5.3 Case analysis: an identity perspective


5.3 Case analysis: an identity perspective

The cultural complex

In this section, we present a case analysis that is based on the conceptual framework outlined in figure 5.1. The application of this framework is schematically outlined in figure 5.2 and then discussed. To build and apply an analytical framework that links identity, culture and image, we conceptualize managers as members of a cultural complex that comprises multiple social systems, including Indian society , global high- tech business, academic institution and the firm . Wesummarize in table 5.1 the rules and resources that can be seen to constitute these systems and their role in shaping agency. We then elaborate on the relationship between identity and the evolution of the GSA.

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Figure 5.2: ComSoft “GlobTel GSA: culture “identity “image linkage

Table 5.1: Social structure and managerial agency in the GSA relationship

Social system

Indian society

High-tech business

Academic institutions

The firm

Dominant structure

Family and community

IT businesses and professional groups in a globalized context

University and general academic environment

ComSoft and the work and non-work environment

Basic resources

Importance of family as cornerstone of Indian society and paternal structure

Importance of education in family

Hindu worldview and its unifying systems of belief

The ˜Silicon Valley culture of global high-tech business

Role of GlobTel, a global giant

Globalization with American and other developed countries open increasingly to outsourcing work

The ˜Silicon Valley culture hybridized in the Indian ethos

Indian software industry dynamics with successes creating visibility and attracting quality manpower

University system, with premier status accorded to intellectual values

Emphasis on self- reliance ; it was with this aim that IITs were created by the government

Organizational structure and hierarchy

Company policies

Physical building in which it is housed

Various organizational and project- related processes

Basic rules

Family priorities influence career and location choices

Education, especially

technical, as key to family status and financial rewards

Devotion to knowledge and commitment

Integration of work and family lives

Focus on high technology, innovation and risk taking

Anti-hierarchical organizational structure to reinforce high-tech image

Indian software industry that favours growth and is dominantly export oriented, seeking to establish a significant global presence

Nationalist principles based on the theme of developing technological self-reliance

Professional codes, especially related to computer science

Ambivalence towards technology as a generator of economic returns; interested in technology for its own sake and not for its end-use

Emphasis on creativity

Principles of participation

Equality of status

Recruitment processes that Emphasize high-tech high-quality rather than volume

Dress codes, emphasize informality

Indian society

Traditionally, Indian society has been stratified on functional lines, a system that has been reinforced by government policy of reserving job and university admissions for people belonging to ˜backward castes . This stratification is supported by the joint or extended family that networks people who share similarities in terms of caste, language and kinship. The basic resource stems from paternal authority and the rules of paternalism or an authoritative superiority tends to govern the system. Family priorities are seen to be important considerations in the shaping of choices such as location of employment. Staying with parents in India as contrasted to going abroad and leaving the family is a constant conflict faced by software developers working in GSAs. Indians are often described to view work as a form of duty to their families (Sinha and Sinha 1990), which is reflected in the preference for personalized and family oriented relationships. In government and other traditional business organizations in India, as described by Sahay and Walsham (1997), family and caste systems have a significant influence in work areas. This is generally considered a sign of lack of professional development because often it is not merit that is valued but family membership.

Private businesses in India have often been described as drawing upon family values such as the respect for paternal authority in the conduct of business, with less emphasis on developing ˜professional management practices (Khare 1999). In contrast to this negative perception of family, ComSoft explicitly extends the family metaphor to the work arena. Relationships between members of ComSoft have a strong sense of family inscribed in the work practices: celebrating in the company environment festivals that are normally celebrated at home, for example. This invocation of family and community values helps to provide a sense of comfort to ˜techies , and it is directed outwards with the aim of limiting attrition. Actions of senior managers such as staying in similar hotel accommodation as junior developers, participating in Indian cultural festivals, arranging workshops that encourage participation of junior staff, and being part of the prevailing discourse of high-technology research all help to create a cultural context that values and reflects creativity with an ˜Indian slant . Developers who would typically want to migrate to the USA are made to feel that they are able to do high-technology work in a ˜USA-like environment but importantly in the comfort of their own homeland. By being able to do similar work, actors help to create a cultural context that has dramatically different properties as contrasted to traditional Indian firms. This cultural context mediates the construction of identity and also the linkage with image.

High-technology business

Some of the resources of the high-tech global system come in the form of the Silicon Valley values that are embraced by Indian software firms such as ComSoft. These cultural values are manifested in rules that encourage risk taking and innovation and that value creativity. Sahay and Walsham (1997) use a similar structurational framework to analyse the implementation of geographical IS in the Indian government. The global high-tech business was not considered important in shaping the cultural context of the government managers, which was more significantly influenced by their ˜national membership. Resources arose from the socialist approach of the government and were manifested in the rules and formal procedures of the bureaucracy. The different sources of rules and resources emphasize the need for a situated approach to study circuits of reproduction, since in the same country (India) managers from different organizational affiliations (public and private sector) base their identification on varying motivations and sources.

The ComSoft case is played out in an environment of a dynamic, high-technology global business that mirrors and also draws upon the technology-based high-tech cultural values associated with Silicon Valley (Saxenian 1996). Actors draw upon a globalized mix of values that reflect a hybrid of the Silicon Valley kind of quest for technological excellence coupled with the Indian ethos. These resources are thus not just Indian, but have elements of North American high technology (as seen in GlobTel) and academic values intricately intermingled. Technology plays a key role in shaping these cultural values as ComSoft developers seek development opportunities in high-tech areas on a par with their US counterparts. The invocation of high-technology values helps to establish a ˜comfort level for the staff: Indian cultural values (for example, related to family) are refashioned or reinterpreted in Silicon Valley terms. Identity definition is constituted within a context shaped by global software opportunities and the Indian software talent pool.

The global software opportunities for ComSoft came in the form of the MNC giant GlobTel which aimed to draw upon the resources of Indian software professionals in order to meet their own shortfall. GlobTel s efforts in India were spearheaded by expatriate Indians who subscribed to the sense of Indian competence in software development and championed the idea of developing technology ˜in India rather than ˜out of India . But since these values needed to operate within a global setting to assure quality and acceptance within the broader GlobTel set-up , Paul and Ghosh encouraged ComSoft to construct an organizational culture with elements of Indian and Silicon Valley values. This could help to provide confidence to the senior GlobTel managers and potentially address issues of staff attrition. ComSoft managers appreciated Ghosh and Paul s mentoring efforts and this relationship became an important conduit for the construction of both identity and image. On one hand, Ghosh and Paul were seen as ˜insiders who provided ComSoft with inputs on how identity should be fashioned. ComSoft s implicit trust in Ghosh and Paul meant that their suggestions were given serious consideration in shaping organizational policies. On the other hand, Ghosh and Paul also served as ˜outsiders based in GlobTel and North America who could tune in and understand how the external constituency interpreted ComSoft s image and provide important feedback for change in the articulation of identity and, with it, in the presentation of image.

Academic institutions

Authors in the past have said that an Indian view of technology needs to be understood in context of an intellectual system that gives primacy to knowledge development, often resulting in the technology being valued for its own sake with little consideration for its ends (Saha 1992). The IITs from which ComSoft draws a significant component of its manpower are a product of the post-independent Indian nationalist outlook that prominently espoused self-reliance as the founding principle for growth. ComSoft draws upon these values to articulate a vision of ˜unleashing Indian creativity . However, within the global nature of ComSoft s business, this theme had to be interpreted in the appropriate context. This provides an interesting hybrid of innovation, technological excellence and self-reliance that is valued by individual developers. ComSoft started from lower- end bug-fixing work and moved progressively towards independent solutions in the telecommunications domain. In the course of setting up management systems to enable this progression of work, ComSoft decided to recruit people with a strong technology focused academic background and drew support from senior GlobTel managers who had confidence in Indian academic and technological strengths. The particular GlobTel Director (Ghosh) assigned to nurture ComSoft had a vision of developing ComSoft in a ˜university-like R&D structure with a strong focus on creativity and learning. A combination of these influences contributed to ComSoft s clear articulation of organizational identity in terms of a striving to unleash India s creativity in the global arena.

With growth and an identity that valued creativity, ComSoft soon realized the technological and financial limits of its GlobTel GSA. Under pressure from the global financial slowdown and the churn in the technological context GlobTel, caught up in its own turmoil of change, was unable to provide ComSoft with opportunities for creative work. Seeing a limited future with GlobTel, the ComSoft management decided to scale down GlobTel s work and redirect its efforts to the apparently more promising avenues provided by Japanese companies. The nature of creativity, as the Japanese factor shows, cannot be standardized to the North American frame of reference but has to be rein- terpreted and rearticulated in different ways for varying markets. Through their initial explorations in Japan, ComSoft soon realized that the Japanese preferred technology that had been first accepted and tested in North America. This realization contributed to ComSoft consigning the image of ˜unleashing Indian creativity to the background, making it less explicit, and finally changing it as a part of fashioning a ˜new look that emphasized ˜making connections .

The firm

The structure of the firm represents ComSoft and its work and non-work environment. It is the environment in which individual actors find primary membership in their work settings. The ComSoft environment is constructed through a number of different elements that have a bearing on the individual actors and how their agency is shaped. The organizational structure and the reporting relationships within the organization favoured participation and informality. Senior management consciously encouraged junior developers to participate in meetings and say what they believed important. Formal company policies did not differentiate between the senior and junior staff, as they would stay in similarly priced hotel rooms (often shared), fly economy class and have similar expenses rates. This flat organizational structure was modelled on a Silicon Valley start-up firm, hybridized with the metaphor of family values. Commitment was developed and expressed not so much because of the formal contractual agreements that employees had with the firm but from the excitement and energy of a young group of people working together in a family environment. The physical structure in which they worked (a residential house) helped to reinforce these family values modelled in a broader framework of a global high-tech software firm.

ComSoft grew rapidly ; the number of developers increased from less than 100 to nearly 1,000 in 6 “8 years . There was subsequently an expansion in the geographical spread of operations and a need not only to change the physical surrounding of the residential environment but also to reorganize the structure and practices. The firm then moved to a large corporate office in another part of the city in 2001. It adopted a divisionalized structure in which the different business divisions reported in to the corporate headquarters in Bangalore. In the new facility, ComSoft has tried to maintain its characteristic relaxed and informal culture by having one large canteen area in which the senior and junior staff could eat together. However, how the changes in the physical setting and the organizational structure and practices will shape individual agency is an open empirical question for the future.

Culture “identity “image linkage

Rules and resources, or rather their interpretation and appropriation by human actors, provide the basis to analyse the linkage between human actions and the cultural context within which they are situated. Organizational identity and image are both developed in a self-referential pattern which influences, on the one hand, the choice of elements of the cultural context considered appropriate, and on the other, an image that is expressed to the external constituency. This image is an object of conscious articulation of managerial agency that shapes organizational identity internally among members. Through these self-reflexive processes, both organizational image and identity are shaped by the cultural context that is instantiated in action and drawn upon the rules and resources that actors see as important. Such a conceptualization is compatible with Boland s (1996) argument that an institutional-level analysis should not be made on the basis of shared belief systems and motivations, but in terms of ˜circuits of reproduction that represent situated practices of actors that feed back upon patterns at the institutional level: ˜The forms or patterns of an institutional level analysis are not reducible to the meanings supposedly shared by individuals (1996: 696). Identity is involved in these self-referential relationships between agency and cultural context as agents implicate it in the interpretation of rules. Identity in turn influences the processes through which the resources and rules are implicated in managerial action. Organizational identity can be seen to influence what aspects of the environmental stimuli are and are not noticed, and how particular organizational agenda should be shaped such as the kind of image that should be presented (Stimpert, Gustafson and Saranson 1998).

An understanding of situated practices and how they develop over time provides the basis to understand the culture “identity “image linkage and to infer the manner in which identity is intertwined with the evolution of a GSA relationship. Identity has been envisaged not as a shared belief held in common by organizational members, but instead, in terms of managers actions in situated practices that tend to reproduce patternsor forms at the institutional level. The identity development process involves both intentional activity and unintended consequences of action. To create a cultural context in which desired patterns of behaviour may occur, senior ComSoft managers explicitly and implicitly formulated rules of behaviour relating to travel and meetings and organizational policies relating to personnel appraisal, etc. These rules were expressed consciously and unconsciously both internally to organizational members and externally to other constituencies through different mechanisms like mission statements, corporate logos, text carried in the websites and various material artefacts . In the early days, when ComSoft were in the process of building up a culture of an organization that emphasized family values, we have seen that they consciously took the decision to run their office from a large building in a popular residential neighbourhood so as to provide a ˜home-like environment to their employees. The cultural values symbolized by this building and its location provided an important source of identification for ComSoft staff.

The cultural context being shaped by the ComSoft managers, with active support from Ghosh and Paul, drew upon resources from four key areas:

  • Indian society helped them to emphasize the family and parental structure. The resources drawn from Indian society were refashioned to reflect the global high-tech image that ComSoft wanted both to articulate consciously to the external constituency, and to strengthen their identity.

  • The global high-tech structure helped to emphasize the ˜high-tech aspect that was developed and projected through Silicon Valley values. ComSoft subscribed to and reinforced this ethos by the presence of PhDs from the prestigious IIT that had a global standing as a high-quality technology institute.

  • The role of academic institutions with a high technical status was the third important resource for providing identification to members and helping to shape the ˜unleashing Indian creativity image.

  • The firm provided the fourth key aspect of the cultural context, reflected in the organizational structure and policies and the formal and informal practices acted out in the physical workplace.

In a new and growing organization like ComSoft, the role of senior managers is important in establishing circuits of reproduction of desired patterns of action by organizing social occasions like Indian festivals and workshops to discuss Indian values and philosophy alongside talks about high-technology areas of wireless and embedded design, for example. Through the instantiation of resources and rules as policies and practices, a common stock of knowledge is created for members to draw upon in the course of their actions. In ComSoft, this stock of knowledge was geared towards creating a cultural context that supported members wanting to work in India and motivated to be innovative, implying an identity with its own significance and distinctions.

Actions that create a sense of organizational identity and those that enact a desired strategy are inseparable. ComSoft, which started out as a GlobTel prot g executing assigned tasks , progressively discovered and constructed its identity in a global milieu. From the point of view of GlobTel managers, this can be seen as an unintended consequence since ComSoft asserted its independence, which then influenced the GlobTel managers own relationships. The early image of ˜unleashing Indian creativity , although apparently an effective mechanism to retain talented developers, had different implications in the global milieu. Japanese managers perceived this image as being largely negative since they preferred technology that had been approved and tested in the North American marketplace rather than in India. This feedback from the external world had rapid implications on organizational identity. ComSoft managers consciously placed the ˜Indian creativity aspect in the background and emphasized ˜making connections . This shift was also part of a larger process of organizational transformation of ComSoft in which they refocused their area of business operations primarily on telecommunications. It also imparted a greater commercial viability to Comsoft operations, making them more attractive to shareholders. These transformations needed to be fashioned within a different cultural context and a redefined emphasis on image and identity. ComSoft had also grown rapidly and, symbolic of their redefined focus and image, we have seen that it moved out from the earlier smaller building in the residential area into a large corporate office.

Understanding the link between image, culture and identity emphasizes the point that organizational identity cannot be viewed in static terms as it is embedded and constantly re-expressed in action . At one level, business organizations can be viewed as systems with relatively sharply defined boundaries arising from physical location, industry membership and markets serviced. The sense of ˜ us versus them is an essential ingredient of the organizational identity and image linkage that shapes competitive functioning and at the same time provides members with a sense of belonging. However, at another level, businesses have to operate in global environments, seek new markets and establish offices in alternative locations as a function of growth and competition. This interplay between ˜us and ˜them can be thus envisaged as a business system that needs to maintain closure under conditions of openness (Luhmann 1990).