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The OCR Glossary

Distorted Images

Suzanne M. Carter

The term distorted images is used to describe a misinterpretation of the true perceptions of an organization’s image across various stakeholders. Distorted images exist because people have unique lenses from which they view an organization. These lenses can distort their perceptions of an organization or even distort their perceptions of how others view an organization, resulting in potential misallocation of resources and affecting a corporation’s reputation. This entry examines how the organizational image from members within an organization and outside stakeholders, as well as organizational members’ identification with the organization, affects the internal and external image of the corporation. How organizational members and management respond to external image distortion is also discussed.

The organizational image, that is, the perception or impression of an organization held by its various stakeholders, is based on those stakeholders’ unique perspectives. Organizational members attempt to understand, through various cues in their environment, what the perception of the organization is among various stakeholder groups so that they can manage those images. How organizational members believe outsiders view the organization is termed construed external image. Organizational members who have an accurate view of the organization’s external image are in the best position to manage that image effectively.

Identification with an organization allows organizational members to more readily understand their organization’s identity, culture, and image and, thus, align its internal image with its external image. Organizational members identify with the organization to the extent that the person’s identity as a member of the organization is greater than other identities and the person has a self-concept that has identity characteristics similar to those of the organization. The alignment of the strategic vision of the company and corporate culture with the individual’s identity helps cultivate a sense of belongingness and meaningful existence.

While organizational members may feel a strong organizational identification, these members still need to accurately assess their organization’s external image. Nonetheless, there are various situations that distort organizational members’ construed external image. The strength of members’ identification with the organization is one such theorized factor in influencing distortion of the construed external image. When that identification is so strong as to affect organizational members’ ability to objectively see what outsiders are projecting as their concerns, the construed external image can become distorted. Organizational members, in this case, may inadvertently distort, or misinterpret, the external image held by outsiders. That is, the identity of the organization serves as a lens that may distort, through magnification or minimization, the cues sent to organizational members by stakeholders.

Implications of Distortion on Managing an Organization’s Image

It is possible that image issues that develop outside the sphere of influence of management could shape the organization’s external image in ways inconsistent with the organization’s intention. If an organization’s identity is threatened through outside stakeholder signals, organizational members are likely to respond. An overreaction may occur in some instances. For example, imagine that a company whose core identity is focused on “community involvement” is misreported to be in negotiations with a city in a distant state regarding the possibility of moving its corporate headquarters to that city. Because of an organizational member’s strong identification with the community element of the organization’s identity, that organizational member may jump to the hasty conclusion that outside stakeholders are extremely concerned that the company is moving and may advocate spending an inordinate amount of money on repairing that image through an extensive marketing campaign. This may occur even if external stakeholders understand that the report was erroneous and have no further concerns regarding the company’s loyalty to its community. The distorted images held by organizational members due to their magnification of those signals thus result in a misguided allocation of resources toward managing the firm’s external image. As the organization tries to manage these magnified and distorted images, it may find itself faced with skepticism with what the organization is signaling, resulting in a loss of credibility. Ultimately, the external stakeholders may wonder why the organization is protesting so much.

Similarly, minimization of negative image cues may likewise discourage organizational members from adequately preparing for and developing an image management strategy in times of crisis. If negative organizational image cues are sent from nonsalient stakeholders, organizational members will not be likely to initiate image repair action. Likewise, there is the potential for organizational members to maintain a narrow focus to such an extent that they limit interactions with outsiders and miss the outside cues altogether. It is possible that distorted images and lack of organizational attention can go so far as to lead to adversarial accusations against the organization. If organizational members ignore or otherwise belittle outside stakeholders’ cues regarding image concerns, and these stakeholder groups have more power or legitimacy than the organizational members perceive, damage to the external image of the organization is likely to occur. The accusations can show themselves in the form of activism or other forms of protest.

Understanding how an internal stakeholder is influenced by his or her identification with the organization and the effect of the salience level of external stakeholders on organizational member response will help us better understand the likelihood that construed external images can be distorted. Accurately assessing the external image of an organization is essential to ensure wise use of corporate resources in the management of external organizational image.

De Roeck, K., Maon, F., & Lejeune, C. (2013). Taking up the challenge of corporate branding: An integrative framework. European Management Review, 10, 137–151.

Dukerich, J., & Carter, S. (2000). Distorted images and reputation repair. In M. Schultz, M. Hatch, & M. Larsen (Co-Eds.), The expressive organization: Linking identity, reputation, and the corporate brand (pp. 97–112). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dutton, J., Dukerich, J., & Harquail, C. V. (1994). Organizational images and member identification. Administrative Science Quarterly, 39, 239–263.

Price, K., Gioia, D., & Corley, K. (2008). Reconciling scattered images: Managing disparate organizational expressions and impressions. Journal of Management Inquiry, 17(3), 173–185.

See Also

Image Repair Theory; Multiple Reputations; Organizational and Corporate Image; Organizational Identity; Stakeholders

See Also

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