The literature on organizational identity investigates the notion that organizations have identities in a fashion similar to but different from individual identities. Organizational identity is treated as an organization’s collective answer to the fundamental question, “Who are we as an organization?” This literature adopts multiple perspectives to understand the character of organizational identity, how it forms, how it changes, and how it affects various outcomes and aspects of organizational life and performance.
The following overviews not only include the article that served as the genesis of the concept of organizational identity (Albert and Whetten 1985), but also address various major perspectives on organizational identity, i.e., the relationship between individual and organizational identity (Gioia 1998), and whether organizations are best seen as “social actors” or “social constructions” (Corley, et al. 2006; King, et al. 2010; Whetten 2006; Whetten and Mackey 2002). These works also consider the various identity orientations of organizations (Brickson 2000, Brickson 2005), its comparisons to image and corporate identity (Cornelissen, et al. 2007), approaches to measuring the notion of identity for purposes of research (van Rekom and van Riel 2000), as well as a number of other “takes” on organizational identity (Labianca, et al. 2001; Whetten and Godfrey 1998). In addition, the articles set the stage for understanding organizational identity as one of the most wide-ranging and important recent concepts in organization study, its relationship to many other important concepts, and its implications for affecting organizational outcomes.
Albert, S., and D. Whetten. “Organizational Identity.” In Research in Organizational Behavior. Vol. 7. Edited by L. L. Cummings and M. M. Staw, 263–295. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1985.
Foundational paper that introduces and develops the notion of organizational identity as that which is central, continuous over time, and distinctive about an organization. Considers dual and multiple identities as applied to organizations. Develops an identity framework for the study of organizations from a series of empirical questions and hypotheses. An extended metaphor analysis explores various dimensions of identity.
Brickson, S. L. “The Impact of Identity Orientation on Individual and Organizational Outcomes in Demographically Diverse Settings.” Academy of Management Review 25.1 (2000): 82–101.
The author contends that the current understanding of identification processes severely limits diversity research. She presents a model using organizational task and reward structures to explain personal, relational and organizational identity orientations. She concludes that a functioning relational identity highlights the benefits while mitigating the disadvantages often linked with diversity.
Brickson, S. L. “Organizational Identity Orientation: Forging a Link between Organizational Identity and Organizations’ Relations with Stakeholders.” Administrative Science Quarterly 50 (2005): 576–609.
Introduces the concept of identity orientation in three distinct forms: individualistic, relational, and collectivistic. Employs qualitative and quantitative studies to assess identity orientation and concludes that the prominent features of organizational identity are based on organizational relationships with stakeholders, with emphasis on specific organizational variables as predictors of identity orientation rather than general organizational-level or individual-level variables.
Corley, K. G., C. V. Harquail, M. G. Pratt, M. A. Glynn, C. M. Fiol, and M. J. Hatch. “Guiding Organizational Identity through Aged Adolescence.” Journal of Management Inquiry 15.2 (2006): 85–99.
Advocates the use of pluralism in the study of organizational identity using clear definitions and core theoretical suppositions. Seeks to establish a reference point to guide organizational identity research by focusing on three questions: “What is the nomological net that embeds organizational identity? Is organizational identity ‘real’ (or simply metaphoric)? And how do we define and conceptualize organizational identity?”
Cornelissen, J. P., S. A. Haslam, and J. M. T. Balmer. “Social Identity, Organizational Identity, and Corporate Identity: Towards an Integrated Understanding of Processes, Patternings and Products.” British Journal of Management 18 (2007): S1–S16.
Provides an overview of social, organizational, and corporate identity. Although each of these areas tends to focus on different issues within identity, the authors argue that they all essentially agree on multiple characteristics of collective identities. They call for greater interaction between the different areas of identity in the pursuit of a more integrated understanding of processes, patterns, and products.
Gioia, D. A. “From Individual to Organizational Identity.” In Identity in Organizations. Building Theory through Conversations. Edited by D. A. Whetten and P. C. Godfrey, 17–31. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1998.
Discusses the early origins of the idea of identity and provides an overview of the projection of the identity notion as a macro level concept. Articulates three different lenses for the study of organizational identity.
King, B. G., T. Felin, and D. A. Whetten. “Finding the Organization in Organizational Theory: A Meta-Theory of the Organization as a Social Actor.” Organization Science 21 (2010): 290–305.
Considers organizational identity according to the tenets of a social actor approach. Explores the implications of treating organizations as social actors in society by relying on two assumptions for conceptualization of this theory: external attribution and intentionality.
Labianca, G., J. F. Fairbank, J. B. Thomas, D. A. Gioia, and E. Umphress. “Emulation in Academia: Balancing Structure and Identity.” Organization Science 12 (2001): 312–330.
Explores the inter-organizational emulation decisions made by the head administrators using a sample of American colleges and universities. Shows that emulation choices tend to focus on institutions that are similar not only in structure, but also in identity attributes. The study also shows that emulation based on upward comparisons associate with greater strategic change while downward comparisons associate with greater perceived external threat.
van Rekom, J., and C. B. M. van Riel. “Operational Measures of Organizational Identity: A Review of Existing Methods.” Corporate Reputation Review 3.4 (2000): 334–350.
A review of how organizational identity has been operationalized and measured. Finds that the definition of organizational identity is largely agreed upon, but the interpretation of key dimensions is divergent throughout various studies. The authors propose to bridge these differing approaches by examining the connection between what organizational members do and how they perceive their organizational identity.
Whetten, D. A. “Albert and Whetten Revisited-Strengthening the Concept of Organizational Identity.” Journal of Management Inquiry 15.3 (2006): 219–234.
Distinguishes organizational identity from related concepts of organizational culture and image, and treats organizational identity from a “social actor” conceptualization based on identity claims and identity-referencing discourse, building on Albert and Whetten 1985. Recommends that organizational identity studies seek to answer the question “who are we as an organization?”.
Whetten, D. A., and P. Godfrey, eds. Identity in Organizations: Building Theory through Conversations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1998.
Book investigating organizational identity and identification through conversations among identity scholars. Three views of identity provide theoretical insights, and a conclusion discusses identity as a key construct in organizational study.
Whetten, D. A., and A. Mackey. “A Social Actor Conception of Organizational Identity and Its Implications for the Study of Organizational Reputation.” Business and Society 41.4 (2002): 393–414.
Aims to clarify the domains of organizational identity, image, and reputation, by employing the concept of the social actor. Proposes solutions for putative flaws in organizational reputation literature and looks at the implications of identity and identification on organizational reputation.
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