Organizational differentiation through badging: Investors in people and the value of the sign

Bell, Emma; Taylor, Scott and Thorpe, Richard (2002). Organizational differentiation through badging: Investors in people and the value of the sign. Journal of Management Studies, 39(8) pp. 1071–1085.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6486.00324

Abstract

This paper explores the meaning of the state–sponsored initiative for people management, Investors in People (IiP), through deconstruction of the signifiers that represent its articulation. Semiotic analysis is employed in order to consider the sign–value that is associated with IiP and to explore the symbolic meaning of cultural artefacts, such as ‘the badge’ and ‘the flag’, which feature in the experience of managers and employees in six case study organizations. This post–structuralist approach enables us to focus on the discursive construction of textual meaning surrounding IiP as a ‘readerly’ as well as a writerly project. It is suggested that organizations are subject to a process of image production and consumption. This process requires them to seek differentiation from other organizations by acquiring quality initiatives that constitute a system of objects. In particular, the meaning of IiP signifiers as emblems of achievement is explored and the extent to which these become simulacra is considered. It is argued that there is a significant gap between writerly intentions as to what quality initiatives ought to signify and their organizational, context–bound, indeterminate meanings. By elucidating the conditions of IiP's signification it is shown that this discourse has the potential to undermine the very philosophy it asserts. Finally, drawing on this analysis, we outline the way that badge acquisition develops over time through processes of accumulation and adaptation.

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