A Foot in Both Camps: Role Identity and Entrepreneurial Orientation in Professional Service Firms

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International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior and Research




Purpose – Professional service entrepreneurs (PSEs) paradoxically practice their profession in highly institutionalized contexts that require intense socialization, while also enacting another role as an entrepreneur. Activities consistent with entrepreneurship may be unnecessary for – and possibly contradictory with – activities consistent with professional roles. The purpose of this paper is to address the question of how two highly important role identities (professional and entrepreneurial) relate to entrepreneurial orientation (EO) in professional firms.

Design/methodology/approach – Using a survey methodology, the authors measure entrepreneurial and professional role identity importance, and PSE’s perceptions of firm-level EO, using a sample of 138 medical practitioners who own and operate their own small-to medium-sized professional practices. In this paper, the authors examine the associations of the importance of these identities, and the relative importance of one to another, with EO.

Findings – The authors find that a PSE’s entrepreneurial role identity importance is positively related to the EO dimensions of risk taking and innovativeness, while professional role identity importance is negatively related to risk taking. Additionally, the authors find that the degree of relative importance (centrality) of an entrepreneurial role identity to a professional role identity is related positively to the EO dimensions of risk taking, innovativeness, and proactiveness.

Research limitations/implications – This is a cross-sectional study. As such, the authors examine associations rather than a process. The sample is limited to professional medical practitioners in the USA who own and operate their own practices.

Originality/value – This paper helps to better understand why some professional firms are more entrepreneurial than others. The findings suggest that, even in the conservative context of professional services, the PSEs entrepreneurial role centrality is consistent with the EO of the firm’s strategies.