Disgraced : A study of narrative identity in organizations that suffer crises of confidence

University dissertation from Printed in Sweden by Media-Tryck, Lund University

Abstract: This thesis investigates the interface between external impressions of an organization, often referred to as its brand and image, and internal expressions, its culture and the identity of its employees, in organizations that have suffered crises of confidence in its relation to external stakeholders, what one might call publicly disgraced organizations. More specifically, the thesis seeks to problematize the alignment ideal in the corporate branding perspective (de Chernatony, 2001; Harris and de Chernatony, 2001; Hatch and Schultz, 2001 and Balmer and Sonen, 1999), which suggests that organizations should actively seek to realign external and internal impressions, in cases where the organization has suffered a crisis of confidence. The feasibility of such an agenda is explored by empirically investigating two organizations where the brand-culture alignment has broken – whether and how easy it is to repairor realign. More specifically this is explored by analysing the narrative representations of managers and employees in disgraced organizations; how they articulate their identity in relation to the organization they work for, their own role in the events that caused allegations of misconduct in the press, as well as subsequent managerial efforts to realign internal and external impressions of the organization.Tentative findings from the case studies suggest that managerial efforts to realign internal and external impressions of the studied organizations are likely to meet considerable obstacles. A key proposition I advance is that the corporate branding perspective underestimates the cultural complexities involved in restoring the damage to a publicly disgraced organization's image and employee morale. These complexities stem in large part from the pluralistic and fragmentary nature of contemporary Western discourses on morality, social legitimacy and (conversely) disgrace. It is increasingly difficult to arrive at a shared agreement on what moral standards should be employed when judging whether a specific organizational practice might be deemed as legitimate or disgraceful. This discursive pluralism causes substantial difficulties in addressing allegations of misconduct and attempting to realign divergingimpressions of the organization, without risking to offend the sensibilities of other stakeholders. It also implies a ready availability of alternative discursive resources for employee identification. Pluralism may be seen as a key feature of our time, whose implications for the notion of public disgrace, as well asassociated organizational dynamics, has arguably been overlooked in the organizational doctrine related to the corporate branding perspective. Moreover, these findings suggest an understanding of identity as a more deeply felt human need to maintain a consistent and morally intelligible representation of self, as compared to the dramatist perspective of Goffman (1978), which implies anunderstanding of selfhood as front stage selves, which people ultimately don't take too seriously.