Chapter 5: Global Software Work - An Identity Perspective


Chapter 5: Global Software Work ”An Identity Perspective

5.1 Introduction

The significance of identity in GSAs

In the ongoing processes of globalization, transformations in individual and group identities are a subject of much contemporary debate. Giddens (1991) writes that while globalization can be understood at an institutional level, changes that occur as a result of it can directly impact at the individual level. He writes: ˜transformations in self-identity and globalisation are the two poles of the dialectic of the local and the global (1991: 32). Thus, a distinctive feature of contemporary life is this increasing interconnection between the two extremes of globalizing influences on the one hand and personal dispositions on the other. Evolution of organizational identity goes hand in hand with transformations of individual identities, which has a strong association with the ˜rootedness or a sense of ˜place that individuals experience (Godkin 1980). As will be discussed in chapter 6 on the dialectics of space and place, ongoing social transformations impact the sense of place with manifold influences on individual identity. Castells (1997) also emphasizes the dialectical relation between the net that metaphorically represents a universal instrumentalism based on the network logic of society and the self that is rooted in historic, particularistic identities that primarily are socially and geographically place-dependent. Individuals respond to the relentless pressure of feeling uprooted in the globalizing world through what Castells describes as the ˜power of identity . Castells (2001) argues most emphatically that identity is central to the processes of social change in contemporary society:

Social action in our time largely depends on the construction of identity. It lies in the crises of political institutions such as the nation state, and of the institutions of civil society largely linked to the nation state such as political parties, labour unions, professional associations “ the whole world of corporatism. (2001: 10)

While social and political implications of globalization and identity have been subject to numerous debates, its impact on individual and organizational identities, set in global business environments, has not been adequately explored in IS research. Walsham (1998) has argued that micro-level studies of issues like identity can help to develop deeper understandings of the relationship between IT and social transformation. GSAs provide an interesting context to study aspects of identities, since they involve new forms of organizational boundaries as compared to traditional firms where strict demarcations existed between internal and external relations. For example, as described in the GlobTel “Witech case (in chapter 4), the Witech group functions as if it were a ˜virtual extension of GlobTel, where the developers work with the GlobTel infrastructure, tools and project management practices, and consciously try to forge a ˜GlobTel-like identity. Linked with this aim of creating a GlobTel identity, internally there is the effort to configure the Witech group like an ˜island and isolate it from other groups (for example, those dealing with American Express and General Electric). This isolation is enforced through a number of mechanisms such as having groups dealing with different clients located in separate buildings (in the same campus), having restricted access to other buildings , wearing client-specific badges (e.g. of GlobTel) and even contractually preventing staff from changing groups. The ongoing management effort is to remove the external boundary between GlobTel and Witech and, paradoxically at the same time, establish new internal boundaries to distinguish different groups. As firms globalize , and new clients and geographical markets are addressed, the different boundaries are further conflated, and actors continuously need to shift between multiple and continuously evolving work, technological and social contexts. This shift places pressure on individuals, and changes in identity are intricately intertwined with these movements. In this chapter, we argue that these transformations in identity significantly influence the evolution of the GSA.

The ongoing interaction between internal and external boundaries in GSAs makes it necessary for actors to reflexively monitor the separations and develop a coherent sense of identification. In the software domain in a globalized setting, where professional attachments are strong and individualized, internal and external boundaries are continuously negotiated. Creative knowledge workers prefer to work in organizations where they believe there is freedom. The suppression of freedom leads to resistance, often expressed by workers leaving the organization. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Indian software industry has an annual attrition rate of about 25 “30 per cent. Some Indian software firms try to prevent attrition by not allowing Internet access to their young recruits because the company fears they will use the Net to find employment in North America. Such prevention only frustrates individuals who thrive on and celebrate openness and creativity. The ongoing and reflexive relationship between openness and secrecy that typically exists in organizations is magnified in the case of GSAs. On the one hand, GSAs can be seen to dissolve boundaries by providing various choices of movement, while on the other, they create dilemmas of entering into unknown domains and settings, which reinforces the need for boundaries. To operate and move effectively between these multiple spaces, actors continuously seek to reconfigure their identities and reflexively monitor the consequences of their actions. Identity, while at one level in a constant state of flux, at another level remains extremely complex to reconfigure because it is historically and socially situated.

Conceptualizing identity

Conceptually, we analyse identity in relation to its linkage with organizational culture and image. Hatch (1997) argues that culture, identity and image form three inter- related parts of a system of meaning, sense making and action that defines an organization both internally and externally:

Organization culture needs to be considered in the development and maintenance of organizational identity. How we define and experience ourselves...is influenced by our activities and beliefs that are justified and grounded by cultural assumptions and values. What we care about and do defines us to ourselves and thereby forges our identity in the image of our culture. The symbols of our culture become important sources of meaning and identification. (1997: 358)

We argue that the dynamics of this relationship between organizational culture, identity and image is intricately intertwined with the process of evolution of a GSA. For analytical purposes, we schematically depict the culture “identity “image relationship in figure 5.1 ( adapted from Hatch 1997) and subsequently elaborate upon its intertwining with the GSA process. In figure 5.1, a three-way system of meaning of culture “identity “image linkage is depicted, and discussed further below.

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Figure 5.1: Organization culture “identity “image linkage

Organizational culture

Organizational culture has been an extensive topic of discussion within IS research (Robey and Azevedo 1994). A functionalist approach has been dominant in the study of culture with authors discussing national, organizational or work cultures in a manner that treats them as different objects that can be separated. Within these categorizations, attempts have been made to further isolate functional areas like control structures, communication practices, or dimensions (such as masculinity “femininity) and subject them to a cultural analysis. Such analysis has led to various prescriptions on how culture can be ˜functionally managed (Peters and Waterman 1982) (see also our discussion of ulture in chapters 8 and 9). In attempting to counter such functionalist accounts, there have been a number of efforts to develop anthropologically inspired, situated and interpretivist understandings of culture (Avison and Myers 1995). Such approaches view culture as a process that is socially constructed and extensively negotiated and achieved (Westrup et al. 1995).

An interpretivist perspective, in contrast to a functionalist one, does not see organization culture as a variable that can be controlled, but instead as process that is constituted by and at the same time helps to constitute a socially constructed context .A functionalist approach treats culture as something that an organization has “ for example, the work of Hofstede (1980) who equates nations with different cultural traits. The alternative interpretive approach treats culture more in the terms of what an organization is (Smircich 1983), reflecting a relatively more ˜spiritual kind of phenomenon . Interpretivists argue against Hofstede s ˜scientific view and suggest that there is no necessary and inevitable alignment between culture and the nation state (Myers and Tan 2002).

The ˜has and ˜is distinction of culture each represents a duality that is incomplete. The ˜has approach de-emphasizes the nature of managerial agency, while the ˜is focus does not give adequate importance to the structural context within which culture is constructed. Giddens attempts to dissolve such dualisms in the study of social life have been articulated in structuration theory (1984), and have in recent years been applied quite extensively to the study of information systems. We draw upon some of Giddens ideas in an attempt to develop a perspective to unify the ˜has and ˜is approaches to the study of culture. Actors, as simultaneous members of different work- and non-work-related social systems, draw upon various rules and resources they interpret to exist in these systems in the process of articulating agency. For example, as members of globalized and high-tech software firms, developers interpret creativity as a key resource of their membership. They draw upon these resources in the process of creating new rules or reinforcing existing ones (such as informal dressing and working late at night). By situating individuals within different social systems of which they are members , we acknowledge the structural constraints that come as a result. This reflects the ˜has aspect of culture conceptualized in the form of rules and resources that individual actors interpret as associated with these systems. By focusing on agency and its interpretive basis, we emphasize the ˜is basis of culture, and the power that agency has to redefine some of the structural constraints. The recursive structurational relationship that Giddens describes to link agency and structure provides us with the conceptual basis to develop a perspective on culture.

Culture, viewed in structurational terms, sensitizes us to the various social systems of which actors are members as well as the rules and resources that are drawn upon in the process of articulating agency. For our analysis, we are interested in agency as related to the construction of organizational identity and image . ˜Image is concerned with the expression of the organization for the external constituency, while ˜organizational identity refers to the processes through which members develop identification. These processes of agency and image construction take place in terms of a subtle instantiation of rules linkage. The source of new rules or changes in rules is the outcome of patterns of behaviour repeated over a period of time. It is through this conceptual link between structure and agency as described by Giddens that we analyse the interconnections between culture, identity and image.

Organizational identity

Organizational identity is the second node of the three-way system of meaning and action. In contemporary times, the organization has become an important source of identification and has taken up, in large measure, the roles of religious and caste groupings of traditional societies (Burke 1973; Christensen 1995; Whetton and Godfrey 1998). Identity is thus an important concept in contemporary organizations; it has been broadly described to be what members perceive, think and feel about their organization, representing what is central and enduring about an organization s character (Albert and Whetten 1985; Scott and Lane 2000). These authors conceptualize stability as an ˜essential quality that provides guidance for responses in a turbulent internal and external environment. Such a view implies identity to be stable and conditioned within the broader and enduring organizational environment. This emphasis on stability has in more recent times been criticized (Gioia, Schultz and Corley 2000) and is in sharp contrast to Castells (1997) discussion on the transformative aspect and potential of identity. Castells argues that through the expansion of capitalism in current times, the roles of traditional institutions are being dissolved. Organizations are being forced to reconfigure themselves , and individuals ˜must rebuild meaning from the inside out, not from their minds but their practice (Castells 2001: 10). We take Castells perspective of identity not as something that is enduring and stable, but as something which is being continuously redefined through the action of individuals in situated circumstances.

This linkage between identity and agency is in line with Fiol s (1992) emphasis on the relationship between cultural rules, identity and observable behaviour and language, speech, acts and words: ˜People s organizational identity provides the context within which behaviours are linked to the rules that give them meaning (1992: 200). Identity serves as a focus of efforts to gain competitive strengths by providing organizational members with a stable sense of themselves while operating in an extremely turbulent environment. When effective, identity so constructed helps to provide a new context for linking behaviour to rules and a basis for redefinition of strategies. Identity in new and growing organizations like ComSoft is thus consciously formulated, shaped by the actor s own interpretation of what is appropriate identity. This action at the level of discursive consciousness selects particular resources and rules in terms of aspects of cultures that are perceived to be helpful in the development of an appropriate organizational identity. Faced with the diversity of situations and challenges, creating structures incorporating and reinforcing chosen elements of contextual resources becomes an essential responsibility of senior management.

Organizational image

Organizational image has been defined as the manner in which organizational members believe others see their firm (Dutton and Dukerich 1991). Organizational image thus involves externally produced meaning about the organization, which is important in shaping internal organizational processes. For example, Dutton and Dukerich (1991) describe how the New York Port Authority was forced to take action on the homelessness problem as a result of community pressures expressed through a negative organizational image. The organization s interpretation of their own external image triggered action, and was filtered through organizational identity. Image is thus different from identity in its external orientation and concerns the feelings and beliefs about the company that exist in the mind of external audiences . Image is communicated externally through mission statements, logos and press announcements. This action is shaped by the need of organizations to adapt to different business, cultural and technological contexts. Senior managers play a key role in conceptualizing and articulating an organizational identity and ensuring a strong identification both internally within the organization (identity) and externally to the world at large (image). Changes in organizational image help to reconfigure internal processes of identity formation. Organizational culture provides the actors with a sense of identification internally, and recognizability and marketable value externally, which reflects the image of the organization (Dutton, Dukerich and Harquial 1994). Hatch (1997) describes organizational identity and image as a self- reflective product of the dynamic processes of organizational culture:

Culturally embedded organizational identity provides the symbolic, material form from which organizational images are constituted, and which can be projected outwards. Organizational images are projected outwards and absorbed back into the cultural system of meaning taken as cultural artifacts and used symbolically to infer identity. (1997: 360)

In summary, our conceptual framework is built on a three-way system of meaning that comprises organizational culture, identity and image. Culture provides the context that shapes and is shaped by the articulation of agency through a subtle instantiation of rules linkage. We are interested in two forms of agency. The first is an internally directed agency that concerns the construction of identity and linked to the experiences of individual actors drawing from their work- and non-work-related memberships. The second concerns an externally directed agency that reflects the organization s position vis-`a-vis the stakeholders at large. Both identity and image are conceptualized as being mediated through organization culture. The culture “image “identity system of meaning helps to develop insights into the multi- faceted , dynamic nature of a GSA and the processes through which it evolves.

In GSAs, where the individuals are in constant interaction with the external world of clients, industry and the marketplace , the boundary between image and identity tends to be blurred. As in the case described in chapter 4, the image of Witech as a ˜virtual GlobTel lab is not only an expression of its image in the global community, but also becomes a source of meaning and identification within Witech. This image “identity linkage is mediated through a culture that encourages and actively adopts ˜global best practices into its own organizational processes that are reflected in the quest of replicating this ˜virtual GlobTel lab . The image of a stable organization is fundamentally dependent on the identity of organizational members, who find meaning and relevance in working in the organization. Their sense of meaning and identification is in turn strengthened by a stable image. Through reflexive processes that link identity, culture and image, the cultural context both constrains and enables agency directed towards the construction and articulation of image and identity. This link is reflected in Covalski et al. s (1998) description of the manner in which managers engaged in training and mentoring draw upon the discourse of the ˜professional autonomy image of the ˜Big Six public accountancy firms to shape the identities of organizational participants . Actors resist these attempts, a situation which leads to a partial redefinition of identity and image.

In this chapter, we are interested in examining the process of evolution of a GSA relationship and the role of identity in shaping this process. Identity is conceptualized within a broader framework of meaning that links it to culture and image. Processes of transformation of GSAs, we argue, are fundamentally linked both to the sense of organizational identity experienced internally by actors and to the perception of image experienced by the external world. Two sets of processes become important. The first concerns the mediation of culture in the construction and expression of both image and identity. The second concerns how the external constituency experiences this image and the processes through which the construction of identity is further shaped. The objective of the chapter is twofold. First, it is to describe the processes of transformation of the GlobTel “ComSoft GSA. Secondly, it is to examine how the evolution of the GSA is intricately tied up with expressions of identity and their transformations over time.