Now more than ever, job candidates and employees are strongly considering company culture as a deciding factor in whether or not to join a company. As new generations of workers look to align their values and beliefs with those of their workplaces, it is important for organizations and HR departments to commit to developing and improving their organizational cultures. Edgar Schein, a well-known figure in studies of management and organizational culture, has proposed a model that attributes organizational culture to three levels that influence and display an organization’s culture.
The three levels of Schein’s model:
- Artifacts: These are the observable parts of a company’s culture, such as legendary stories, inside office jokes, the physical office design, dress code, company logo, and more. Artifacts set the tone for what kind of culture the company has and can easily be seen by outsiders, such as potential employees and clients. Artifacts can also say a lot about the company’s values. Artifacts are the topmost and a more superficial level of Schein’s model.
- Espoused values: These are the desired values that the leadership wants employees to grasp and the public to recognize and associate with the company. Espoused values can include mission and vision statements and direct values like collaboration, innovation, mutual respect, accountability, etc. Espoused values express to employees the behaviors, actions, expectations, and standards that senior management and leadership will hold them up to. These company values should be reflected in the way employees conduct themselves. This level lies in the middle of Schein’s model, but it is often not as visible as artifacts.
- Basic assumptions: These are difficult to assess. Basic assumptions are the subconscious and foundational beliefs and thoughts that employees have in an organization. These assumptions are what shape employees’ behaviors and processes at work (eg., “if I encounter an issue while doing my job, I should first solve it myself instead of asking for help,” or “there should be value created from every task completed”). These underlying assumptions are always developed collectively at the workplace and are often exemplified in the practiced values of the workplace.
You may have heard the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Likewise, a distinct, well-rounded company culture takes time to develop. Company cultures are complex structures with multiple levels that ultimately influence the behaviors and actions of employees. Company cultures also contribute to the general performance of work and atmosphere in the workplace. HR professionals and organizational leaders may find it beneficial to apply culture models, such as Schein’s, to assess and make necessary changes to strengthen their company cultures.
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