Sub-theme 18: Identity and Change: How "Who We Are" Influences How We Drive or Cope with the Unexpected

Davide Ravasi
Cass Business School, United Kingdom
Nicole Hinrichs
EHL Lausanne, Switzerland
Mamta Bhatt
IESEG School of Management, France

Call for Papers

This sub-theme explores the ways by which identity facilitates individuals and organizations to drive or respond to radical, often unexpected, change. The turbulent environments that characterize most industries today provide both opportunities and threats. Established companies face challenges in adapting to ever changing markets, and the need to anticipate change in order to be part of it or even drive it. For entrepreneurs, this turbulent environment provides opportunities to position themselves in existing markets with novel products, services or business models. A still nascent, but ever growing research stream looks into how identity constructs on different levels of analysis allow us to explain how both established organizations and entrepreneurial ventures facilitate or actively manage organizational change in order to create value.
For established organizations (i.e. incumbents), a fundamental challenge is to exploit current capabilities and knowledge that speak to existing goals and strategies, while providing sufficient attention to the exploration of new capabilities to avoid being rendered irrelevant by unexpected market changes or disruptive technologies. Identities on multiple levels of an organization have been defined as central to mastering this challenge. They are broadly defined as a set of stable, distinctive, and enduring characteristics, values and beliefs that are central to a given entity (Pratt et al., 2016) – be it an organization, a team, or an individual.
At individual level, identity serves both as a mechanism of coordination and control (e.g., Besharov & Smith, 2014) as well as a source of motivation (Anteby, 2008), self-esteem and well-being (Stryker, 1980). Explicating individual identity holds the key to understanding what motivates individuals to perform, how they interact with one another, and more broadly, how they engage in driving organizational change (Ravasi & Phillips, 2011; Schultz et al., 2012). At team level, research has examined how identity processes motivate individuals within and across teams to associate themselves with one another and invest effort towards collective superordinate goals, overcome diversity and conflict, and bring about creativity, innovation and change (Glynn et al., 2010; Hirst et al., 2009). At organizational level, identity claiming and granting play an important role in how organizations establish their positioning, and force or react to abrupt and surprising changes in the environment (Hatch et al., 2015; Tripsas, 2009).
Alternative conceptualizations of organizational identity jointly help understand how organizations reconcile relationships between culture, identity, and image to engage in change (Gioia et al., 2000; Hatch et al., 2015). Thus, understanding how identities constrain and/or enable individuals and organizations to handle surprises, as an essential part of organizational life, allows us to explain “how” and “when” unexpected changes bring about possibilities for renewal and change.
Identity also bears great explanatory power to explain how founders’ identities systematically shape key decisions in the creation of new firms (Fauchart & Gruber, 2011). When entrepreneurs are faced with unexpected institutional constraints, they often engage in “entrepreneuring” (Rindova et al., 2009), or emancipatory activities that help them assert and claim the identities of their organizations (Navis & Glynn, 2011), and adapt the external environment to create space for their respective organizations (Hargadon & Douglas, 2001). Founding team members’ cognitive schema influence how they negotiate and assert the future identity of their organizations based on certain non-negotiable aspects that members highly identify with (Gray et al., 2015). Exploring these microfoundations of entrepreneurial identity processes, both internal and external to the organization, would provide us insights into how new firms initiate and manage change, and create a niche for themselves in their markets.
We invite scholars with a variety of theoretical, methodological and empirical angles to join us in the exploration of how identity helps individuals and organizations to cope with the unexpected. Other contributions relating to general topics of identity including (but not limited to) self-concept, identity construction, identity threats, social identification, etc. will also be considered. An indicative list includes, but is not limited to, work that raises the following questions:

  • How do identity-related constructs and processes influence help organizations balance stability and change?

  • How do individuals and organizations respond to shocks and change in certain elements of identity?

  • How do individuals and organizations reconcile multiple identities, logics and schema to address surprising events both inside and outside an organization?

  • How do the construction and management of identities over time enable individuals and organizations to address planned and unplanned change?

  • How does change affect identities on different levels of the organization and vice versa over time?

  • How can identities be used to be the spark of a market surprise (e.g. entrepreneurial identities)?



  • Anteby, M. (2008): “Identity Incentives as an Engaging Form of Control: Revisiting Leniencies. In an Aeronautic Plant.” Organizations Science, 19 (2), 202–220.
  • Besharov, M.L., & Smith, W.K. (2014): “Multiple institutional logics in organizations: Explaining their varied nature and implications.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (3), 364–381.
  • Fauchart, E., & Gruber, M. (2011): “Darwinians, communitarians, and missionaries: The role of founder identity in entrepreneurship.” Academy of Management Journal, 54 (5), 935–957.
  • Gioia, D.A., Schultz, M., & Corley, K.G. (2000): “Organizational identity, image, and adaptive instability.” Academy of management Review, 25 (1), 63–81.
  • Glynn, M.A., Kazanjian, R., & Drazin, R. (2010): “Fostering innovation in complex product development settings: The role of team member identity and interteam interdependence.” Journal of Product Innovation Management, 27 (7), 1082–1095.
  • Gray, S.M., Knight, A.P., & Baer, M. (2015): “Psychological ownership and the transition from solo entrepreneur to new venture team.” Academy of Management Meeting, Vancouver, Canada.
  • Hargadon, A.B., & Douglas, Y. (2001): “When innovations meet institutions: Edison and the design of the electric light.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 46 (3), 476–501.
  • Hatch, M.J., Schultz, M., & Skov, A.-M. (2015): “Organizational identity and culture in the context of managed change: Transformation in the Carlsberg Group, 2009–2013.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 1 (1), 56–87.
  • Hirst, G., van Dick, R., & van Knippenberg, D. (2009): “A social identity perspective on leadership and employee creativity.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30 (7), 963–982.
  • Navis, C., & Glynn, M.A. (2011): “Legitimate distinctiveness and the entrepreneurial identity: Influence on investor judgments of new venture plausibility.” Academy of Management Review, 36 (3), 479–499.
  • Pratt, M.G., Schultz, M., Ashforth, B., & Ravasi, D. (2016): The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Ravasi D., & Phillips, N. (2011): “Strategies of alignment: Organizational identity management and strategic change at Bang & Olufsen.” Strategic Organization, 9 (2), 103–135.
  • Rindova, V., Barry, D., & Ketchen, D.J., (2009): “Entrepreneuring as emancipation.” Academy of Management Review, 34 (3), 477–491.
  • Schultz, M., Maguire, S., Langley, A., & Tsoukas, H. (2012): Constructing Identity in and around Organizations. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Tripsas, M. (2009): “Technology, Identity, and Inertia: through the Lens of 'The Digital Photography Company'.” Organization Science, 20 (2), 441–460.


Davide Ravasi is Professor in Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management at Cass Business School, UK. His research primarily examines interrelations between organizational identity, culture, and strategy in times of change, and he has served as a consultant to organizations reflecting on their own identity and core values. He has done extensive research on how design and designers contribute to strategic change and innovation. He is interested more generally in cultural-cognitive processes influencing how new objects and new practices come to be, and whether and how they are valued and adopted by individuals and organizations.
Nicole Hinrichs is Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) Lausanne, Switzerland. Her research strives to understand how individuals make sense of their environment and inform their decision making. Specifically, she aims to illustrate the importance of organizational and managerial identities (role identities) in shaping strategic responses that drive entrepreneurial behavior and ultimately organizational change. For established organizations, much research has focused on the challenge of overcoming routines and rigidity; here, her research theoretically explores how identity change may function as an important source of value creation.
Mamta Bhatt is an Assistant Professor of Management at the IESEG School of Management, France (Paris campus). Her research interests include individual and organizational identity, organizational identification, paradox and dualities, and non-traditional work arrangements (e.g., contingent work, telecommuting). In particular, she focuses on the implications of context (e.g., organizational change and crisis situations, intergroup contact situations, etc.) and relationships for identity construction and identification. Using qualitative and quantitative methodologies, she examines these topics at both organizational and individual levels of analysis.