among business reporters and news programs increases, along with the growth in attention to business on the Internet, this scrutiny is likely to intensify. In addition, when employees are also customers, investors, local community members and/or activists, as they frequently are in this increasingly networked world, they carry their knowledge of internal business practices beyond the organization's boundaries and thus add to organizational exposure.

Exposure is not the only identity-challenging issue faced by organizations today. Organizational efforts to draw their external stakeholders into a personal relationship with them allow access that expands their boundaries and thereby changes their organizational self-definitions. For instance, justin-time inventory systems, value chain management and e-business draw suppliers into organizational processes, just as customer service programs encourage employees to make customers part of their everyday routines. This is similar to the ways in which investor- and community-relations activities make the concerns of these stakeholder groups a normal part of organizational life. However, not only are employees persuaded to draw external stakeholders into their daily thoughts and routines, but these same external stakeholders are encouraged to think of themselves and behave as members of the organization. For example, investors are encouraged to align their personal values with those of the companies to which they provide capital (e.g. ethical investment funds), whereas customers who join customer clubs are invited to consider themselves organizational members. Suppliers, unions, communities and regulators become partners with the organization via similar processes of mutual redefinition. Combined, these forces give stakeholder groups greater and more intimate access to the private face of the firm than they have ever experienced before.

One implication of increased access to organizations is that organizational culture, once hidden from view, is now more open and available for scrutiny to anyone interested in a company. By the same token, increased exposure means that organizational employees hear more opinions and judgments about their organization from stakeholders (i.e. they encounter more images of their organization with greater frequency).  The combined forces of access and exposure put pressure on organizational identity theorists to account for the effects of both organizational culture as the context of internal definitions of organizational identity, and organizational images as the site of external definitions of organizational identity, but most especially to describe the processes by which these two sets of definitions influence one another.

Organizational identity needs to be theorized in relation to both culture and image in order to understand how internal and external definitions of organizational identity interact. There are four processes that link identity, culture and image mirroring (the process by which identity is mirrored in the images of others), reflecting (the process by which identity is embedded in cultural understandings), expressing (the process by which culture makes itself known through identity claims), and impressing (the process by which expressions of identity leave impressions on others). Whereas mirroring and impressing have been presented in the literature before, our contribution lies in specifying the processes of expressing and reflecting and in articulating the interplay of all four processes that together construct organizational identity as an ongoing conversation or dance between organizational culture and organizational images.

In a practical vein, knowing how organizational identity dynamics works helps organizations to avoid organizational dysfunction and thus should increase their effectiveness. Based on the implications in the model, organizations should strive to nurture and support the processes relating organizational culture, identity and images. An understanding of both culture and image is needed in order to encourage a balanced identity able to develop and grow along with changing conditions and the changing stream of people who associate themselves with the organization. This requires organizational awareness that the processes of mirroring, reflecting, expressing and impressing are part of an integrated dynamic in which identity is simultaneously shaped by cultural understandings formed within the organization and external images provided by stakeholders. This, in turn, requires maintaining an open conversation between top managers, organizational members and external stakeholders, and keeping this conversation in a state of continuous development in which all those involved remain willing to listen and respond. That this will not be easy for most organizations, however, you should be convinced that awareness of the interrelated processes of identity dynamics is an important first step.

 
~Cited from the publisher and Mary Jo Hatch & Majken Schultz. Human Relations. New York: Aug 2002. Vol. 55, Iss. 8; p. 989-1018.



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