Building Character: The Formation of a Hybrid Organizational Identity in a Social Enterprise

Joep Cornelissen, O Akemu, J Jonkman, Mirjam Werner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


The formation of a hybrid organizational identity is a significant challenge for many social enterprises. Drawing on in-depth longitudinal data from the first three years of a successful social enterprise – Fairphone, founded in Amsterdam – we induce an empirically grounded theoretical model of how a hybrid organizational identity is formed. We identify a general process of organizational identity formation, with founders, leaders and members experimenting with different organizational characters describing ‘who they are’ as well as with alternative social impact strategies defining ‘what they do’. As part of this experimental process, we elaborate the role of a key leadership process – ‘rekeying’, which involves leaders re-figuring prior understandings into more dual readings – which we found facilitates ongoing adaptation and helps members of the organization to become progressively better able at combining multiple objectives and values as part of a shared hybrid identity. Our theoretical model of hybrid organizational identity formation has a number of direct implications for ongoing research on organizational identity formation and hybrid organizations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1294-1330
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are especially appreciative of the guidance of General Editor Daniel Muzio and our three anonymous reviewers. We also thank seminar participants at HEC Paris, Said Business School, Rotman School of Management, King?s College, Cass Business School and EMLyon for their helpful comments and feedback on earlier versions of the paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Management Studies published by Society for the Advancement of Management Studies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd


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