Three basic Elements of Culture

Artifacts are the things that one sees, hears and feels when one encounters a new group with an unfamiliar culture. Artifacts included products, services and even behaviors of group members. For example, if you talk into the headquarters of one large multibillion-dollar computer you will notice that the CEO is dressed casually, while at a competitor the CEO will be wearing an expensive, dark blue suit. These differing artifacts are evidence of two very different organizational cultures.

Artifacts are everywhere and as we can learn about a culture by paying attention to them. Think about some of the artifacts at your college or university. Is there a certain way that people dress? Are there certain courses or methods of study that are deemed to be important? Do most students live on or near campus? Do most students have jobs? Is there a small or large percentage of returning students? Is there much or little athletic activity? Is your school a football school? A ‘basketball’ school? Is there an equal amount of athletic activity to men and women? All of these Artifacts and many others will define in part the culture of your school.

Espoused Values: Schein calls the second level of culture espoused values. We saw that values were things worth dong, or the reasons for doing what we do. Espoused values are the reasons that we give for doing what we do. Most organizational cultures can trace their espoused values back to the founders of the culture. At DuPont, for example, many procedures and products are a result of the espoused value of safety No surprise, for originally DuPont was in the business of making gunpowder; in the words of a recent DuPont chairman, either you make gunpowder safely, or you don’t make it for very long. The value of safety still pervades the DuPont culture, long after the days when the manufacture of gunpowder was central to the business. New members learn these espoused values, and learn their meaning in the organizational context.

The Darben School at the University of Virginia has an espoused value of being a teaching school and having the faculty always available for consultations with students. New faculty members learn the importance of Coffee a 25 –minute break between classes where all of the faculty and all of the students congregate talk informally about everything from the morning business news to classroom performance to new initiatives for the school. When potential students or faculty members are interviewed, they are always told about coffee and often taken to experience it. While 25 minutes of communal coffee doesn’t by itself make the school a ‘teaching school’, it does serve to focus the attention of faculty and students on issues important to their school’s mission to be a leading school of business.

Basic Assumptions: Basic assumptions are third level of organizational culture where the beliefs that organization members take for granted. Culture prescribes the right way to do things at an organization, often through unspoken assumptions.

Before 1980, managers at AT&T took as a basic assumptions that any service they offered had to be available (or at least planned) for all customers. It simply could not conceive of making a service available to only a limited range of customers. Managers at newcomer MCI, however, had a different basic assumption, one that was partly responsible for the ensuing revolution in telecommunications. By putting up just two microwave towers, one in St Louis and the other in Chicago, MCI was able to skim part of AT&T’s market. It acted by questioning a basic belief of AT&T.

Many cosmetic companies have assumed that the appropriate marketing strategy focuses on advertising ad promotions about how their products enhance beauty. The Body Shop have questioned these basic assumptions building marketing around The Body Shop’s political activity, environmentalism and skepticism about the traditional idea of beauty.

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