There are several models that seek to explain the principles underpinning organisational culture, but the most well-known are the theories developed by Handy, Schein and Hofstede. HR can use these workplace culture models to help define, shape or influence the culture of their organisation.
What is Handy’s model of organisational culture?
Handy’s model of organisational culture was developed by Charles Handy, an Irish author and philosopher who specialised in organisational culture, behaviour and management, and Roger Harrison, a professor of occupational psychology. The model was first published in Handy’s book, Understanding organisations, in 1976, but the theory remains relevant today.
According to Handy’s model, there are four company culture types:
1. Power culture
In organisations with a power culture, the responsibility for making major decisions sits with very few or a single individual – usually a leader or business owner. These individuals have a high level of control over the organisation’s activities.
Such organisations have a flat structure. Employees follow instructions and receive work from above. This type of workplace culture can often be seen in small businesses where the founder remains in control.
2. Task culture
Organisations with a task culture are focused on completing specific tasks and projects. People with appropriate skills, interests and resources come together to work on a project as a team. The result of the team’s work takes precedence over individual objectives, and influence is based more on expertise than position or seniority. Although managers can allocate projects and resources they have little day-to-day control over tasks. This type of organisational culture is often seen in organisations with project-based work, such as design and advertising agencies.
3. Person culture
Companies that fall into this category of organisational culture theory have very little structure and management. Individuals work independently and the organisation only exists to support them or further their interests, by sharing resources such as the building they work in or the IT infrastructure they use, for example. Individuals are more likely to focus on their own careers over the needs of the wider organisation.
Hierarchies are unlikely to exist in these organisations. Examples of where this type of culture may be seen include GP surgeries, law firms and some universities.
4. Role culture
Organisations with a role culture have clear procedures and hierarchies, and individuals know where they sit within that structure. Employees are assigned roles and responsibilities according to their skills, qualifications, interests and specialisms As an individual works their way up the career ladder, they gain more power. There is usually a clear career path in these workplaces.
This is one of the most common workplace culture types in larger organisations.
What is Edgar Schein’s model of organisational culture?
Edgar Schein is a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and spent most of his career looking at organisational culture and development.
Schein argued that culture doesn’t develop overnight; the organisation undergoes various changes and employees learn from past experiences, and employees’ attitudes form the overall workplace culture.
The Schein model of organisational culture was developed in the 1980s. It has three levels that show how different facets of culture are influenced, often illustrated by a pyramid. These levels are:
These are the characteristics of the organisation that are easily seen, heard and experienced, such as dress codes, job titles, office furniture, facilities and behaviours. Artefacts are at the top of Schein’s organisational culture pyramid, which suggests they may give minimal insight into what an organisation is like, and won’t achieve significant cultural change if they are altered.
2. Espoused values
These are the things that employees and the employer say about the organisation, such as a values statement or mission statement, employee charter, or how employees say they behave. Looking at these offers some, but not a significant amount, of insight into an organisation’s culture.
3. Assumptions/underlying beliefs
These are the beliefs that employees keep hidden, and give a deeper insight into organisational culture. These are the values that cannot be measured; for example, an understanding that remote working is allowed, but a belief that they must be present in the office in order to get ahead. Certain practices that arise from these values are followed but are usually not discussed. This sits at the bottom of Schein’s pyramid.
What is Hofstede’s model of organisational culture?
Geert Hofstede was a Dutch social psychologist and professor of Organisational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. His model proposed that societal values influence the culture of an organisation and the behaviour of its employees.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory suggests there are six factors that influence organisational culture:
1. Power distance index
This refers to the degree to which less powerful members of the organisation accept that power is distributed unequally. Where there is a large degree of power distance, people generally accept there is a hierarchical culture, but where there is a low power distance, people demand justification for inequalities in power.
2. Masculinity v femininity
This concerns what values are considered more important. ‘Masculine’ values include achievement, heroism, competition, and assertiveness, while ‘feminine’ values include cooperation, modesty, consensus, and overall quality of life.
3. Individualism v collectivism
This dimension relates to how an organisation treats individual versus group interests. Those with a culture geared towards individualism expect individuals to take care of only themselves, while collectivism focuses on collaboration and looking after others.
4. Uncertainty avoidance index
This refers to how comfortable employees feel about uncertainty and ambiguity and whether the organisation should try to control the future or see what happens. Those that rank highly on the index maintain strict codes of conduct and are less likely to tolerate unconventional ideas or behaviours.
5. Long-term orientation v short-term orientation
Organisations with a long-term orientation behave in ways that help facilitate future rewards, while those on the short-term end of the spectrum prefer to maintain culture and view change with suspicion.
6. Indulgence v restraint
This dimension was added to Hofstede’s model in 2010. Organisations with indulgent cultures focus more on individual happiness, needs, leisure and wellbeing, while those with restrained cultures are less likely to exhibit these, and emotions are less freely expressed.