The Symbolic Approach in Corporate Culture
Some definitions of organizational culture focus on shared values or shared practices, while others focus on the presence of multiple shared traits. Regardless of how you define company culture, shared characteristics help employees learn what's important and what they must do to continue their membership in the culture. A symbolic approach can help you explain a cultural change.
A multi-layered way to look at your company culture is through Johnson and Scholes' cultural web, which includes shared stories, rituals and routines, symbols, organizational structures, control systems and power structures. Perhaps your story is how you started the company, shared routines are written procedures, symbols are company values, the organizational structure is flat, employee reports are an internal control system and the power structure is the weekly staff meeting. However you would describe these shared elements, they tell new employees much about how your business operates.
There are different ways to change the culture of a small business to meet present and future business goals. You could change the organizational structure -- such as breaking large departments into smaller teams. You could move to a new business strategy, such as changing from one set of goals to another. For either organizational or strategic change, a symbolic approach would help.
Core symbols could emphasize the most important aspects of an organizational change or communicate smaller pieces of information that help employees understand their role in the change process. Say you have a large dress shop with employees working on custom dresses and you want to start focusing only on ready-made dresses to reach a larger market. If you tell employees you're moving to a factory model, they will have a general idea that you're going to standardize the work, especially because the factory symbol is a common organizational design from recent history.
Another way to look at the symbolic approach is use of symbols for radical change. For example, converting from a custom dress shop to a factory model is a radical change. You would change the organizational structure and many operating procedures to support a new factory model. In this big shift, you are essentially changing one culture for another, which makes it radical. Employees must acclimate to the factory concept, especially because they may not want to work for a factory and prefer the culture you had in the custom dress shop.