Members' responses to organizational identity threats: Encountering and countering the Business Week rankings

Members' responses to organizational identity threats: Encountering and countering the Business Week rankings

By
Kimberly D. Elsbach, Roderick M. Kramer
Administrative Science Quarterly. September
1996, Vol. 41, Issue 3, Pages 442-476

This research investigates how organizational members respond to events that threaten their perceptions of their organization’s identity. Using qualitative, interview, and records data, we describe how members from eight “top-20” business schools responded to the 1992 Business Week survey rankings of U.S. business schools. Our analysis suggests that the rankings posed a two-pronged threat to many members’ perceptions of their schools’ identities by (1) calling into question their perceptions of highly valued, core identity attributes of their schools, and (2) challenging their beliefs about their schools’ standing relative to other schools. In response, members made sense of these threats and affirmed positive perceptions of their school’s identity by emphasizing and focusing on their school’s membership in selective organizational categories that highlighted favorable identity dimensions and interorganizational comparisons not recognized by the rankings. Data suggest that members’ use of these categorization tactics depended on the level of identity dissonance they felt following the rankings. We integrate these findings with insights from social identity, self-affirmation, and impression management theories to develop a new framework of organizational identity management.

*Reprinted in Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (Eds.), Organizational Identity. pp. 469-509. Oxford, Eng: Oxford University Press, 2004.