A Balancing Act: How to Avoid Professional Disidentification When Faced With the Negative Images of Stakeholders



Research has provided important insights into the role of stakeholders in negotiating and shaping organisational identities (e.g., Scott & Lane; Dutton). However, it has not comprehensively considered the processes and mechanisms through which organisational employees interpret information from external stakeholders and incorporate it in their self-concept, nor how they reframe or reinterpret external information that contradicts with their perceived image. Based on x interviews of police officers across Europe, we consider the role of external stakeholders as sources of legitimacy and affirmation, discrepancy and contradiction to police officers' professional identity. Specifically, we examine the complex way in which feedback from external stakeholders is understood and interpreted in a way that allows members of a profession to maintain positive patterns of identification. We find that employees use a range of sensemaking processes to maintain and affirm their professional identities in the face of stakeholder feedback. Specifically, we find that police officers used positive information from stakeholders to validate and affirm their identities. This feedback is critical in enhancing a sense of legitimacy and increasing professional identification. In contrast, we find that officers used a range of techniques to rationalise and reframe negative feedback, enabling them to maintain a positive professional perception and avoid disidentification. We discuss the implications of these findings for members' identification and professional development and learning.