Understanding perceived organizational identity during crisis and change: A threat/opportunity framework

Sarah Kovoor-Misra
Journal of Organizational Change Management Vol. 22 Issue 5, p494-510

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework for predicting the role and effects of perceived organizational identity (POI) on organizational members’ perceptions and behaviors during crisis and change situations, and the scope of the resulting POT changes that may occur. Design/methodology/approach – The paper brings together research on crisis, change, threat/opportunity, and POI, along with case study data to create a threat/opportunity framework for making these predictions. Findings – Based on whether threat or opportunity is perceived during crisis and change situations, different aspects of individuals’ POIs will become salient. In threat situations, individuals will focus on perceptions of “who we are.” In opportunity situations, individuals will also focus on “who we could be.” The focus of attention and the threat/opportunity context will influence organizational identification, learning, and openness to change; and whether incremental or transformational POI change occurs. The perception of “who we could be” will motivate more change than the ideal organizational identity or the image of “who we want to be” that is typically studied in the literature. The scope of POI change is also dependent on perceptions of identity cost and the identity gap. Research limitations/implications – Future research can test the hypotheses suggested here in various crisis and change contexts. Also, differentiating between threat and opportunity contexts is important for understanding the role of POI, and the extent to which POI changes can occur in crisis and change situations. Studies of resistance to POI change could consider whether individuals perceived the identity cost and the identity gap as being too low. More research on POI in opportunity contexts could expand understanding of the POI image of “who we could be” in motivating POI change. Finally, further integration of the literature on crisis and change can benefit both fields. Practical implications – Practitioners can predict which aspects of POI will become salient in threat and opportunity conditions, and manage their different effects. For individuals to learn and change their POIs during crisis and change situations, managers need to diminish heightened perceptions of threat and shift the focus of attention to “who we could be.” Top managers’ claims of “who we could be” need to be perceived by organizational members as being desirable and attainable in order to be motivating. Finally, to create transformational POI change, executives need to highlight the identity cost of not changing, and the size of the identity gap. Originality/value – The threatlopportunity framework enables new predictions of the role and effects of POI in crisis and change situations. The paper highlights the POI image of “who we could be,” defines incremental and transformational POI change, redefines the identity gap concept, and introduces the notion of identity cost to provide a framework for predicting the scope of POI change that has received limited research attention. Finally, the paper contributes to research on POI in opportunity-oriented conditions, and integrates research on crisis and change.