Norms, Values, and Symbols

Norms, Values, and Symbols Embedded in Organizational Culture

  1. Norms

The established rules of conduct determined by culture are defined as norms.

Norm defines rules, standards and ideas that provide social order, guide individuals, determine right and wrong, positive and negative.

  • Norms are also a system of sanctions; and are guaranteed by reward and punishment. It can be formal and informal.
  • Norms are also learned in the individual’s socialization process (waiting in the queue when buying tickets).
  • Norms that may vary from society to society also change over time in society.
  • Norms regulate the relationships of individuals within a certain group and direct their actions.
  • Norms, which are often reflections of values, are collective because they are shared by all members of a group.

Norms are elements that affect behavior in organizational culture, institutionalize and strengthen the social system (Pehlivan, 2001).

Owens and Steinhof (1989) define norms as elements that affect behavior in organizational culture Opens in new window, institutionalize and strengthen the social system.

According to Basaran (1991), norms are codes of conduct and criteria adopted by the majority of employees, which are developed in accordance with the cultural values of an organization.

Norms guide employees in how to behave within the organization, how they should interact, and how they should connect with others.

Norms, which are generally referred to as rules to be followed, are sometimes not explicitly expressed and not written. However, they have a significant impact on the behaviors of the members of an organization.

For example, the norms that are expressed and shared as “Don’t argue with your superiors!” and “Don’t be the one who gives the bad news!” convey information about the behaviors within that organization (Sabuncuoglu and Tuz, 1998).

The role of the employees in the organization is evaluated with norms. For this reasons, norms describe behaviors approved and expected by the system (Kahn and Katz, 1977).

  1. Values

The term of value is the standard that people have created to define good, right, beautiful and ugly. In many places, it is seen that value is mixed with culture (Barsky, 2019). Learning the culture Opens in new window of a society means knowing the values of that culture.

The main difference between norms and values is that values are composed of abstracts and general concepts and norms are distinct and guiding.

Since values are being instilled into us through culture, identifying and defining them is not as easy as norms.

  • The concept of value is defined by Allport as ways a person behaves according to his or her belief and preferences;
  • is defined by Williams as a person’s criteria or standards of preferences;
  • is defined by Kluckhohn as a desirable concept implicitly or explicitly indicating the nature of a group or the character of an individual, affecting the choice of the modes, means or aims of the actions;
  • is defined by Hofstede as a tendency to prefer certain situations over others;
  • is defined by Gungor as the belief that something is desirable or undesirable (as cited in Kilit, 2008:4).

An organization’s value system defines what is good or bad for members of the organization, what can be desired or not, what should or should not be done, and forms the basis of behavior (Erdem, 1996: 38).

Norms are formed within the organization depending on the basic values. Norms are social rules and standards that guide members of the social system in explaining and interpreting events, phenomena, and situations (Sisman, 2007: 95).

Briefly, norms are the unwritten rules of the organization and they are the guiding sets that show what the members of the organization should do or how to behave.

The basic values shared by all individuals in the organization are believed and shared in a common way, an important element of corporate culture Opens in new window. Culture begins with the values and beliefs that people share.

All of these values constitute the basic understanding system in the organization. As Schein (1985) states, the organization uses this basic understanding in both internal and external adapation and integration problems (Akinci, 1998).

In a broad sense, values show a reasonable, appropriate form of solution in an organizational problem and constitute the more invisible, subjective, internal aspect of culture.

It can be said that some other cultural elements (symbols Opens in new window) in organizations explain and emphasize the basic values and beliefs of the organization. At the same time, these values reflect the general aims, ideals, standards of an organization and are expressed in various forms within organizational identity or management philosophy (Sisman, 1994).

Values develop at the organizational level as well as at the individual level. Organizational culture Opens in new window is a system of values in an organization. Values are more reliable than other elements of organizational culture Opens in new window.

When employees are asked about the course of their work or behavior, these values are often reached. For example, if employees in an organization which has open door policy Opens in new window can meet with their superiors at any time, this practice shows that communication is an important value in the organization (Sabuncuoglu and Tuz, 1998).

  1. Symbols

Symbols have a different meaning depending on community to another community or region to another region; and the concept of symbol is discussed and defined by different authors (Cssier, 1979; Manley, 1998).

According to Manley (1998), public use of symbols conveys shared meaning, helps dispense information, and establishes social cohesion and commitment.

Alvesson (1998: 105) defines symbols as “objects, acts, concepts, of linguistic formations that stand ambiguously for a multiplicity of disparate meanings, evoke sentiments and emotions, and impel men to action”.

Although the symbol is essentially universal as a common event for all humanity, it has a certain degree of stability and national fastness, since the natural and social conditions of the people of various cultures are different.

For example, the dragon was the spiritual pillar of the Sino-Tibetan family. But in the understanding of some people it is accepted as a symbol of savagery and evil.

Another example, the color “white” was used as a symbol of unhappiness, calamity and sorrow in some peoples. Moreover, since everything consists of the unity of opposites (dualist principle), sometimes a symbolic basis expresses different symbolic meanings. For example, while “ox” is a symbol of kindness, stupidity, obedience and heroism and hard work; “wolf” is the symbol of both heroism and savagery.

See also:
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