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Organizational Culture: An extended Discussion of Schein’s model


Components of Culture: Discussion based on Schein’s Model

The importance of culture has been highlighted repeatedly by researchers and scholars. In terms of organization and organizational behavior, culture has acquired a special value. In the 21st century, the focus has shifted towards things like organizational culture and human resources. The relevance of organizational culture can be determined from the fact that research has linked it with performance and productivity. The value of organizational culture also increases because it also determines employee performance and affects their morale. This is also why the focus needs to be on shaping the organizational culture. Edgar Schein’s model is one of the most cited models of organizational culture. It discusses three central elements related to organizational culture. Edgar H. Schein is a former professor of MIT Sloan School of Management, known for his remarkable work in the fields of organizational development and organizational culture.

Three Elements of Organizational Culture by Schein

Organizational culture has a definite impact on productivity and therefore to underestimate its importance would be foolish. All leading organizations have a vision and mission because their culture is guided and influenced by it. Their cultures have shaped their image. Not just this, their cultures also influence their place in the marketplace. Schein has highlighted three important elements of culture in his model of organizational culture. These factors are Artifacts, values, and assumptions.

  • Artifacts
  • Values
  • Assumptions
  1. Artifacts are considered to be the most visible aspect of culture. These artifacts have an important role in the formation of the organizational culture. They include the dress code, furniture, and all the other visible aspects of the organization, like the style and behavior of the employees. Organizational climate, structure, art, work, etc., all are visible to people and are the artifacts one knows the organization’s culture by. However, while the artifacts are visible to all, they are not understandable by all. To understand the artifacts, one would need to analyze the next level of organizational culture, espoused values.
  2. Espoused values: The espoused values are the second important layer of the organizational culture. Generally, these are the values espoused by the leaders of the organization. For example, organizational philosophy, strategy workplace values all represent the espoused values of the organization. However,  these espoused values have to be supported by the next layer of the organizational culture: shared assumptions. If the two do not agree, that can be a signal of trouble.
  3.  Assumptions:  The shared assumptions of the employees form an important third layer of the organizational culture. Most often, these shared assumptions are not properly defined. These shared assumptions reflect the inner aspects of the employee nature. Many times forms of practices prevail inside an organization that is not formally discussed or applied but are still widely recognized across the organization. However, the most important thing is that these assumptions should still support the espoused values. If the two do not agree, it will spell trouble for the organization.

Culture is central to an organization’s performance. In this regard, the organization leaders can use the Schein model to understand the various components of organizational culture. In several cases, an organizational change becomes impertinent. Especially when the industry is undergoing rapid changes, the organizational culture needs to be aligned with the organizational objectives. If the culture is a neglected area, the result can be reduced employee morale and heightened work pressure. Organizations have also realized that culture can be an important point of differentiation and a source of competitive advantage. In this regard, the question is how a differentiated culture can be established and utilized as a source of competitive advantage. One can intuitively analyze the benefits of the corporate culture. While on the one hand, it is the common thread that aligns the entire organization; on the other, it is also the mirror that reflects the health and happiness of any organization.

Six components of culture by John Coleman:

John Coleman highlights six important components that go into the making of culture. While having a unique culture is important for every organization, all these factors need to be understood to have a strong corporate culture.

  • Vision: A mission or vision is the starting point of organizational culture. They may appear as simple statements, but they add both meaning and purpose to the being of an organization. These mission and vision statements are deeply embedded in the organization and its structure, where they guide every decision made by the leaders and employees. A compelling mission or vision statement also becomes a powerful force that motivates the employees to work in the direction of organizational objectives.
  • Values: The values of a company are at the core of its culture. Vision sets the objectives, but how they can be achieved is laid down in values. These values provide the mindset that is required to achieve the objectives. Values also guide the ethics and behavior of the employees. Google, Starbucks, etc., lay special emphasis on their values.
  • Practices: Values are of no particular value unless they are embedded in the organization’s practices. Organizations that claim their people to be their biggest asset must remain ready to invest in them. Similarly, organizations that value equity and inclusion must have flatter hierarchies and focus on including the front-line employees in important discussions.
  • People: People’s participation is another important thing required to form a strong and coherent culture. You cannot have a great culture without having great people. The greatest firms have strict recruitment policies because they look for people who share their values or ably embrace them. Moreover, people do not just stick to the cultures they like but bringing on those who can easily adapt to it also helps reinforce the culture.
  • Narrative: Narrative can be understood as the unique history or the story of an organization. The power of the narrative also works in the context of the culture. The creation of the culture happens by crafting that unique history into a wonderful narrative. However, its elements can be formal as well as informal. Still, narrative, when crafted well and told and retold, lends strength to the culture.
  • Place: Place or space, whichever way you know it is an important influence of the culture. It shapes culture in numerous ways. Irrespective of everything, the way the office space is planned and arranged determines several things. It can affect the mood of the people and the level of collaboration between them.

There are several more components of culture, many of which have not been analyzed well. Nevertheless, when it comes to laying the foundation of a great culture, these six things are of utmost importance. Moreover, if there is a need for organizational change, the six factors must be first properly identified and understood.

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