Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Family-Business Meta-Identity, Institutional Pressures, and Ability to Respond to Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Family-Business Meta-Identity, Institutional Pressures, and Ability to Respond to Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Article excerpt

This commentary extends the theoretical model developed by Shepherd and Haynie by examining the relationship between the central construct of their model--the family-business meta-identity--and the institutional environment. Using the characteristics of identity (central, distinctive, and enduring) I explain how consideration of institutional pressures may modify predictions in the model.


Shepherd and Haynie (2009) provide an interesting new look at the persistent and critical issue of resolving conflict between family and business roles in family firms. Framed in terms of role identity, the authors build on Identity Conflict Theory to develop a model of dynamics associated with family businesses' ability to take advantage of entrepreneurial opportunities. In particular, Shepherd and Haynie propose that family firms develop a "family-business meta-identity" that serves to coordinate family members' sense of "who we are as a family" with "who we are as a business." Thus, the meta-identity represents the shared meaning of "who we are as a family business."

The authors suggest that some level of role conflict between family and business is an inherent characteristic of family firms, as a number of previous studies have shown (e.g., Sundaramurthy & Kreiner, 2008). What is new and important in their work is the idea that some level of role conflict is usual and normally resolved through the family-business meta-identity. That is, when the roles of father and business owner create contradiction, the developed meta-identity for the family firm provides guidance concerning the appropriate resolution. In some firms, it may be well established that business comes first--so, for example, family vacations must wait for appropriate lulls in business activity.

Shepherd and Haynie (2009) suggest that unusual events may call the established meta-identity into question. When significant entrepreneurial opportunities arise, the balance between role identities that is normally adjudicated through the family-business meta-identity is jeopardized. Through a series of propositions, Shepherd and Haynie provide explanations for the variation in the speed with which family businesses are able to respond to opportunities based on the resulting interaction between role conflicts and the meta-identity. Thus, their theoretical model allows for a dynamic relationship between role identities and the family-business meta-identity. Pressure on role identities may lead to changes in the meta-identity, and similarly changes in the meta-identity may lead to changes in role identities.

In this commentary, I extend Shepherd and Haynie's dynamic model by examining the relationships between the family-business meta-identity and the firm's institutional environment. I build on their model to provide more focused attention on the characteristics of the meta-identity itself and also on ways in which the meta-identity relates to the organization's environment. I do this by bringing together key components of organizational identity theory and institutional theory. The construct of identity is inherent in institutional theorizing since organizations must fit into their social world and yet maintain a distinctive identity in order to survive (Glynn, 2008; Scott, 2008; Selznick, 1957). Thus, I suggest that in order to understand the role of a family-business meta-identity in facilitating an expeditious entrepreneurial process, it is important to consider the connection between identity and institutional pressures. In this commentary I address the following two questions. How is the family-business meta-identity impacted by institutional pressures over time? And how does the relationship between the meta-identity and the environment impact the organization's ability to respond to entrepreneurial opportunities?

Meta-Identity as a Link Between Organizations and the Institutional Environment

Institutional theory, in its 1970s guise, was focused on understanding why organizations within the same sector tended to look the same (Scott, 2008). …

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