Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Organization Development as Identity Change

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Organization Development as Identity Change

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article asserts that Organization Development (OD) practitioners can deepen the scope and impact of their interventions by focusing specifically on the dynamics of identity. After exploring subtle and often hidden aspects of individual self and identity, the article shows how the structure and function of organizations mirror individual identity, the individual's role in shaping team and organizational identity, and the importance of working toward a healthier and more effective integration both within the employee, and among employees, teams, and the organization. Finally, practical suggestions for accomplishing these goals are provided.

Keywords: self-identity, identity development, identity performance, identity change, personal identity, organizational commitment, leadership barriers, resistance to identity change

Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about the importance of focusing on organizational mission, vision, and values. While these topics are often fruitful and serve as the basis for effective and healthy change, there is an even more fundamental question that must be addressed: "Who am I?" On an organizational level, this can be couched as, "Who are we?" The challenge is that questions of this kind operate at a subtle level and are often ignored, exerting influence beyond awareness. Nevertheless, they often play a crucial role in behavior and change at the individual, team, and organizational levels.

Addressing these more fundamental questions requires an understanding of the social psychological concepts of self and identity. We begin by describing the structure and function of individual identity, and then show how organizational structure and function mirrors individual identity. This is followed by a discussion of how OD practitioners can bring about a more fully integrated sense of identity both within the individual and between the individual and the organization, pointing out common mistakes and, finally, providing some practical tips and suggestions.

Individual Self and Identity

Theorists and researchers have defined self and identity in a wide variety of ways. Some even use the terms interchangeably. To avoid confusion, we will use the term self as an overarching term that includes everything relating to the question, "Who am I?" Identity is more specific, relating to particular aspects of the self. To use an analogy, the self is like an autobiography with various parts of identity forming the chapters. While widely used, selfesteem is a narrower concept than self and identity; the former concerns how we feel about ourselves at any point in time, while the latter defines the totality of who we are as persons. Our focus will be on those dimensions of self and identity most relevant to OD practitioners, especially the relationship between the person and the organization.

Defining Self and Identity

The formulation of identity is possible because humans are self-reflective, possessing the capacity for deep introspection. Markus & Wurf (1987) assert that identity includes:

* a sense of personal continuity across time and space,

* an awareness of personal abilities,

* acknowledging certain characteristics as being self-defining,

* accepting specific roles and responsibilities,

* being committed to a set of values, beliefs, and goals, and

* holding a life-view that provides a sense of meaning and purpose.

In one way or another everything concerning the self and identity has to do with some type of relationship, and all of the relationships connect to form a system. One way to depict these relationships is through a model adapted from Brewer & Gardner (1996), depicted in Figure 1, Levels of Self. The three levels and their interrelationships are described below.

The personal self has to do with our unique traits; the relational self is concerned with close relationships (family, friends, and colleagues); the collective self focuses on group memberships, Caporeal (2001) explains that the relational self is defined by bonds of attachment, while the collective self is based more on symbolic bonds and category memberships. …

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