Bridging the interpretation gap of organizational symbols

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Signaling theory deals with how individuals or organizations send signals to reduce uncertainty when making a choice in situations with incomplete and asymmetric information (Aalbers et al., 2021; Bergh et al., 2014; Parachuri et al., 2021). Stiglitz (2002) indicates that signaling theory is originally an economic theory, which did not recognize that there is differentiation between different individuals in an organization with the background knowledge. As a result, little is known about how employees respond to organizational signals (Drover et al., 2018; Taj, 2016), especially when it comes to organizational symbols (Gullifor et al., 2023). This research aims at a practical improvement of signaling theory related to employer-employee communication, with a focus on the interpretation of organizational symbols. The research question is as follows: How can organizations reduce the gap between their intended meanings through organizational symbols to the interpretation by their employees? The context of this research is Radboud University. In order to collect data, 10 semi-structured interviews (Appendix 1), journals and podcasts on the topic of Radboud University identity or symbolism were used. The collected data was analyzed using the Gioia et al. (2013) method. Exposure to a new generation of students and employees, a severed connection with Catholics, and a centennial existence raised the question at Radboud University of what their identity actually entails. Employees possess incomplete and asymmetric information, resulting in diverse interpretations of the symbols employed by Radboud University. This research provides practical insights into bridging the gap between intended meaning and employee interpretation of organizational symbols. This knowledge is significant as employees adapt their behavior based on their perception of their employer. Organizations face the challenge of effectively conveying the meaning of symbols, influenced by factors such as signal frequency, signal load, signal consistency, and signal truth.
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