The Locked-In Identity?
A case study of the management of multiple organizational identities in a dependent partner organization
Written by Sofia Alm
Organizations located in a wide network of relationships (Brickson, 2005) are increasingly relying on partners to build their business value (Hagel & Brown, 2005). There are researches on organizational identity in partnerships and relationships with non-profit organizations or public sector organizations (Berger, Cunningham, and Drumwright, 2006i Tomlinson, 2008), but they lack the perspective of income-driven business organizations. In addition, even in the existing research, the identity management of the boundaries between partners is considered to be a research area that needs further research (Berger, Cunningham, and Drumwright, 2006). Another possible document flow that discusses the management of multiple identities in inter-organizational relationships in organizational identities is mergers and acquisitions. However, there is an inherent aspect of integration in this growth strategy, that is, the organization will be merged. Then, management focuses on managing integrated identities, which is not necessarily the case with partner organizations, which are at the intersection between autonomy and dependence. That being said, there is a trend in growth and expansion, rather than managing the acquired organizations as partners, preserving their personal identities, rather than integrating them (Kale, Singh, and Raman, 2009). The research of Peteraf and Shanley (1997) on the cognitive strategy group identity of high-status organizations provides valuable insights and parallel learning for understanding the situation of relying on partner organizations. However, the study does not focus on management, and the recognition of strategic group identity is not the same as the identity of a single-reliance partner organization. The framework of Pratt and Foreman (2000) to classify management responses to multiple identities is a valuable starting point. The framework defines four responses based on the number of identities and the synergy between them. Pratt and Foreman acknowledge the influence of external stakeholders on organizational identities, and mention externally embodied identities and how these identities can be a potential cost when managing multiple identities. They even describe it as a CatchY22 situation that can paralyze the company's development. However, when delineating the scope of the study, Pratt and Foreman (2000) did not include multiple identities derived from different views of the organization's network, such as strategic groups. For a dependent partner organization, dependence on the parent organization and understanding of external networks and relationships are probably an important aspect of who the organization is. Various views of the parent organization may be reflected in their own identity, thereby affecting the management of this. For decades, researchers and business managers have been discussing what constitutes the core and identity of the organization. This article studies the management of multiple identities in a partner-dependent organization, which is defined as an organization whose products or services depend on the products or services of the parent organization, and/or whose business originates from the products or services of the parent organization. For managers, managing organizational identities in organizations where more and more business value relies on cooperation with another organization has become a problem of managing multiple identities. To help managers determine relevant management responses, Pratt and Foreman developed a framework to classify four different responses, which was proposed in a 2000 article. However, limiting the scope of their research to not including the organization’s perceptions of their external network identities, this framework is not enough for managers who rely on partner organizations. Current research analyzes and further develops how the multi-identity management response framework can be used in this partner-dependent organizational environment. By conducting interviews in a single case study of a specific type of dependent partner organization (ie, dealer organization), the views on how the parent organization is reflected in the identity of the dependent partner organization were investigated. Data analysis is deductive, based on the theoretical construction of organizational identity, and follows theoretical thematic analysis methods. The results of the study reveal how different views of the parent organization are reflected in each criterion that relies on the identity of the partner organization. In addition, the results show how high the synergy of these organizations is, because the parent organization creates a standard frame of reference for all units that rely on partners. As a result, Pratt and Foreman's management framework for this organizational environment has been further developed, and two particularly suitable responses in the framework have been proposed. For managers who rely on partner organizations, the high degree of risk that the parent organization has in its own organizational identity is accompanied by a reduction in membership. To this end, it is recommended to conduct internal employee education and activities. In addition, more attention needs to be paid to cultivating strong leaders who can consciously manage the organizational identity that is constantly being constructed in the blurred line between the partner and the parent organization. Since the positioning of organizational identity is constructed in the interaction between the two parts, social constructivism is further suggested as an appropriate epistemological view when studying dependent partner organizations. The concept of identity is a fundamental part of philosophy, psychology, and social sciences (Pratt et al., 2016), with a long history and ancient phenomenon (Puusa, 2006). Identity can be studied in different ways according to the choice of identity foundation and theoretical background, and many different influences have been found in the field of organizational identity (Ravasi & Van Rekom, 2003). The original definition of the seminal paper by Albert and Whetten (1985) was derived from psychology and personal identity theory (Ravasi & Van Rekom, 2003i Albert & Whetten, 1985). Here, the individual is the basis of identity and the understanding of oneself, which leads to identifiable differences from others (Brickson, 2005i Albert & Whetten, 1985i Erikson, 1968). Given this foundation, the focus is on the personal knowledge structure (Ravasi and Van Rekom, 2003). Another theoretical background is the theory of social identity, in which individuals classify themselves as group members (Brunninge, 2005i Cornelissen, 2006), transforming the foundation into a collective level (Brunninge, 2005i Ashforth, 2016). The theory is based on the existence of groups, which provide a sense of a different frame of reference from other groups, changing the focus from "I" to "us" (Tajfel & Turner, 1985i Cornelissen, 2006i Brunninge, 2005), from " I think" to "we think" (Ashforth, 2016, p. 82). The focus of this theory is on individual membership in groups, collectives, and membership (Ravasi & Van Rekom, 2003). Identity theory, symbolic constructivism (Ravasi & Van Rekom, 2003) or social learning theory (Peteraf & Shanley, 1997), instead, focus on creating identity in relationships and comparisons with others, and learning from others (Ravasi & Van Rekom, 2003i Pratt & Kraatz, 2009i Brickson, 2005i Peteraf & Shanley, 1997). Different relationships mean different needs and create many roles, which depend on the commitments and expectations of others for the role (Pratt & Kraatz, 2009). Read Less