BY: ED GIGANTI
Ed Giganti is senior director, leadership development, the Catholic Health
Association, St. Louis.
Edgar Schein is widely known as the founding father of the
study of corporate culture. Today an emeritus professor at the
Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
in Cambridge, Schein has consulted throughout his career with
a wide variety of corporate clients, including Procter &
Gamble, General Foods, IBM, General Electric, Ciba-Geigy, and
Kaiser Permanente. He is the author of numerous articles and
books, including Organizational Culture and Leadership (Jossey-Bass,
1992) and The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (Jossey-Bass,
I was thrilled this past June when, at CHA's invitation, Schein met with a
group of system mission and leadership development executives from Catholic
health care. During a rich, 90-minute dialogue, he broadened our thinking about
the serious business of organizational culture.
Schein began by giving us his definition of "culture."
Ultimately, [he said] culture is what a group learns throughout its history,
and that covers all its learning. It is what the group learns about how it relates
to its external environment, as well as internally, with one another. Everything
we come to think of as norms, rituals, and so on, all come from someplace. They
are the product of learning. So the quickest way to try to identify your group's
culture is to ask yourselves what you, as a group, have learned that has worked,
both in terms of getting your job done and in terms of how you relate internally.
Culture is an abstract concept, however. Schein believes that "we need a way
of talking about it that enables us to get at it," to make it more concrete.
He begins by looking at the "artifacts" of culture, "the visible, hear-able,
feel-able ways in which the group displays itself." These artifacts, he said,
"might include the architecture of the buildings or the formality or informality
you see among members of the group. The problem is, you can see or feel these
artifacts, but you don't know how to interpret them. You don't know what's behind
One will, when asking the members of an organization about its artifacts,
often be given explanations of what the group values, Schein said. Such explanations
deliver the "espoused values," he noted. "But even after you have witnessed
the artifacts and heard about the espoused values, you still can't quite explain
what's going on in a place," he said.
"Sometimes you notice discrepancies between the surface artifacts and the
espoused values," he continued. "For example, you might find some declaration
about teamwork in an organization's espoused values. Then you look around and
notice that the organization's career system is very individualistic and that
pay scales are individually based."
Conflicts between artifacts and espoused values often turn up a third dimension
of corporate culture, Schein said. This dimension is composed by "the tacit,
shared, taken-for-granted assumptions . . . what really drives day-to-day behavior."
Assumptions get built up from three sources, Schein said:
- The values, attitudes, and beliefs of the organization's founder(s)
- The reference group, community, country, and/or occupation that shaped
the founder(s) values, attitudes, and beliefs
- The actual experience of the group or organization as it evolves; its practical
conclusions about what does and doesn't work
"Think about how ridiculous it is for a manager to say, 'I'm going to create
a culture,'" Schein said. "You can't do that. A culture is derivative of a lot
of experience. What a manager can do is say, 'I don't like the way we're
working here. I am introducing some new values.' And if the behaviors that flow
from those values actually produce better results, and if the group feels comfortable
doing that, then culture eventually gets built up."
Corporate and Local Cultures
Because the conversation involved mission and leadership development executives
from health care systems, it soon turned to the problem of balancing corporate
and local cultures in multi-institutional systems.
"Having a system culture often seems like the right way to go because then
you are all operating from the same page, the same values and assumptions,"
Schein said. "But if you have subunits — like the facilities of a health system — the
first thing to do is to examine the primary tasks of each subunit. Only when
you thoroughly understand the subunits as subcultures should you ask yourself
what would be the pros and cons of imposing a new set of values on the whole
lot of them for consistency."
It may appear on the surface that the different parts of your organization
are doing the same things, but Schein warned participants to critically analyze
the tasks of the parts. "Allow for the possibility that at some level they are
doing different things that require different values." The best way to embed
corporate values as nonnegotiable across a system is to engage the system's
subunits in dialogue about how they can individually enact the values, Schein
said. "Have the different parts of the system invent ways, and some of those
ways may be useful to other parts of the system. But [the subunits] won't change
and adapt corporate values until they get involved in inventing their own ways
of doing things. Management can set the goals, but the person who has to make
the changes has to be involved in the learning process to get to those goals."
In a ministry that is also a business, values often conflict. How can a culture
navigate those conflicts?
What would happen if you said that your conflicting values — for example, economic
efficiency and care for the poor — are both non-negotiable, [that] neither one
can be allowed to erode? [Schein asked] You say to yourself, "Now we can invent
a way of running things that will keep both values alive." You go to a higher
order: "We are not going to compromise what we feel deeply about, and that may
involve whole new ways of delivering health care, or building buildings, or
whatever. The important thing is not to give up on the values."
Having spent his career in academia, Schein recognizes the complexity of multidimensional
organizations such as universities and hospitals. "I think business schools
and consultants haven't given enough attention to what we can learn from universities
and hospitals and other multipurpose systems like them, because we have gone
too far looking at business management systems," he said. "We think that because
[business systems] can make a profit, they must have it right. But the point
is that they have a clearer and much more limited set of primary tasks than
hospitals or universities [do]. Anyone who can manage the diverse tasks of hospitals
(or universities) is a genius. I'm immensely sympathetic."
In addition to the dialogue with Schein, the meeting featured presentations
by three other participants. Jack Salvadore, system director, organizational
development, Christus Health, Houston, TX, described his system's Christus Academy
for developing leaders for the future.
Sr. Jane Madejczyk, OSF, senior vice president, mission services, Wheaton
Franciscan Services, Wheaton, IL, presented the values-based behaviors that
her system has articulated and is incorporating into performance management
and development systems.
Peter Giammalvo, director, leadership formation, Catholic Health East (CHE),
Newtown Square, PA, described his system's leadership development initiatives
and shared copies of the "Guide for Interviewing and Selection" recently implemented
CHA is grateful to all three for their willingness to be part of the program.
Besides being informational, these three presentations stimulated the sharing
of successful practices among all the participants.
Attendees told us they were very satisfied with this opportunity for idea
exchange with their ministry colleagues and for dialogue with a leading thought
leader in organizational development. Given participants' positive evaluations
of the meeting and their requests for others like it, CHA has decided to plan
a similar convening in 2003.
Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.