New Ways of Making Sense of Who We Are: How Digital Transformation Challenges Organizational Identity Construction

Institute of Marketing and Communication Management

Organizational identity (OI) is what makes an organization a meaningful entity, providing members a sense of self and the perception of having a common purpose. OI is an important construct for understanding how organizations deal with cultural transformations, strategizing, and reputation management. Increasing transformations of organizing practices enabled by digital technologies, currently addressed as digital transformation (DT), seem to put at stake the mechanisms at the basis of members’ OI social construction. Phenomena brought forth by DT in traditional organizations, such as the increasing porosity of organizational boundaries, the change of traditional referents in organizing practices, digitally mediated interactions, and the pervasive use of a futuristic rhetoric, seem to enhance the forces pulling organizational members apart compared to those traditionally keeping them together.

MER Dr Alessandra Zamparini just received a 4-year project grant by the SNSF to study these phenomena. The project “New Ways of Making Sense of Who We Are: How Digital Transformation Challenges Organizational Identity Construction” inquires into changes of sensemaking and sensegiving mechanisms as the basis of members’ inter-subjective construction and negotiation of OI beliefs and claims in light of DT. In line with a social construction view in OI studies, the research adopts a qualitative interpretive inductive approach to theory building, based on observations, semi-structured interviews, and documents at revelatory research sites—namely, traditional organizations engaging in a digital transformation journey. The findings are expected to be of great relevance in extending theoretical understandings of OI and its role in organizing in a historical moment when questions such as what organizations are becoming, how people interact to organize, and what should be expected from rapidly evolving digital technologies are far from being answered. These questions are pressing not only for a theoretical debate in the field of organization studies, but also receive great attention in the broader social and professional debate.