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Exploring and describing the identity of a South African organisation

M.Phil. / Organisations and organisational actions have a profound influence on the lives of modern day citizens. This influence is most often recognised and the magnitude felt when these organisations cease to exist, which is occurring with increasing frequency. Literature related to this occurrence increasingly suggests that a strong organisation identity is paramount to organisational sustainability. Organisation identity per se has been largely under researched in organisations, literature and research with the majority of organisational work on the phenomenon having been conducted in the public relations and marketing domains. In terms of literature and research, the knowledge base is largely limited to conceptual debates with very few empirical studies aimed at building theory and advancing the existing knowledge on the subject. This perceived lack of empirical research and critical study of organisation identity can probably be attributed to its ambiguous nature, the lack of a strong theoretical base and the debate surrounding the conceptualisation of identity as being stable versus being fluid. The purpose of the current study was to confirm, empirically, the presence of identity in an organisation and then to detect the changes, if any, that have taken place in the organisation's identity over time. A brief literature review was undertaken to set the context for the study and to provide a basis from which to commence with the study. The notions of individual identity, social identity, corporate image, corporate identity, corporate branding and organisational culture were reviewed in an attempt to distinguish the organisation identity concept from these. For the purpose of providing a context for the study, brief attention was also directed to the different intellectual traditions on organisation identity, the existing empirical studies and the challenges associated with studying the phenomenon. In order to arrive at an informed research question, it was concluded that organisation identity is concerned with the organisation as entity and that organisation identity is a x socially-constructed, sub-conscious phenomenon which becomes salient during periods of change. Furthermore, organisation identity refers to who and what the organisation is and refers to those features of the organisation that are core, distinctive and enduring. Based on the ambiguous nature of the organisation identity phenomenon and the fact that it is tacitly held and is constructed over time by the individuals that experience it, it was concluded that the phenomenon lends itself to qualitative research. The study was approached from within the knowledge framework provided by the classical school of thought on organisation identity which views organisation identity as being those features which the members of the organisation believe to be core, distinctive and enduring. Use was made of an open-ended, self administered questionnaire, which included two different techniques. The questionnaire required of respondents to describe the organisation's answer to the question "Who am I?" using the Twenty Statements Test as well as to describe the organisation through the use of a metaphor and to provide reasons for choosing a specific metaphor for both the past and the present. The research setting chosen was an English primary school and the questionnaire was administered to all the employees of the organisation (86 in total). A total of 54 responses were received and the data subsequently analysed. Use was made of open coding and the development of themes and the data was scrutinised to identify themes and categories of interest. Relevant quotes as used by respondents and which were illustrative of a specific theme were then utilised to describe the most prominent themes. Statements that were closely related were included as part of the same theme, where applicable. When viewing the current study against the background of the classical definition of organisation identity, an argument was made for the future omission of the "core" feature and the inclusion of the unifying nature of organisation identity. When operationalising identity as being the organisation's distinctive features as presented in xi terms of the answer to the question "Who am I?" it was once again apparent that this is a valid means of determining and surfacing organisation identity. The organisational sense-of-identity was confirmed by the fact that some respondents made specific reference to identity. The data was viewed using these conceptualisations of identity and it was concluded that the organisation did posses an identity and that changes had taken place in this identity over time albeit not fundamental in nature. Attention was also devoted to the dynamic nature of organisation identity and the links between identity and the organisational life cycle stage as well as the effect of size on organisation identity. Based on the findings, it was argued that the time has come to rigorously study organisation identity as a phenomenon in its own right and to further the empirical knowledge base of the field in order to inform theory development. The study concluded that organisation identity has significant implications for the management of the school and indeed for other organisations where similar situations prevail. It was argued that the management of the organisation should take action to harness the advantages of the relatively strong identity of the organisation as a means of competitive advantage. In the final instance it was concluded that organisation identity might prove to be the answer to ensuring organisational longevity in a world characterised by organisational demise.
Date31 March 2009
CreatorsCarstens, Natasha
Source SetsSouth African National ETD Portal
Detected LanguageEnglish

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