Identification is a way for organizational members to define themselves as they relate to their organization (Turner, 1987). Identification is the psychological and social tie between employees and their organization, a bond that remains even when the employees are scattered. The identity of an organization provides answers to members on the question “What is this organization?
The strength of member identification (which relates to the cognitive attachment of an individual to the organisation (Dutton Dukerich & Harquail, 1994)), according to research, is a key factor for influencing certain behaviors and beliefs. The research on member identification (which refers to the strength of an individual’s cognitive attachment to the organization) suggests that some critical beliefs and behaviors are determined by members’ level of identification.
Identification is the process of defining norms, conventions, and expectations that people use to coordinate and plan their behavior. This creates an opportunity for organizational learning, as it converges expectations amongst members (Kogut & Zander, 1996).
Identification is essential for virtual organizations to function effectively. It facilitates key organizational functions, which are particularly challenging in virtual environments.
Coordinating and controlling dispersed actors in an organization;
Encouragement to help in extra-role roles
Retention of valued employees.
An example will help illustrate the importance and value of organizational identification for virtual organizations. Imagine the challenges that virtual organizations face: maintaining coordination and a sense of control with dispersed employees. Coordination, control and organizational effectiveness are dependent upon the ability of employees to set realistic expectations and depend on others for their tasks.
Many virtual workers must serve in the capacity of representatives or emissaries. In these situations, the competitiveness of an organization is dependent on how virtual employees present themselves. It is becoming more difficult to control and coordinate an organization’s activities as members are asked to perform roles that are unpredictable, hard to measure, and require interaction with others.
Traditional organizations depend on various performance monitoring tools, such as direct supervisory oversight and the enforcement rules and policies. Traditional methods of control and coordination may not be effective or even functional when employees are scattered across different workplaces (Blake & Suprenant 1990). Direct supervision, as an example, can be a costly method to assure coordination and management. Because supervisors and their subordinates cannot be co-located, it takes more time and money to monitor performance. As a result of this, virtual supervision can be costly and ineffective (a fact which may have contributed to previous findings that show supervisors to have a more negative attitude towards telecommuting as compared to lower level workers (DeSanctis & Higgins, 1987).
Research suggests that virtual organisations should replace external control with internal controls, such as employee motivation and trust. Organizational identity, which creates a psychological bond between workers and their organization, helps to facilitate coordination, as it results in convergent expectation (Kogut & Zander 1996). Identification motivates team members to work together towards organizational goals through increased interpersonal trust (Brewer & Kramer, 1984,86).
Research also suggests that those who strongly identify with an organization are more inclined to accept its goals as their personal goals, to pay attention to subordinate goals and to be loyal. The correlation between organizational identification and work effort is expected (Dutton et.al., 1994). Organizational identification, by influencing employees’ motivations and facilitating coordination and control, can be achieved without expensive (and perhaps ineffective) monitoring and supervision systems. We argue, therefore, that organizational recognition may be able to help organizations address some of their most important challenges, such ensuring control and coordination, in the virtual context.
This is achieved through the influence of organizational identification on employee expectations and motivations. So, we suggest organizational identification as a way to accomplish virtual goals and assure performance. These arguments prove the utility of organizational recognition among virtual workers. The question remains as to how virtual employees can strengthen their identification, given that the traditional methods for creating and maintaining member identification, such as shared clothing, architecture, or other artifacts, may not be accessible. Virtual organizations may be caught in a dilemma: On the one hand, maintaining identification is important because it allows organizations to manage dispersed employees.
Virtual employees have the lowest likelihood of being exposed to the organizational factors, which traditionally strengthen member identification. It is therefore important to identify factors that promote and maintain identification among virtual employees. Communication and organization identification. Communication and organizational identification can be linked theoretically by studies that examine the impact of communication on attitudes towards the organization. Research shows that communication affects employee attitudes which are strongly linked to organizational identification.
Communication can help strengthen the identification of members. It allows them to share their subjective perceptions about the organization’s values, norms and culture. Knowing these aspects of an organization can create a sense that employees share a common meaning. Communication can help create shared meaning, as it gives social context cues, which lead to the perceptions of social presence and shared interpretations among members (e.g. Zack, 1993). The shared meaning of an organization can be used to strengthen the identification of members. Communication can strengthen the organizational identity of employees by giving them ownership in shared meaning.
According to research, the more often individuals communicate with their colleagues in the workplace, the greater the commitment of the employees. They feel active in the work place (Huff and al. 1989). This sense that employees are actively participating in the organization may lead them to feel more in control of it (Huff and al., 1988). Moreover, a public act of participation, without being forced, may lead individuals feel more positive about an organization, and to identify with it more strongly. (e.g. Huff et.al. 1989; Kiesler & Caldwell, 1981). Face-to-face communications are a popular medium for employees in traditional offices. Face-to-face interaction with other members of the organization is rare for those who work virtually. Virtual workers are forced to use e-mail or the phone for communication.
Information richness theory guided early research into the effects of alternative communication methods on organizational members (e.g. Daft Lengel & Trevino 1987). This approach implicitly assumes the communication media are inherently more or less effective depending on their characteristics (Fulk Steinfield Schmitz & Power, 1988). Face-to facing communication has been found particularly effective for creating a shared interpretive framework amongst organization members. Phone and e mail communication do not convey as many social context cues as face to face communication.
Markus (1994) argues that research on the subject has been able to extend and complement the theory of informational richness, as it now includes the social contexts where communication takes place. Markus argues that the social context, including norms, culture, and other factors, must also be taken into account when evaluating the impact different media have on an individual. Although face-toface discussions are generally the most effective way to execute unstructured, ambiguous, and complex tasks, some groups may adopt norms requiring them to use a relatively simple media (such e-mail). In such cases, emerging norms enable e-mails (or other communication technologies) to communicate more effectively and have a greater effect on communicators. According to this view, the social context, i.e. norms, patterns of usage, and technology, influence each other. However, the technology itself can determine the evolving social environment by influencing norms. The social contexts and the technologies they use co-evolve. This perspective emphasizes that both the virtual and member context influences communication technology and the technology creates the virtual and member context.
Summary: Different communication media have different qualities in relation to their own qualities (i.e. whether they are able to provide social context and create a shared interpretive framework) and the predictors that will determine how the media is used (e.g. accessibility, informality). These four properties are important for the impact on organizational identity of different communication modes. This is particularly interesting because, what one communication medium lacks (for example a dearth of social context cues when using email) it may make-up for in another aspect (for e.g. the informality and access of email).