Three levels of organisation culture

Published: June 18, 2018 3:02 AM

Organisational culture is a system of shared traditions, values and beliefs that have a great effect on how people behave in organisations. Values are lasting beliefs that have a strong influence on the people in an organisation.

organisation culture, organisation, Edgar Henry Schein, employeeOrganisational culture is a system of shared traditions, values and beliefs that have a great effect on how people behave in organisations. Values are lasting beliefs that have a strong influence on the people in an organisation.

Organisational culture is a system of shared traditions, values and beliefs that have a great effect on how people behave in organisations. Values are lasting beliefs that have a strong influence on the people in an organisation. It dictates how the organisation appears in public eyes. Edgar Henry Schein (born March 5, 1928), a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, is known for his work in the field of organisational development, more so in areas such as career development, talent management, group dynamics and cultural developments. Schein’s model of organisational culture originated in the 1980s. He identified three distinct levels of organisational cultures: artefacts and behaviours, espoused values, and assumptions. Artefacts include any tangible, evident or verbally identifiable elements in an organisation. These include architecture, beautification of workplace, careful design, layout, fitting and maintenance, built-in space for movement (space, sound, acoustics), functionality, attractive visuals, elegance, furniture, etc. These also include dress codes of employees—well-groomed employees give a good impression of an organisation.

Espoused values are an organisation’s stated values and rules of behaviour. These are about how members represent the organisation both in terms of their behaviour and shared values. Interpersonal relations among employees and their behaviours with outsiders speak volumes. Espoused values are expressed in mission, vision, philosophies and values of the organisation. These need to be displayed nicely in framed posters at strategic locations in organisations. They are official philosophies and statements of identity for the public. A company’s mission statement is essentially its statement of purpose. It serves as a guide for all of a company’s decision-making. All stakeholders of a company should know its mission statement. Likewise, vision statement helps to describe the organisation’s purpose. Vision statements give direction for employee behaviour. Both vision and mission helps in organisational analysis, which is the process of reviewing the development, work environment, personnel and operation of a business or another type of association. In professional organisations, you will see that espoused values are shared by employees at all levels. Trouble may arise if espoused values by leaders are not in line with the deeper implied assumptions of the culture. Assumptions come at the third level.

They are things that are accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof. These are deeply embedded among employees. Often, these are taken-for-granted behaviours that are usually unconscious, but constitute the deep essence of culture. Assumptions are deeply integrated in the work culture; they are easily recognised in the actions of employees and management. Inner values of individual employees can make or break an organisation. Being honest to work, being a well-wisher of the organisation, putting in the extra mile matters a lot. Sometimes, when employees need to put in late hours, and they refuse, or when female employees are dominated by male employees, or when females employees are harassed by their bosses, it portrays the culture. Organisations follow certain practices, which are not discussed often but understood on their own. Such behaviours form the third level of the organisation culture. Aligning the three layers is important. Schein believes that the alignment between these three layers of cultures is critical for growth. Many problems that are attributed to autocracy, environmental factors or personality conflicts among managers are, in fact, the result of the lack of alignment between these factors of culture. Therefore, organisations must use broad-spectrum yet strict approach to educate its members of the organisation’s values. Remember, values are important only when all members have accepted them.

People at the top must practice values, so that it goes down well internally and externally. They say ‘practice before your preach,’ and seniors play a vital role in practising values of the organisation because their subordinates replicate them. Highly successful organisations do not simply proclaim set of values, rather they immerse their managers as well as their employees in the ideology to an obsessive degree. Adherence to values among employees matters. It is a certainty that any disconnect between the behaviours of senior leaders and values of the organisation strongly undermine the success of the organisation. Core discipline matters in an organisation. When new employees enter the organisation, they learn the values through their initial socialisation processes with other members of the organisation. Although this fact is considered as informal method, it is quite powerful. New employees get moulded in the system within first 15 days. All organisations are socio-technical systems in which the manner of external adaptation and the solution of internal integration problems are interdependent: employees, managers, investors, suppliers, the community, government and the customers shape an organisation.

Internal adaptation of an organisation shapes external adaptation. Zappos.com is an online shoe and clothing shop based in Las Vegas, Nevada. In July 2009, the company got acquired by Amazon.com. Zappos is one of the world’s largest online shoe stores. It is well known for its culture as it is for the shoes it sells online. How does Zappos’ culture look like? It believes in delivering an experience of ‘wow’ through service. The company believes in embracing change constantly. It believes in creating fun and weirdness among the employees because weirdness is necessary for creating innovation. It encourages its employees to pursue learning. Zappos has aligned its culture at all three levels: artefacts, espoused values and assumptions. It is honest with its employees and customers.

Vidya Hattangadi

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