Symbols are habitually used by organizations to transform the meaning of their actions and intentions in ways that enable them to manage complex stakeholder relationships and achieve competitive advantage. However, applications of symbolic management across disciplines and research traditions in the organization sciences are fraught with theoretical ambiguity pertaining to the meaning of symbols, the value of symbols to organizations, the tactics used by organizations to manage symbols, and the outcomes of symbolic management. Thus, we review the literature to solidify our theoretical understanding of organizational symbolic management. Based on our review, we advance a process framework of symbolic management to describe the relationships between organizational approaches to managing symbols, the forms of symbolic value organizations seek to create and capture, and the prevailing outcomes of symbolic management. Using this framework, we also examine the literature for insights pertaining to the management of symbols for competitive advantage in separate contexts of organization–stakeholder interaction, leading to the development of a strategic framework of symbolic management. We conclude by outlining a set of directions for future research that evoke pressing questions about the role of symbolic management in organizations to encourage new pastures of scholarly inquiry.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Business and International Management
- Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management