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The Theorists – Edgar H. Schein

There are a number of individuals who throughout the history and emergence of Organization Development have made a significant contribution to both the academic theory and practice of the field of OD.

Edgar Schein in Brief

Edgar H. Schein, a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, is one of the most well known theorists working with organizational culture and is credited with inventing the term ‘corporate culture’.

Schein investigates organizational culture, process consultation, research process, career dynamics, and organization learning and change.  His work shows how individuals can diagnose their own career needs and how managers can diagnose the future of jobs. His research on culture shows how national, organizational, and occupational cultures influence organizational performance and he has also analyized how consultants work on problems in human systems and the dynamics of the helping process.

Schein defined culture as:

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems”.

Schein developed a model to explain the basic elements of cultures. The model can be used to analyse all kinds of cultures including corporate and national culture and presumes that cultures can be explained and understood by looking at the core values and assumptions of a given culture. Core values will shape the visible elements, defined as espoused values and artifacts within cultures such as behaviours, expected behaviours, dress codes etc.

Edgar Schein – Life and Times

Edgar Schein distinguished himself with degrees from Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago before he developed an impressive body of work in the field of organizational management.

  • 1928 – Born in Zurich
  • 1949 – Awarded Master’s Degree, Psychology, Standford University
  • 1952 – Awarded Ph.D Social Psychology Harvard University
  • 1959 – Publishes Brainwashing and Totalitarianzation in Modern Society
  • 1969 – Publishes Process Consultation
  • 1980 – Publishes Organizational Psychology
  • 1985 – Publishes Organizational Culture and Leadership
  • 1999 – Publishes Process Consultation Revisited
  • 2000 – Awarded Life Time Achievement in Workplace Learning and Performance of the American Society of Training and Development
  • 2005 – Publishes Procesadvisering
  • 2012 – Publishes Cross-Cultural Management Textbook

Key Contributions

Schein presented key words and provided guideposts to leaders and managers through his writing, teaching and published research. His key words, as well as the theories and research behind them, remain important to students of management and executives of major businesses. Schein took an active role in the organization of major businesses where he was able to prove his theories and models.

Schein’s Corporate Culture model enables leaders to be able to understand cultural elements, and analyse the relationship between deep-rooted assumptions and common business practices within the company. Likewise, leaders can try to change the basic assumptions of a given culture, and hence maybe improve the effectiveness of the company. The latter can therefore be seen as a cultural change process, where basic assumptions are sought changed to fit the wanted espoused values and artifacts of a company.

Schein’s career anchors model is one of the most well-known and enduring career management concepts.

 


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