What does social norming actually refer to? How is it relevant to your business and your company culture?
Social norms are the standards by which we collectively agree appropriate behaviour. Social norms are not the rules imposed by leaders, governance or bureaucracy; instead they are our collective expectations of how our group, team or company behaves in particular situations.
The renowned Social Norms scholar Cristina Bicchieri suggests that social norms can be understood as the grammar of social interactions. When teams form they develop social norms for interacting with each other and outsiders based on their collective values. Social norms can form around dress code, how a team greets each other, the tone they use on the phone, how they approach customers, etc. While individuals can act outside of the norm, there is a social expectation for conformity.
Social norms are part of a group’s very identity; they are the subconscious go-to position, the behaviours that characterise the group. Acting outside of these feels odd, unnatural, even uncomfortable.
As such, social norms can be a highly powerful force in organisations. Teams who understand, buy-in-to and live the company’s values will build social norms that adhere to these values and prompt adhering behaviours.
If you can embed consistent social norms throughout a company, they can help promote compliance, consistency and standards of excellence.
Teams know the values they work to, what is socially acceptable in their team, and behave appropriately… even if there’s no process to follow. Put simply…
‘They know what to do even when they don’t know what to do.’
Think about the power of this. The motivation, innovation and growth that could be inspired in an organisation led not by autocratic leadership but by self driven individuals.