Enlightenment on how the individual’s image of who s/he is as a professional affects his/her work practice is the contribution that we wish to make to the discussion about the waltz of practice and practicing. Professional identity is coming to fore in organizational studies literature, beside organizational identity. To echo Morgan Roberts and Barker Caza’ introduction to the 2006 Academy of Management symposium dedicated to this topic, individuals are likely to change organizations far more frequently than in the past, whereas they remain member of a same professional community for a long time. Accordingly, the comprehension of one’s self-definition as a professional, and how it can benefit or harm organizations, is relevant and meaningful, but needs further elucidation. Thus far, the scarce research on this subject has focused on the identity construction process when taking on a new role in career transitions (e.g. in professional service firms, Ibarra, 1999) or starting a profession (e.g. medical residents, Pratt et al., 2006). In other words, ‘what you do’ shapes ‘who you are’. Conversely, we are interested in grasping whether, under what circumstances, and how ‘who you are’ shapes what you do’, and, in addition to that, whom you interact with in the workplace. The idea that professional identity inspires individuals’ work practices and their patterns of interactions calls into question job crafting (Wrzesniewski and Dutton, 2001). Job crafting implies that workers autonomously alter the physical, cognitive, and relational boundaries of their tasks to change the meaning of their work as well as their identity. In this perspective, however, workers engage in job crafting to modify their identity: it is not identity that triggers changes in tasks. Exploring this under-investigated link constitutes our research aim.Qualitative research is the most suitable way to investigate identity-related subjects (Wrzesniewski and Dutton, 2001; Pratt et al., 2006). We therefore conducted a field study in a public research centre situated in Northern Italy and internationally renowned. Here, 39 researchers engage in projects to create systems, consisting of nanostructured materials. Research activity is organized into three distinct and financially independent research lines. Researchers have diversified skills and educational backgrounds, like Chemistry, Physics, Chemical Physics, Materials Science, and Engineering. The staff comprises temporary contract workers as well as permanent workers, with different organizational tenure and overall working experience.Our data collection started with in-depth interviews to understand what people do, how they make sense of their work, and what being a researcher means to them. Interviews lasted about one hour and a half on average. After that, we asked our informants to record qualitative diaries for 20 weeks (Symon and Cassel, 1998). We chose this data collection tool for two reasons. First, though in a basic format, the diary was already familiar to our informants who used to fill in a weekly journal (or ‘lab book’) specifying what activities they performed and what outcomes they produced. Second, diaries allow informants to describe their individual work content, their interactions, and the effects of interactions upon their own and their co-workers’ working activities. By doing so, we believe that we brought work back into our research, as Barley and Kunda (2001) recommended. Building on the lab books and Perlow’s diary format (1999), we asked our informants to record (i) every phenomenon (event, activity, interaction) occurring during a specific workday; (ii) the time length of the phenomenon; (iii) whether it was expected or unexpected; and (iv) how the phenomenon affected their work in progress. After the completion of each weekly diary, we asked the informant to comment upon every reported phenomenon through an in-depth interview lasting 45 minutes on average.In parallel, we consulted documents, like European projects and the researchers’ publications between 2000 and 2005. Since verbal and nonverbal cues help grasp professional identity (Elsbach and Bhattacharya, 2001; Elsbach, 2003, 2004), we took pictures of office décor and recorded our informants’ dress choices. Finally, as new experiment launching emerged a core activity, we observed the whole development of 5 experiments.We analized data following Strauss and Corbin’ guidelines (1998) and using QSR NVivo 7 (2006).Our evidence shows that researchers with different professional identities, e.g. describing themselves mainly as ‘member of an international network of minds’ versus ‘generator of complex theoretical models’, shaped their work and managed their interactions differently. Moreover, their interpretation of the relevance of different individual and interactive work practices varied. We identified a few intervening conditions: autonomy in conducting individual work activities enabled researchers to match their work and interaction practices with their professional identity, whereas task interdependence in formal projects appeared to limit such opportunity. Interestingly, professional identity drives the propensity to launch and participate in new experiments, which lay the premises for further research projects and, in the end, for the accomplishment of the organizational mission.

D., Russo, Elisa, Mattarelli e Tagliaventi, M. R.. "Professional identity, individual work practices, and patterns of interaction in a research organization" Working paper, Università di Bologna, 2007.

Professional identity, individual work practices, and patterns of interaction in a research organization

MATTARELLI, Elisa;
2007

Abstract

Enlightenment on how the individual’s image of who s/he is as a professional affects his/her work practice is the contribution that we wish to make to the discussion about the waltz of practice and practicing. Professional identity is coming to fore in organizational studies literature, beside organizational identity. To echo Morgan Roberts and Barker Caza’ introduction to the 2006 Academy of Management symposium dedicated to this topic, individuals are likely to change organizations far more frequently than in the past, whereas they remain member of a same professional community for a long time. Accordingly, the comprehension of one’s self-definition as a professional, and how it can benefit or harm organizations, is relevant and meaningful, but needs further elucidation. Thus far, the scarce research on this subject has focused on the identity construction process when taking on a new role in career transitions (e.g. in professional service firms, Ibarra, 1999) or starting a profession (e.g. medical residents, Pratt et al., 2006). In other words, ‘what you do’ shapes ‘who you are’. Conversely, we are interested in grasping whether, under what circumstances, and how ‘who you are’ shapes what you do’, and, in addition to that, whom you interact with in the workplace. The idea that professional identity inspires individuals’ work practices and their patterns of interactions calls into question job crafting (Wrzesniewski and Dutton, 2001). Job crafting implies that workers autonomously alter the physical, cognitive, and relational boundaries of their tasks to change the meaning of their work as well as their identity. In this perspective, however, workers engage in job crafting to modify their identity: it is not identity that triggers changes in tasks. Exploring this under-investigated link constitutes our research aim.Qualitative research is the most suitable way to investigate identity-related subjects (Wrzesniewski and Dutton, 2001; Pratt et al., 2006). We therefore conducted a field study in a public research centre situated in Northern Italy and internationally renowned. Here, 39 researchers engage in projects to create systems, consisting of nanostructured materials. Research activity is organized into three distinct and financially independent research lines. Researchers have diversified skills and educational backgrounds, like Chemistry, Physics, Chemical Physics, Materials Science, and Engineering. The staff comprises temporary contract workers as well as permanent workers, with different organizational tenure and overall working experience.Our data collection started with in-depth interviews to understand what people do, how they make sense of their work, and what being a researcher means to them. Interviews lasted about one hour and a half on average. After that, we asked our informants to record qualitative diaries for 20 weeks (Symon and Cassel, 1998). We chose this data collection tool for two reasons. First, though in a basic format, the diary was already familiar to our informants who used to fill in a weekly journal (or ‘lab book’) specifying what activities they performed and what outcomes they produced. Second, diaries allow informants to describe their individual work content, their interactions, and the effects of interactions upon their own and their co-workers’ working activities. By doing so, we believe that we brought work back into our research, as Barley and Kunda (2001) recommended. Building on the lab books and Perlow’s diary format (1999), we asked our informants to record (i) every phenomenon (event, activity, interaction) occurring during a specific workday; (ii) the time length of the phenomenon; (iii) whether it was expected or unexpected; and (iv) how the phenomenon affected their work in progress. After the completion of each weekly diary, we asked the informant to comment upon every reported phenomenon through an in-depth interview lasting 45 minutes on average.In parallel, we consulted documents, like European projects and the researchers’ publications between 2000 and 2005. Since verbal and nonverbal cues help grasp professional identity (Elsbach and Bhattacharya, 2001; Elsbach, 2003, 2004), we took pictures of office décor and recorded our informants’ dress choices. Finally, as new experiment launching emerged a core activity, we observed the whole development of 5 experiments.We analized data following Strauss and Corbin’ guidelines (1998) and using QSR NVivo 7 (2006).Our evidence shows that researchers with different professional identities, e.g. describing themselves mainly as ‘member of an international network of minds’ versus ‘generator of complex theoretical models’, shaped their work and managed their interactions differently. Moreover, their interpretation of the relevance of different individual and interactive work practices varied. We identified a few intervening conditions: autonomy in conducting individual work activities enabled researchers to match their work and interaction practices with their professional identity, whereas task interdependence in formal projects appeared to limit such opportunity. Interestingly, professional identity drives the propensity to launch and participate in new experiments, which lay the premises for further research projects and, in the end, for the accomplishment of the organizational mission.
Giugno
D., Russo; Mattarelli, Elisa; M. R., Tagliaventi
D., Russo, Elisa, Mattarelli e Tagliaventi, M. R.. "Professional identity, individual work practices, and patterns of interaction in a research organization" Working paper, Università di Bologna, 2007.
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