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Organizational identity often appears as a critical factor in a situation of crisis or deep organizational disruption (Albert et Whetten 1985; Alvesson et Empson 2008; Dutton et al 1994). It is not monolithic: each stage of the organization’s evolution is marked by several interactions (different identity logics predominate at times). Even if a particular identity logic seems to prevail within an organization, other identity logics are nevertheless present, or appear in an informal mode. Organizational identity is thus conceived as hybrid: on the one hand, there is the dominant identity logic, on the other hand, alternative identity logics consisting in different perceptions of the organization’s central, enduring, and distinctive features, its values and operating principles. Because of their formal authority and their access to resources, managers play an important role in organizational identification processes. For instance, they can create meaning around a deliberate change (sensegiving). This approach emphasizes the role of organizational leaders (carriers of the dominant identity logic) in a cognitive process where they aim to provide the members of the organization with a coherent narrative in order to build a legitimate collective sense of self. As for the sensemaking approach (Weick 1995), it adopts a different perspective: the members of an organization develop a shared understanding of what the organization is through cognitive processes carried out by members of the organization themselves when questioning the central, enduring and distinctive features of their organization. We draw on the second perspective. Using a case study conducted in 2010 within a large company facing critical change, we propose to empirically demonstrate the meaning given by members of the organization to different constitutive dimensions of the organizational identity. We focus especially on team leaders, who find themselves at the crossroads of tensions of identity and meaning at work. This case study illustrates in particular the disorientation of team leaders, torn between a dominant organizational identity radiating from the top of the organization, and a radically changing organizational context of which they struggle to make sense and to give sense for their team. This process results in identity profiles marked by hybridity and transition. What managerial actions can be undertaken in such a situation? Our aim in this article is to highlight the value of a polyphonic approach to change management (Pichault 2009) and to offer some thoughts on how managers can develop a sensemaking approach articulated with the diverse identities within the organization and integrate these identity diversity concerns into management practices.

  • organizational identity
  • change management
  • sensemaking
  • managers
Giseline Rondeaux
François Pichault
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