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Identity as a Foundation for Human Resource Development


As human resource development (HRD) research and practice has flourished, researchers have called for new theoretical perspectives that might be brought to bear on increasing the effectiveness of HRD initiatives (e.g. Nolan & Garavan, 2016). In this chapter, we suggest how optimal distinctiveness theory (Brewer, 1991) could be applied to HRD. Optimal distinctiveness theory is a social psychological theory with roots in social identity theory that addresses individuals’ propensity to identify with groups. We present the results of an empirical study involving members of organisational work groups and discuss how HRD interventions could benefit from considering how individuals’ identification with a work group can be affected by optimal distinctiveness and the composition of the work group (age and functional backgrounds represented in the group). Based on these findings, we impart practical advice about composing work groups, including ensuring that young group members and those with few identities are placed in groups in which they share commonalities with other members and also maintain some distinctiveness from members. In addition, we discuss how the tenets of optimal distinctiveness theory have both research and practical implications for HRD.

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