Pratt & Foreman - Managing Organizational Identities

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

Organizational identity theory deals with two kinds of identifications. First there are the identities of the organizations as such, as expressed in public opinion about the organization and the way people relate to it as an entity. Then there are and the identities of people within those organizations, who identify themselves as part of the organization to some degree, and who on occasion speak for the organization.

In the first case, we must note that people represent organizations as social actors, and relate to them as such. In the second case, stakeholders within or around an organizations must build their own organizational identities that structure their interactions with other organizational members. These organizational identities combine work role, attitudes, values, degrees of centrality and commitment etc. for each organizational member.

Organizational identities are thus self-reflective. Members form their own interpretations of the organization’s identity in various ways. Those interpretations partially determine how members conduct themselves when they are acting ‘for’ the organization. That behavior partly determines the identity of the organization as a social agent, which in turn determines how other agents interact with ‘it’. Interpretations produce real effects through these feedback cycles (Rometsch, 2004).

So how do organizations perceive their own unity and distinctiveness, especially when there are likely to be a variety of different understandings of the organization among different group members over time?

Pratt and Foreman (2002) have developed a framework that lays out the options for dealing with multiple organizational identities along two intersecting dimensions: identity plurality and identity synergy. Plurality permits the expression of a variety of identities within a social grouping. This can be a very fruitful stance for a well-supported organization whose diversity is legitimized by stakeholders, like a neighbourhood supermarket where many of the customers know the employees by name. It can be inappropriate for organizations operating under tight resource constraints, such as a new in-town courier service trying to build a recognizable brand.

Synergy between or among organizational identities refers to tight interdependencies among the different identities, which must therefore be compatible. Low synergy responses indicate overly diverse identities that come into conflict with each other. Crossing these two dimensions gives us four styles of organizational identity. Ways of managing each one will differ.

P - Compartmentalization (high plurality, low synergy)
Identities are preserved with no attempt made to increase their interdependencies. This happens when the identities are legitimized by important stakeholders and they do not become diffused very much within the organization. Law firms, academic departments and other clusterings of self-directed professionals share this loose kind of organizational identification.

A - Deletion (low plurality, low synergy)
Managers consciously work to define normative identities and cultivate conformity, or to exclude identities or otherwise limit the number of organizational identities espoused. Deletion may be called for when stakeholders have withdrawn support for existing identities, when resources are constrained, or when existing identities are incompatible and achieving interdependence becomes too hard. When exercised extensively, deletion will produce one single hegemonic identity.

E - Aggregation (high plurality, high synergy)
Aggregation cultivates both variety and interdependence by forcing tighter links between diverse elements. The various elements have to be compatible, and stakeholders must generally approve of all of them. The pressure of aggregation can lead to the emergence of a meta-identity which reconciles potential contradictions among the identities in a dialectical fashion.

I - Integration (low plurality, high synergy)
Integration involves merging multiple individual organizational identities into a larger, distinctly new whole or collective identity. This is effective under the combined pressures of low stakeholder support for existing identities plus limited resources. Faced with the adversity, the time comes for the organization to "pull together".

1. Pratt, M. G., & Foreman, P. O. (2000). “Classifying managerial responses to multiple organizational identities.” Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 18-42.
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