An introduction to business cultures
An introduction to business cultures

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An introduction to business cultures

2.2 Symbols within business

How have academics and managers attempted to diagnose these largely hidden aspects of business? One well-known example is provided by Trice and Beyer (1984), who concentrated on the idea of there being symbols within a business. They divided these into, first, high-level symbols, which are the more obvious ones such as company buildings and logos, and, second, low-level symbols. They suggested four categories of low-level symbols: practices, communications, physical forms and a common language. These are explained below.

  • Practices These are the rites, rituals and ceremonies of the business. These can take many forms, and would include the annual office party, employee awards and inter-site competitions.

  • Communications These are the stories, myths and slogans that are circulated in the business. Stories about notable events in the past tend to become part of the culture of the business and can influence behaviour. How the business started, for example, or a period of particular success, can say something about preferred ways of performing and goals to aim for.

  • Physical forms These include location, open plan or individual offices, types of eating areas, business suits or casual attire, flipcharts or whiteboards, and office furniture. For an interesting example go to the Google website and look at ‘Inside Google’ and ‘Culture’ in the 'Jobs at Google' section of the ‘About Google’ area to see images of the culture and workplace at Google, the international internet search business. Also interesting are the ‘Top 10 reasons to work at Google’.

  • A common language Jargon is common to many businesses. It is a convenient shorthand form of communication, but it also affects behaviour. Disney employees are ‘cast members’, while McDonald's employees are ‘crew members’. The Open University is rife with acronyms: TMAs (Tutor Marked Assignments), SEPs (Specimen Exam Papers), course codes like B120, and so on. This might suggest a rather technical and closed culture, but ‘open and equal’, the University's motto, is, in the experience of many of the staff, reflected throughout its business practices and values.


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