Symbology as a Surrogate of Organizational Truth

September 25, 2020
By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President

We should question symbols within our working environments that over time can transform into proxies of our corporate truth– our values as leaders and as organizations. Value alignment between organizations and individuals is, in general, a critical tenant of maintaining proper employee morale and commitment. Symbology can be a language that interprets the relationship between individuals and corporate entities. These symbols can be physical, verbal or non-verbal, and managerial action or inaction. Sally Riggs Fuller, Department of Management and Organization, University of South Florida, wrote, “Symbols are mechanisms organizations can use to signal their management philosophy to workers.” (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on June 29, 2020, here.) Fuller writes, the types of symbols include:

  • language, myths, and stories associated with culture;
  • organizational phenomena such as titles, decisions, structure, personnel policies; and
  • the physical environment, furniture and wall decorations

An example of a physical symbol involves cubicles and walled offices, which have always been quintessential symbols of corporate hierarchy for years. A nonverbal symbol of PHCC National is that its leadership believes that it is a member-driven association and as such, conveys that value in the form of “top-down” organizational chart with its members shown at the top of the pyramid:  a symbol signaling that staff represent the foundational support of those members. Additionally, like a lot of organizations, PHCC displays its mission statement and corporate core values in its main lobby. For employees and guests alike– these symbols reflect the purpose of the organization and principles that drive its corporate culture.

Michael G. Pratt, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Anat Rafaeli, Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion Institute of Technology, observed in their paper, Symbols as a Language of Organizational Relationships, that “The constantly changing and tenuous nature of organizations is complicating the relationships between individuals and organizations. Physical symbols offer individuals and organizations access to a rich, non-verbal ‘language’ that can help clarify this relational complexity.” (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on June 29, 2020, here.) I believe that we must monitor symbols within our working communities that over time can transform into proxies of our truth– our values as leaders and as organizations.


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