• Brian Levy

Edgar Schein's Culture Model—Espoused Values

Updated: Mar 15

As a performance consultant with decades of experience working with organizations to solve their issues that pertain to human performance, the Edgar Schein’s Culture Model has proven to be a valuable assistant. To begin, all organizations have espoused values, this means in each organization they have their own stated values and norms that influence the rules within that organization. Often, the espoused values are different from how we behave and what we genuinely believe. For instance, at Bridgeport Digital we talk about valuing the customer. However, we as a company don’t spend all our time thinking of the customer perspective. We don’t ask ourselves how the customer perceived us, how they use the products and services, or what information they need when, etc.

Frequently, employees will lobby to do the things they are interested in rather than what is in the best interest of the customer. Based on what we can provide, it’s important to set appropriate expectations with the customer about what we cannot provide so that the customer can make other arrangements to cover their needs. Customers are not taken care of unless I observe and delegate people to do it or I do it myself. Therefore, as a company, we really do not value the customer as we should.

Our behavior indicates an underlying assumption that the most important thing pertains to how the employees feel rather than how the customers feel. Unfortunately, this has caused us to lose existing customers in the past. The artifacts, such as our website, reflect this as there is stale information on it. Reports due to customers are only addressed when I address them personally. Only by examining the congruency between the levels can you really see how far apart they are.

How Do We Fix This

I have begun to teach select individuals at Bridgeport a tool called the acceptance ladder. The tool involves taking a deeper look at the relationship between actions and our espoused values via the lens of reasonable causation and correlation in that relationship. The underlying assumption is that uncorrelated items are uncorrelated because they serve a different purpose; our hidden assumptions are based on our real values.


Bridgeport

Digital

Assumption

Acceptance

Ladder

Espoused Goals/Values

Expected Behaviors

Observed Behavior

Uncovered Assumptions

​Underlying Principles/Values

​Stated as, "the next level of organizational culture; including strategies, goals, shared perceptions, shared assumptions, norms, beliefs, and values instilled by founders and leaders.”


Schein’s theory of organizational culture – A Learning Diary


Anticipated actions which a reasonable person would take in order to reach a goal given the espoused values.

Actions taken and observed behaviors.

Unspoken assumptions surface.


“Basic underlying assumptions are the base level of organizational culture. There are the deeply-embedded, unconscious, taken for granted assumptions that are shared with others. Any challenge of these assumptions will result in anxiety and defensiveness.”


Schein’s theory of organizational culture – A Learning Diary

​A pattern of thinking and a viewing of the world, usually in the form of unspoken mindsets, goals, and paradigms that dictate assumptions by driving our actions/behavior.

​Goals are “future states.”

Format is {adjective + noun}.


Format is {role + action + object of action}. Role is a noun. Action is a verb in present tense. Object is a noun.

​Format of Assumptions:

Contextual Assumptions: {Noun} is {Adjective} as compared to {Context}. Context explains when, where or both.

Causal Assumptions: IF {pre-condition or action} THEN {post condition} i.e. where precondition and post conditions are adjectives or adjectives describing a noun.

Meaning Assumptions: GIVEN {condition} THEN we know {Condition/state.}


“Values are basic and fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate attitudes or actions.”


…Value specifies a relationship between a person and a goal. “What are Values?” - [Ethics Sage]


“Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate.”


Values - Ethics Unwrapped (utexas.edu)


Format is “Value 1 over value 2.”

There are usually multiple actions expected to accomplish a goal. For complex goals, there are usually multiple roles which need to coordinate in order to perform all the necessary actions necessary to accomplish the complex goal.

​Ask: “Will observed behavior ‘x’ lead to espoused value/goal ‘y?’”

​Is the observed behavior legitimately a behavior that would lead to the goal/value espoused?


Will the observed behavior ’x’ lead to espoused goal ‘y?’


Are the observed behaviors consistent with the espoused values?

​Ask: “What do these assumptions indicate?”

Most often, expected behaviors can be obtained with a quick google search when 1.) the goal is not unique and 2.) the goal is not private. However, care must be taken to obtain the information from reputable sources as the average person does NOT produce the best actions. Seek actions from experts.

Hypothetical:

If not for the first espoused value/goal, ask for every espoused value/goal. If not for all espoused values/goals, observed behavior is unnecessary.

​If the answer to any of the questions above is “no,” then we must ask why a reasonable person would perform the observed behaviors.


The answers should be documented as “underlying assumptions.”


NOTE-


“Any challenge of these assumptions will result in anxiety and defensiveness.”


-Schein’s theory of organizational culture – A Learning Diary



Pictured above are five columns which represent this process. The left-most column, called “Espoused Goals/Values” houses the values and goals that the organization claims to believe. In the example that I used above, the espoused goal/value would be that we value customer/customer-centricity over employee comfort/preferences. The next column delineates the actions that we would expect to take and behaviors we would expect to observe in pursuit of the espoused goals/values. This column is called, “Expected Behaviors.” In the next column is a list of actions taken and (actions) planned to be taken along with observed behaviors in pursuit of the espoused goals/values. We call this column “Observed Behavior.”

The next step is to complete an analysis. Compare the expected behaviors and the observed behaviors against one another and underline the observed behaviors that do not match the expected behaviors. For each observed behavior that doesn’t match an expected behavior, check to see if the observed behavior is legitimately a behavior that leads to the goal/value espoused. Perhaps the observed behavior is just something that we missed when we did our brainstorm of expected behaviors? A proper analysis includes asking a key question, “Will observed behavior ‘x’ lead to espoused value/goal ‘y?’” If the answer is “no,” for the first espoused value/goal, then repeat this procedure for the rest of the espoused values/goals. If the answer is “no” for all espoused values/goals, then we can reasonably conclude that the observed behavior was unnecessary for our espoused values/goals.

Additionally, it’s important to ask the question, “Why would a reasonable person in this role conduct the ‘observed behavior?’” The answer to this question usually surfaces an unspoken assumption. The unspoken assumptions, listed in the next column, are what we call “Uncovered Assumptions.” Once all unmatched observed behaviors are analyzed individually, then we can analyze all the unmatched observed behaviors and uncovered assumptions as a whole and look for commonalities between them.

If you ask the question, “What do these assumptions indicate?” the answer will typically provide the mindset or values that underlie the decisions made. Often a group of assumptions, when looked at as a whole, indicate a pattern of thinking and a viewing of the world that is often unspoken. Nevertheless, unspoken mindsets and paradigms often dictate assumptions and drive our actions and behavior. Hence, it is often helpful to indicate those mindsets and paradigms so that the organization has the skill to confront these ideas. Thus, the answer to the question of, “What do these assumptions indicate?” is placed in a column entitled, “Underlying Values & Principles.”

The values, principles, mindsets, and paradigms are the basis for an organization’s culture. Ed Shein, the renowned professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who studies organization management, defines organizational culture this way. “The term ‘Organizational Culture’ refers to the values, beliefs, principles, and ideologies as well as policies followed by an organization from within its culture. It is the culture of the workplace heavily influencing the way individuals interact with each other and behave with people outside the company.” (ref. Edgar Schein Model of Organization Culture (managementstudyguide.com) Behavioral change leads to different actions and different actions lead to different results. Better results, over time, leads people to have different beliefs.

John Kotter, the esteemed Harvard Business School Professor and a renowned change expert, introduced an 8 Step Model of Change in his book, “Leading Change.” He developed his change model on the basis research of 100 organizations going through a process of change. The underlying assumption behind Kotter’s change method says that behavioral change must come first before cultural change (i.e. a change of values and belief). (ref. Microsoft Word - Forto, R., Case Study Project.docx (robertforto.com)

In other words, people need proof, from the leader, that the change will work before they will agree to believe in the change. Thus, in order to make lasting change, leaders need to analyze root causes, ensure that a successful potential remedy is created, and implement change on a small scale so that results can be seen. Then, as beliefs build, new values can be installed. Results are the fastest way to bring belief. It takes a while to achieve cultural change because it takes a while to achieve and disseminate results. However, using the acceptance ladder above, one can monitor progress of the cultural change and pull necessary levers to accelerate change.



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