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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 11 July 2007
I first read Organizational Culture and Leadership more than a decade ago and recently re-read it after reading Organizational Development, edited by Joan V. Gallos and to which Edgar H. Schein provided the Foreword ("Observations on the State of Organization Development") and to which he contributed two articles, "Facilitate Process Interventions: Task Processes in Groups" and "So How Can You Assess Your Corporate Culture?" As Schein notes in the Foreword, the core of organization development (OD) has a number of elements that include "a concern with process, a focus on change, and an implicit as well as explicit concern for organizational effectiveness." I know of no one who has made more and more valuable contributions to the field of OD than has Schein. He is OD's pre-eminent knowledge leader.

He organizes the material in Organizational Culture and Leadership within three Parts:

Organizational Culture and Leadership Defined

Excerpt: "When one brings culture to the level of an organization and even down to groups within the organization, one can see clearly how culture is created, embedded, evolved, and ultimately manipulated, and, at the same time, how culture constrains, stabilizes, and provides structure and meaning to the group members. These dynamic processes of culture creation and management are the essence of leadership and make one realize that leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin...Leadership [must possess the ability and willingness] to step outside the culture that created the leader and start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive. This ability to perceive the limitations of one's own culture and to evolve the culture adaptively is the essence and ultimate challenge of leadership." (Page 2)

Comment: I am again reminded of James O'Toole's apt characterization of a common barrier to change, "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." This is precisely what Jack Welch encountered after he Reginald Jones selected him to be the next CEO of GE. Jones urged him to "blow up" the organization. Schein's point is that although a culture may define leadership, there are situations in which a CEO must re-define the terms and conditions of the leadership needed if the culture itself is to be transformed, as was GE's and as was IBM's after Lou Gerstner became its CEO.

The Dimensions of Culture

Excerpt: "If culture consists of shared basic assumptions, we still need to specify: assumptions about what? The concept of organizational or occupational cultures reflects the ultimate problems that every group faces: dealing with its external environment...Culture is pervasive and ultimately embraces everything that a group is concerned about and must deal with. Beyond these external and internal problems, cultural assumptions reflect deeper issues about the nature of truth, time, space, human nature, and human relationships." (Page 85)

Comment: Here again, Schein stresses the importance of determining with meticulous care what a given culture's shared assumptions are, and then subjecting each to rigorous scrutiny. One of several reasons why so many organizations struggle (with mixed results) to deal with their external environment is the fact that their perspective is limited, if not myopic. Whatever organizational development these organizations achieve is by nature internal only and therefore self-limiting. Henry Chesbrough has much of value to say about open business business models, those that "create value by leveraging many more ideas, due to their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. Open models can also enable greater value capture, by using a key asset, resource, or position not only in the company's own business model but also in other companies businesses."

The Leadership Role in Culture Building, Embedding, and Evolving

Excerpt: "To fully understand the relationship of leadership to culture, we also have to take a developmental view of organizational growth. [Schein covers] the role of leadership in beginning the formation of an organizational culture in Chapter Twelve...[He then describes in Chapter Fifteen] ten different mechanisms or processes that cause cultures to change, and [points out] the role that leaders can and should play in using these processes to skew cultural evolution to their purposes. All of these are natural processes that should be distinguished from what [he calls] managed change, the process by which leaders set out to solve specific organizational problems that may or may not involve cultural elements." (Pages 223-224)

Comment: In the aforementioned Foreword to Organizational Development, Schein suggests that process "is as important as content, and sometimes more important." When identifying and then discussing ten culture change mechanisms in Chapter Fifteen, the focus is indeed on process and Schein notes that the role of the leader in "managing" culture differs at different stages of organizational evolution. For example, during an organization's Founding and Early Growth stage, the main cultural thrust comes from the founders and their assumptions. Hence the appropriateness of incremental change through general and specific evolution, insight, and promotion of "hybrids" within the given culture. Midlife and Maturity/Decline require different culture change mechanisms. Obviously, each stage also has different leadership requirements.

I provide these brief excerpts as well as comments of my own to assist those who read this review to gain at least a sense of the nature and extent of Schein's coverage of an admittedly complicated, indeed formidable challenge: how to get leadership in proper alignment with organizational development to achieve and then sustain an appropriate environment by taking into full account elements that include "a concern with process, a focus on change, and an implicit as well as explicit concern for organizational effectiveness."

What Edgar H. Schein offers is a brilliant achievement.
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on 28 December 2010
Classic text updated into short readable chapters. Other writers are more complex and perhaps more current, but in the field of culture and leadership there are only so many variations on a theme and Schein had it covered!
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on 16 October 2013
Rather dated now, relies way too much on old data (I remember DEC but none of my students will) and pretty much exclusively uses American case studies. Too anecdotal and doesn't reflect sufficient academic rigour.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 June 2007
This classic work by Edgar H. Schein is one of the most important books ever written about organizational culture. Schein, who coined the phrase "organizational culture," offers a comprehensive analysis of the subject in a style refreshingly unburdened by sociological jargon. He has organized the book logically into three units: he defines culture; explains cultural assumptions; and discusses the role of leaders in forming, transmitting and changing organizational cultures. He offers a good overview of the most important and relevant research in the field, but keeps his discussion focused and practical, with numerous references to real-world cases. We recommend this as an indispensable work for students of sociology and organizations. Managers looking for the essential information about organizational culture between the covers of one book need seek no further.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 30 May 2013
This is the Fourth Edition of a "business classic" that was first published in 1985. I am always curious to know how a book with a 400-page narrative is organized. In Part I, Schein defines and describes culture as a structural concept; in Part II, he focuses on the content of culture and the process of deciphering assumptions; in Part III, he describes and explains various mechanisms and processes by which culture changes, noting that change in organizational midlife "is primarily a matter of deliberately taking advantage of the diversity that the growth of subcultures makes possible"; in Part IV, he shifts his attention to "the difficult question of how to change culture when the normal evolutionary processes are not working or are too slow; and then in Part V, he shifts his attention again to "many new kinds of work units such as multicultural task forces, v ventures and partnerships, and v networks. These new kinds of organizations will require a different kind of culture management because they will be [begin italics] multi [end italics] cultural. There will also be muticultural challenges that must be met with effective multicultural leadership.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of Schein's coverage.

o Five Examples of How Culture Helps to Illuminate Organizational Situations (Pages 9-11)
o Culture Formally Defined, and Culture Content (18-19)
o Basic Underlying Assumptions (27-32)
o Three Generic Subcultures: Operating, Engineering/Design, and Executive (57-67)
o Shared Assumptions About Mission, Strategy, and Goals (74-85)
o Creating a Common Language and Conceptual Categories, and, Defining Group Boundaries and Identity (93-100)
o Levels of Reality (117-119)
o Subculture Variations: Planning Time and Development Time (129-130)
o Assumptions About the Nature of Space (135-137)
o Assumptions About Appropriate Human Activity (146-149)
o Basic Characteristics of Role Relationships (152-154)
o Group Formation Through Originating and Marker Events (198-204)
o Culture Beginnings Through Founder/Leader Actions (219-231)
o Transition to Midlife: Problems of Succession (280-283)
o Rapid Deciphering -- A Multistep [Ten Step] Group Process (315-325)

As authors of "classic" business books often do, Schein provides early on (Page 7) the essence of what he will explain in the 21 chapters organized within five Parts: "Culture is an abstraction, yet the forces that are created in social and organizational situations deriving from culture are powerful. If we don't understand the operation of these forces, we become victim to them. Cultural forces are powerful because they operate outside of our awareness. We need to understand them not only because of their power but also because they help to explain many of our puzzling and frustrating experiences in social and organizational life. Most importantly, understanding cultural forces enables us to understand ourselves better." These are among the dimensions of exploration within which Schein guides his reader during a journey of discovery.

He concludes the Fourth Edition this way: "We have examined cultures, microcultures, macrocultures, and subcultures. The details and content of what goes on varies enormously, but the fundamental cultural dynamics are much the same at every level. If we remember that culture is our learned solution to making sense of the world, to stabilizing it, and to avoiding the anxiety that comes with social chaos, then we have taken the first important step toward deeper cultural understanding."

* * *

For those who are curious to know more about the author, here is a brief bio provided by Amazon: "Edgar Henry Schein (born 1928), a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has made a notable mark on the field of organizational development in many areas, including career development, group process consultation, and organizational culture. He is generally credited with inventing the term "corporate culture."

His published works include these three classics: Organizational Psychology, 3rd Edition (1979), Process Consultation: Its Role in Organization Development, Volume 1 (1988), Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship (1998), The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (2009), Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fourth Edition (2010), and most recently, Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2011).
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on 5 December 2011
If, like me, you are a student of corporate communication, you've probably found that Schein's name keeps on cropping up. That makes this book a must-read for gaining insight into one of today's leading organisational culture theorists, who builds on the work of Kurt Lewin.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 February 2013
The book is certainly not something of the one minute variety and is much more an overview of the main scientific theories on the subjects of culture and leadership and their applications, than a specific recommendation on how things are to be done.

In this way it requires a sufficiently cerebral reader, who will actually actively choose the approach most suited to their specific organization, to get the most out of it. But if you are blessed with patience and perseverance the book is a real tour de force.

The author provides a pretty comprehensive overview of theories and aspects of culture and leadership and equips the reader with arguments for / against a specific approach in a given setting, or put differently, a map of settings where the approaches would work best.

While the examples largely come from the author's own prolific consulting experience and include a multitude of organizations, the majority still stems from the two companies where Schein worked most thoroughly - the DEC and Ciba Geigy. As these two are in many ways polar opposites, they work well for illustrating the points made.

As everything is derived from practically first principles, you really get lots of insights into how to identify, explore, understand and finally shape various aspects of culture. This makes the book a useful guide for someone new to an organization (and creating a picture for oneself of it), for someone leading an organization and wanting to change aspects of it, in an M&A context, where companies get merged and acquired (and where the cultural compatibility and the minefields associated therewith are often neglected prior to the deals being struck), etc.

As long as you are not expecting answers to fall at your feet within the first handful of pages, and understand yourself as an active participant in discovering the route and then carrying out the journey, the book makes excellent sense. If you are changing into a different organizational (or national) culture with your next job assignment, it is a blessing to at least be prepared with the right mindset / questions, before embarking on the journey.
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on 11 August 2013
Although Schein has been the thought leader in organisational cultural studies those who know his work will find little that is new. He misses latest developments in cultural studies (e.g. emergence theory), especially those related to how changes in the social world provide newer ways to see culture.
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on 17 August 2011
What I have read so far I really like. The topic is thought provoking and the way Schein has written it makes it easy to get your mind around the sometimes nebulous concept of 'culture'.

His ideas about how culture is made up and the impact you can have on it is really helpful.
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on 15 October 2013
Helped my get a good pass in my MBA assigment on culture. Learnt quite a lot along the way too!
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