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Who are we? Organizational Identity content and its effect on members’ identification.

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Shelley Brickson – University of Illinois-Chicago


Shelley shared her work on organizational identity, which is a member shared understanding of what is central to an organizational character, distinct and relatively enduring about the organization. These can be “what we do” and/or “who we are.” The latter is more character-based and describes commitments, values, etc.   How does identity shape patterns of behavior? This is a driving question of her research.


First we should understand, “who is the organization?” This involves identity orientation. I key idea is that people have different senses of self: individualistic, relational, and collectivist.   Shelley’s work examines how these senses can also be extended to organizations. That is, organizations can have individualistic, relational or collectivist orientations.


Individualistic– salient traits distinguish it from others, primary motivation is self-interest, and self evaluate in comparison to other orgs.


Relational – salient traits are connecting people, motivated by other’s interest, evaluate with roles to others.


Collectivist – salient traits are connecting to larger whole, motivated by greater collective interests, evaluated in contribution.


To test this Shelly did field research to see how organizational members describe their organizations. She found evidence that these orientations existed and, more interestingly, that there were correlations between individual and organizational orientations. That is, if you’re individualistic you also tend to be in an individualistic organization.   While hybrids of these orientation exist, but they vary in sectors. For example, Law firms had 13% of individualistic-relational orientations, while beverage companies had 0%.


Based on this information, she wondered what predicts purity vs. hybridity in organizational orientations? Some of it is sector driven but it more depends on the purpose, agency and how organizations relate to different stakeholders.


What promotes organizational identification? Her work suggestions two process: individual-org (does this org reflect me?) and expected org identity (is the org being who they supposed to be?). Congruence on these two process leads to organizational identification.


I wonder: what are the conditions that allow hybridity to flourish vs. conditions in which hybridity becomes dysfunctional? How does one understand the various sub-identities within an organization?

Harvard Graduate School of Education