If you work for a corporation, you have certainly, at some point, heard a leader speaking on the importance of Organizational Culture, participated in programs on the subject, or heard a colleague, when something goes wrong, suggesting that “what we need is a cultural change”.
The term has become part of corporative jargon since the ’90's, being currently interpreted as “the way we do things here”, given that “the leadership's role is to shape the culture”. But what few executives know is that, academically, the term has been receiving new contributions, such as the excellent suggestion made by Hatch and Schultz. These authors state that, nowadays, the organizational culture is exposed to agents outside the company (society, consumers, stakeholders) thus making its modeling more complex.
They therefore suggest a debate over Organizational Identity, a term meaning that which gives distinction and uniqueness, what is core, characteristic and lasting in an organization. Identity is a more textual, explicit, and instrumental construction, as it is formed from the dynamics between an organization’s Culture and Image (defined as a set of visions supported by the organization’s external agents). In other words, Identity is formed by the relationship between the definition of the company by its members and the perception of how the company is seen by the public.
According to this model, culture starts being modeled by the company's founders and by the collective learning that reinforces what is considered successful, whilst refusing what is considered to be a failure by the social group. It leads to beliefs and implicit norms that start modeling behaviors. Understanding these groups’ agreements is expressed in the Organizational Identity and shows the external public the Organization’s image.
The company is not immune to its organizational image. If the image does not comply with the desired identity, there will be an effort by members of the company to change this public perception. The intrinsic values of this social group are exacerbated or modified and incorporated to the culture. And the cycle repeats continuously, creating the company’s dynamics.
This model is very provocative by presenting the concepts of Identity, Image, and Culture connected to the dynamics and complex constructions - a well as a distinct vision of certain simplistic and superficial proposals presented by certain management leaders.
But it is also very practical, since the authors present the two main dysfunctions of the Organizational Identity: 1 - organizational narcissism, defined when the company becomes poorly receptive to the reflection process of the organizational image in its identity, being self-seduced by its own culture; 2 – hyper-adaptation, a process in which the company loses its culture through the extreme adaptation of the Organizational Identity to the perceptions of external agents.
Historically, companies have incurred significant damages due to organizational narcissism, leading consultants to constantly emphasize the need to adapt ourselves to a world in constant change. But it is worthwhile here to rethink the risks of hyper adaptation.
Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. The dynamics of organizational identity. Human Relations, v.55, n. 8, p.989-1018. 2002.
Alessandra H. V. Miyazaki, MSc
Senior associate consultant at BMI Blue Management Institute.