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The Use of Symbols in the Communication Process

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Communication is the basic tool that makes organizations work. The latin origin of the word is ‚communis‘, which means ‚common‘. That means, that there has to be a common understanding of the verbal and non- verbal signs that are used between the participants of the communication. We could say that individuals that share this common understanding of the symbols they use in order to interact with one another belong to the same culture. The general definition of culture says that it is a system of shared values, norms and beliefs that are shaped by history, climate, the kind of work that people do etc. that is used to shape interpretations of events, actions and situations, and is perceived as something that is taken- for- granted. Basically we could say that every one of us belongs to several cultures, some being larger, as for example the country we come from, our mother tongue etc.

There is also smaller cultures that we belong to, the organization where we work at for instant. Organizations are entities of a certain number of people that have a common understanding, some sort of ‚insider- knowledge‘, about how things are done within the work environment. It is not written anywhere and it is invisible for the outside world, it is more about how employees perceive the organization. The distinction of the organizations’ members from non- members has an important role when it comes to influencing the employees’ behavior by setting standards and building loyalty by providing a sense of identity. It also helps to increase their commitment to the organization’s goals. There is different ways of how culture is transmitted within organizations, for example legends that are built amongst the founder and the history of the organization, different rituals that create a stronger bond between the members, a specific jargon used in this very work environment or symbols whose en- and decoding is based on the common background that the organization provides. It is indeed quite difficult to be able to recognize these different habits in organizations from the outside, as the definition of organizational culture reinforces already. Nevertheless, we have tried to find examples for symbolic interactions in organizations, and picked real and well- known companies such as Google and Starbucks or Intel as well as an example from a US- series, ‚The office‘, as movies allow us sometimes a insider- view, if we are following the happenings alongside a character that is actually involved in the fictual organization. To start with, we will talk about Google and more precisely the Ping- Pong- Tables in their facilities, that are used here as an example of a different approach at the meaning of work.

The company is known for being one of the best places to work in the world, how Elisabeth Matsangou is pointing out in her article about Laszlo Bock (Matsangou, 2016). Bock worked as the Senior Vice President of People Organisations for Google from 2006 until 2016 and focused on improving the internal structure and the culture of this growing company. In 2016 he published his book “Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead” in which he gives big insights in the internal life of Google and in which he provides his philosophy how to develop new guidelines, structures and rules of a successful company (LinkedIn, 2018). For this assessment we decided to analyse the free perks that Google offers to all employees. More precisely the ping-pong tables will be discussed as symbols of a modern company that has understood how important a diversified environment is for their employees and how much it can improve the internal communication and the success of the different departments. So a normal ping-pong table is an object that we normally wouldn’t imagine in a work place because it’s more known for being a leisure object. If we have free time we’re playing a match with another person who wants join. Why did Google than decide to put “free time objects” like ping-pong tables in their offices? In an interview the Google Marketing Manager Fab Dolan explains: “We actually do take time and go play arcade for a little while and hang out and […] during those times you get an idea when you’re meeting with someone from a different department or a different team. ” (Culture Inside Google [Video], 2013, 00: 01: 01)

According to Dolan it’s not only taking a break from work it’s also a way to find new inspiration and new ideas to solve a problem. So a ping-pong table offers the feeling of having real free time during work and the possibility to get connected to other colleagues. It helps to improve the internal communication in an easy way and people do have the intention to stay longer at the office and work more. Google also provides micro-kitchens dotted around the campus, where every employee can get free coffee and just take a short break. Ross Brooks sees them as alternative way to bring people together and to […] create more opportunity for innovation“ (Brooks, 2018). Laszlo Bock pointed out that most of the conversations in these breakout zones are about products, users and new ideas (Brooks, 2018). So symbols like the ping-pong table have the big advantage to improve the internal network and to give the employees the feeling to work at a company that really cares about them. It ensures to support the team building and in this way it also helps to share the company’s mission (one of the three important arguments for Laszlo Bock) between the different departments. There’s always the risk that employees misinterpret the offers like this and start forgetting about the real job, but how Google and Lazlo Bock showed it can work very good. Spots like these are important to provide an atmosphere in which the employees get motivated and try to do their best. They might also have the feeling to give back what they’ve received from the organisation. And in this way big companies like Google are so successful in these days.

Another well- known company, Starbucks, has changed parts of their organizational culture in the past years in order to better transmit their values to both, employees and customers, as we will see in our next example. Starbucks Coffee Company’s organizational culture is one of the most distinct characteristics of the firm which is influenced by high-ranking employees and business results. In the case of Starbucks Coffee, the company’s organizational culture permeates all aspects of its operations. However, Starbucks is the place where the company’s culture is easily noticeable. The way people work with each other and how they interact with customers are Starbucks’ special features. The warm and friendly atmosphere in those cafes is part of the differences between the company and the its competition. The organization’s goal is to include the employees in the system as quickly as possible without any conflicts, which affects high employee productivity. Starbucks has also an anti-discrimination policy that shapes its system and prohibits any form of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc. This aspect of the company’s organizational culture makes customers feel welcome in Starbucks stores. According to the statement from the Starbuck’s website „Embracing diversity only enhances our work culture, it also drives our business success. It is the inclusion of these diverse experiences and perspectives that create a culture of empowerment, one that fosters innovation, economic growth and new ideas. ”* we might notice that inclusion and diversity is really important for them.

For many years dress code in Starbucks was pretty strict. Black pants and black t-shirt, no hats, no jewelry etc. In 2016 the organisation decided to change the dress code and let its employees express themselves more than before, according to the idea about „being yourself” at work. „Fedoras are a do, but bucket hats are a don’t. Colors such as charcoal, navy, brown and black are in — bright ones like red and yellow are out. Patterns are cool, as long as they are small and subtle, and denim works as long as it’s not light-wash. ”** – that’s the part from 30 pages „Starbucks lookbook” where employees can find all the details about their dress code including tattoos, piercings, nails and personal hygiene. So from June 2 0 1 6, S t a r b u c k s workers have bigger choice of clothes they’re allowed to wear. All these changes are intended to allow employees to display themselves with constant respect for the freedom of other people. So for instance, hair colour might be extravagant and quite different then we can usually notice – „if hair colour is your style, it’s welcome”. Same with hats. Until then, caps were forbidden, cafe employees could not wear anything on their heads while working. In the Starbucks lookbook the company has released special photos with examples that headgear is allowed and which should be avoided. Dress code is treating as a symbol in the organisation. The new Starbucks equipment is known to a company that, regardless of whether you are in Warsaw or New York City, has a clear sense of identity. The decision to adapt the clothes of modern styles promises a new chapter of the coffee network conglomerate. The new dress code makes employees feel more comfortable. They show who they are. The variety of dress code introduced by Starbucks has a positive impact on the company’s image and employees. Often, with wearing work clothes, we feel that from that moment we become just another employee like everyone else for a few hours. The new dress code has a positive effect on employees whom feel more comfortable and cheerful in their own clothes. As mentioned earlier, fiction allows us to take a close look on the inside of organizations, as the audience basically is a fly on the wall. Starbucks dress code lookbook, page 13Starbucks dress code lookbook, page 22Now, we will investigate the American mockumentary called “The Office” which aired between 2005 and 2013.

“The Dundies are about the best in every one of us” The symbol chosen is an award given to employees during “The Dundies Awards” ceremony (“Dundies” referring to the name of the company Dunder Mifflin) held every year. As the show is comedy-oriented, the titles of the awards are rather silly, which is why it is symbolic for the employees of the company. The whole team reunites in a restaurant, where the infamous boss Michael Scott, portrayed by Steve Carell, makes the animation and gives away the prizes. The sole purpose of this ceremony is to have a good time and making jokes between colleagues. It brings people together, as work is forgotten for one night and immortalized with shiny awards. The awards themselves have no real value. They are a symbol of the company’s dynamic and culture, which tends to be relaxed and fun. The boss has a rather unique personality and always brings out ideas – good or really bad – throughout the show. His managing techniques might be more than questionable, but they always bring the employees together, around a culture of their own. The “Dundies” are one of the many symbols representing the essence of the company, its identity and more importantly its culture. ! From “The Office”, Season 2 Episode 1 “The Dundies” When it comes to material organizational symbols, authors Dandridge, Mitroff and Joyce defines three categories, one of them being “energy controlling which considers the extent to which a symbol inspires or demotivates individuals. ” (C. Bailey – page 9).

In the Dundies case, those little trophies are meant to motivates individuals within the company, in order to make them and their work acknowledged and rewarded. Despite the ceremony being the boss making a fool of himself in order to make his employees laugh, those worthless little statues are a symbol of recognition and appreciation of the employees. In the show, the boss’s desire to start a family leads him to actually build a family with the people he sees every day, the people he works with. The advantages of this symbol is that it speaks for itself, that is, the message communicated by the award is clear and quickly understandable: good job on your work. In the show, it also represents the fact that the employees are part of a family, the company’s family.

Finally we will have a look at another big company in their field, Intel Corporation. Founded in 1968, it is today the world’s largest semiconductor chip maker, moreover they have a strong foothold in education, environmental sustainability, healthcare, and much more. The company is a good example in case of symbolic meanings, just take a look at their logo. (1)The “dropped-e” Intel logo was thrown away in favor of a “swoosh” around the company’s name with the new slogan “Leap Ahead”. This simple yet powerful message symbolizes the company’s objective to “drive the next leap ahead – in technology, education, social responsibility and manufacturing. The blue color in the Intel logo stands for approachability, excellence and grace of the corporation, whereas the white color represents its elegance, nobility and purity. In terms or organizational culture Intel is also a great example. (2)In the article published by Mark Chatham, who worked in Intel for more than 20 years as a BIOS engineer he described Intel’s organizational culture and compared it other companies.

One of the key policies is the “Open Door Policy” which gives the right of every employee to ask questions of any other employee, which can be very egalitarian. Part of this is regular meetings with your boss and less frequently with your bosses boss. You own these meetings so that you can determine how you can best work for the company. Those meetings stand for the feeling of being understood and as the company is very goal-orientated, employees can work their best, understating the result they are supposed to reach. I have spent a hot minute reading reviews and articles about insights of the company published by employees, and I can say that it is really a dream-company to work. (3)Next example is a ritual for new Intel employees, they should take a communication training. A case study in that training was a manager needed to tell his employee that her body odor was impacting her performance. And they are practicing how to deliver it. It refers again to the company’s values and the «Open Door Policy» they are trying to reach not only between the company and the customer but between their employees as well. So people are more open and direct to each other. Sometimes thought it is a bit harsh, employee explains.

Another interesting thing to look at is their recruitments strategy, on their website page called «Life at Intel»(4). They have a very good, in my opinion, strategy of communication with Intel’s future employees, showing their values and the benefits of working with them. They even have 5 short video clips which shows you the insights and delivers ideas and advantages for people to join them. (5)And comparing the real reviews and what company is delivering in their recruitment advertisements you can understand that all of those values and promises like (fitness and vitality programs, flights to other campuses with Intel’s shuttle, education programs etc. ) are true. It all together stands for the feeling of being a part of a big family, that cares not only about your work but about you as well, your health, your emotions and provides you possibilities like non-stop learning and so on. Future employees get the feeling that they are committed to create a better future through innovation. You get the feeling of making impossible possible by empowering new realities with Intel. It is a big place and easy to get lost in it.

But through its culture all find a way to work as a single company. Learning and applying the culture is critical to an employee’s success at Intel. However it is not only working in order to attract professionals but also it affects how company is perceived by customers and the world at all. For sure its organizational culture and rituals create a great image of the company and works directly in the way Intel expects it to work. We have now seen different examples of how differently symbols can be used in organizational communication and also how broadly the term ‚sign‘ can be extended. There are many examples and if we think about our own work experiences, each and every one of us can surely think of some more. In fact, symbols have always been in our human nature, they are easy to read and to deliver once the common baseline is given. That is why it is logical that organizations are using signs to not only communicate but also to deliver messages to their employees, that don’t have to be verbalized. At the same time, there is always the danger that some individuals wouldn’t understand certain symbols, for example if they are new to the company and don’t know ‚how things are done there‘ yet. Therefore, it might sometimes take some time and lead to errors and confusion in the beginning but once the culture is inherited, those problems will diminish.

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