Theory of Normative Conduct

The Theory of Normative Conduct has generally focused in the public sphere looking at pro-environmental behaviours in social contexts and attributes the behaviours of individuals to the perceived social norms in that context (Cialdini et al., 1990). It is understood “that an individual will determine appropriate behaviour for themselves in a situation [by examining] the behaviour of others there, especially similar others” (Prentice & Paluck, 2020, p.138). This has been extended into organisational research through the study of perceived social norms of the organisation or, more specifically, the teams and units that employees work in at an organisation (Norton et al., 2014). In their theoretical framework Norton et al. (2015) found that normative factors were a part of the multiple antecedents to OCBE.

The Theory of Normative Conduct specifically differentiates between injunctive and descriptive norms. Injunctive norms represent what is approved of, what ‘ought’ to be the way to best behave, where-as descriptive norms represent what is typically observed, this is the ‘is’ of a certain context (Cialdini et al., 1990). If this is applied to an organisational context combined with the focus on environmental sustainability, the injunctive norms would be the espoused values of the organisation and the perception that people throughout the organisation are concerned about climate change and their impact on the environment. In contrast the descriptive norms would be actual behaviours that are perceived by individuals. The organisation, leadership or co-workers may talk about being environmentally sustainable, but their actions reflect a different reality, they be making statements and seemingly concerned but their actions don’t reflect this concern. This can be reflected in the simple phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’. However there is evidence that both of these can effect the way individuals behave!

There is evidence that these ‘normative influences’ can affect behaviours in the private and public arena (evidence; more evidence, and a big review of the evidence). This influence on individuals in organisations can also be found when thinking about the culture that organisations create, which would affect the way individuals behave as they believe this is ‘what people do around here’. This sounds a bit like organisational culture … and while similar (check this post) this is more akin to organisational climate, that is the psychological elements that can be measured and aggregated to give you an idea of how individuals perceive the organisation and you can see a more directly what it affects… culture is much harder to measure!!

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