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8.4 Chapter Exercises

Real World Case Study

An important and frequently cited article in the literature on organizational identity explored the case of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.Dutton & Dukerich, op cit. Established in 1921, the Port Authority develops and operates transportation facilities that serve a two-state region. These include three airports (Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark), a major downtown bus terminal, a train service, various bridges, tunnels and harbor facilities, and—at the time the study was conducted in the 1980s—the World Trade Centers in Manhattan. Researchers Jane Dutton and Janet Dukerich interviewed managers and employees and found they most frequently described the Port Authority’s identity as a technically expert professional organization and not a social services agency, as ethically high-minded, as a superior provider of quality transportation services, as committed to the betterment of the region and indeed a symbol of the region, as a “fixer” with an “can-do” ethos, and as a “family” that deserved employee loyalty.

This identity was externally challenged in 1982 when the numbers of homeless persons frequenting the downtown Port Authority bus terminal increased. Improvements in the Manhattan real estate market prompted to closure of many single-occupancy hotels, putting hundreds of men on the street. Their increasing presence at the bus terminal was all the more noticeable because the Port Authority had just completed a major facelift and enlargement of the facility.

The Port Authority, which maintains a large police force, saw the homeless as a police issue and invoked New York’s anti-loitering law to evict offenders from the terminal. By 1985, however, the homeless could be found not only in the bus terminal but in the Port Authority’s flagship facilities including its three airports and the World Trade Centers. Now the homeless were not just an issue for the bus terminal, but for the entire organization. Facility managers were compelled to formally budget funds for dealing with the problem. Their focus was still on removing the homeless, but now the bus terminal managers sought out social services agencies to take them.

Several events in 1987 marked a turning point. New York City repealed its anti-loitering law; the appearance of crack cocaine in the city increased the number of homeless; and the police union, to gain leverage in a contract dispute, circulated negative stories about the Port Authority in the press. Public concerns were voiced that the Port Authority was inhumanely evicting the homeless. Recognizing that a coordinated response was needed, the Port Authority formed a centralized Homeless Project Team and funded a research project. For the organization, homelessness had now become a business problem with a moral dimension. By 1988, Port Authority leaders publicly argued that homelessness was a regional problem and funded construction of two drop-in centers, one near the bus terminal and the other near the World Trade Centers. But when municipal authorities balked at running the shelters, Port Authority personnel became increasingly resigned to—and began to feel heroic about—dealing with the homeless themselves. By the time Dutton and Dukerich ended their research in 1989, the Port Authority had come to see itself as a “quiet advocate” for the homeless—and even bolstering the economic competitiveness of the region by providing model leadership on an issue faced by transportation services in cities and regions nationwide.

  1. How did the Port Authority’s organizational identity change? At the same time, how was the changed identity rooted in its original identity as technically expert, professional, ethical, a service provider, a “can-do” fixer, and a regional symbol?
  2. Using Hatch and Schultz’s Organizational Identity Dynamics Model (see Figure 8.3 "Organizational Identity Dynamics Model"), explain how the Port Authority’s identity and culture were interrelated, and how its identity and image were interrelated.
  3. Using Gioia, Schultz, and Corley’s model for identity-image interdependence (see Figure 8.5), describe the external event of the homelessness issue triggered at the Port Authority a process of self-reflection and other-reflection as managers compared their organizational identity and organizational image, perceived discrepancies, and made changes. Continue your analysis by following the model of Gioia et al. through the successive phases of the homelessness issue.
  4. Cheney and Christensen argued that organizational identity strongly affects the problems that corporate leaders “see” and their strategies for managing those issues. To what extent was this dynamic at work in the Port Authority’s responses to the homelessness issue? Did the Port Authority’s public communication ever reach the point of being auto-communicative; i.e., the organizational mostly talking to itself?
  5. Dutton and Dukerich found that many of the personnel they interviewed exhibited a strong identification with the Port Authority? Using Ashforth and Mael’s framework (in-group distinctiveness and prestige; awareness of and competition with other groups), how do you think these employees formed such a strong organizational identification? Using Alvesson and Willmott’s model (see Figure 8.7 "Identity Regulation, Identity Work, Self-Identity"), how do you think these employees’ identity work was shaped by the discourses of Port Authority management?
  6. Dutton and Dukerich did not document the diversity of the Port Authority’s management and workforce. But as a general proposition, how do you think a diverse and multicultural organization might have approached the homelessness issue described in the case study? Would the response be different than the response of the Port Authority?

End-of-Chapter Assessment Head

  1. According to Albert and Whetten’s original definition, organizational identity refers to features of an organization that are:

    1. internal, external, and environmental
    2. formal, informal, and cultural
    3. cognitive, affective, and behavioral
    4. central, distinctive, and enduring
    5. structural, cultural, and adaptive
  2. According to Hatch and Shultz, organizational identity is distinguishable from organizational culture because it is:

    1. contextual, tacit, and emergent
    2. textual, explicit, and instrumental
    3. internal, self-referential, and singular
    4. external, other-focused, and multiple
    5. cognitive, affective, and behavioral
  3. According to Ashforth and Mael, organizational identification is a:

    1. set of feelings
    2. set of behaviors
    3. set of guiding principles
    4. cognitive construct
    5. cultural assumption
  4. According to Tompkins and Cheney, when organization members discipline themselves to conform to desired norms then the organization has achieved:

    1. simple control
    2. technical control
    3. bureaucratic control
    4. cultural control
    5. concertive control
  5. According to Alvesson and Willmott, management engages in discursive strategies to shape the processes of employees’ identity formation; these discourses are called:

    1. identity construction
    2. identity work
    3. identity regulation
    4. identity control
    5. identity production

Answer Key

  1. D
  2. B
  3. D
  4. E
  5. C