Change, identity and sense of belonging

Within our Business School, we are reorganising the departments. The Business & Management department became a Business School within the Business School, with 2000 students, and the diversity within the team made a strong research focus challenging.

Once it was announced, it was left to the individuals to decide what other department they would want to join. No choice was imposed, although, based on the clusters that existed within the B&M dept, it seemed that there are ‘natural’ fits – management perspectives with HRM, strategy with Marketing, operations with Stats. Or so we thought.

Person-Organisational Fit is, on the one hand, how the individual fits in with the organisation, usually based on values. But from the individual’s perspective, it is also about his/her attachment to the status quo and the need for a sense of belonging (be it based on strategy, the line manager, research expertise or teaching curriculum).  The developments supports some of the research we did at the Open University in terms of categories of fit: Self-Serving Fit (the individual who may not contribute much but is waiting for their retirement), Organisation-Serving Fit (the individual who is unhappy but the organisation benefits from him/her and she cannot leave (e.g., because her visa is connected to the organisation)), Mis-fit (the person and individual are a mismatch, usually due to value incongruence) and Fit (both are happy).

It’s particularly challenging if there was a fit but the individual is asked to move but none of the options are attractive. The core question is, how should this be managed? Should management give the individual the responsibility to choose so the choice is not imposed? Or does this enforce a certain reticence, wanting to stick to the status quo? How can we, as the management team, ensure that if people have a sense that their fit is Organisation Serving, it moves to genuine Fit as soon as possible?

It requires coaching and transparent information sharing; by discussing the benefits of each option, paying attention to the individual’s concerns but being honest about expectations.  The individual and the (new) manager should discuss the specifics of the new department’s culture he/she will join as Fit is linked to value congruence. Finally, people are sensitive to belonging. Recall the stuff back at school of cliques, clubs and being picked for a team during Physical Education. That needs to be managed too, to start just by saying “We’d be delighted to welcome you”.

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