Identity Threatening Change: The Privatization of Royal Mail



- co-authored with Mislav Radic (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Sebastien Mena (Hertie School of Governance) -

Through a case study of the privatization of the British national postal service organization, we examined internal dynamics triggered by identity threatening changes – changes introduced by organizational leaders, which members perceive as threatening to the identity of the organization. Our study uncovers how the ensuing discursive struggle over “who we are” as an organization reflected symbolic (e.g., attribution of status and meaning) and substantive (e.g., allocation of resources and discretion) implications of such changes. It shows how refusal to engage with these implications hampered realignment around the new identity claims advanced by managers to support strategic changes. By illuminating the under-explored substantive implications of organizational identity claims, and their role in discursive identity struggles, these findings improve our understanding of how identity-related processes influence dynamics of change and resistance in organizations. They show how disputes over the organizational identity may really reflect tensions surrounding the reallocation of status, rewards, and discretion, and how identity claims may be used instrumentally by change agents and recipients to advance their respective interests.

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