Dealing with revered past: Historical identity statements and strategic change in Japanese family firms

Innan Sasaki, Josip Kotlar, Davide Ravasi, Eero Vaara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)
145 Downloads (Pure)


Research Summary

This paper examines how strategy‐makers attempt to reconcile change initiatives with organizational values and principles laid out long before, still encased in strategic identity statements such as corporate mottos and philosophies. It reveals three discursive strategies that strategy‐makers use to establish a sense of continuity in time of change: elaborating (transferring part of the content of the historical statement into a new one), recovering (forging a new statement based on the retrieval and re‐use of historical references), and decoupling (allowing the co‐existence of the historical statement and a contemporary one). By so doing, our study advances research on uses of the past, establishes important linkages between identity and strategy research, and enhances our understanding of the intergenerational transfer of values in family firms.
Managerial Summary

Crafting a new corporate philosophy or mission statement can help implement strategic change, but can also be experienced as a disruption in people's sense of “who we are” as an organization. This paper reveals a variety of strategies that managers can use to deal with the tension between promoting change and maintaining a sense of continuity with a distant, revered past. By doing so, it helps managers confronting these issues deal with the enabling and constraining effects of the past. While this is a more general challenge for organizations with historical legacies, it is a particularly delicate issue for family firms grappling with the need to transfer values from one generation to the next, while retaining flexibility to change and adapt over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)590-623
Number of pages34
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • historical embeddedness
  • organizational identity
  • strategic change
  • strategic identity statements
  • strategy practices


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