Cultural Ethnography, Schein’s Model

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Cultural Ethnography, Schein’s Model

Introduction: Cingular Wireless is the largest wireless company in the United States. The company boasts the largest voice and data network and over 58 million customers. In 2004, Cingular generated over $32 billion in revenue. Cingular is owned by AT&T Inc. and Bell South. Cingular‟s vision is, “To be the most highly regarded wireless company in the world, with a driving focus around best-in-class sales and service” (Cingular, 2006, p.1). The corporation values customers, integrity, performance, teamwork, and its employees The goal of this study was to reveal the organizational culture of Cingular Wireless at a retail sales location. To help determine the culture, this study focused on what is the nature of work for Cingular Wireless sales consultants, and how do employees identify themselves within the corporation according to Edgar Schein‟s models of organizational culture. To guide this study, several aspects of employment at Cingular were studied including employee daily routines, flexibility, expectations, and the relationships between managers, sales representatives, and customers.

To analyze Cingular, this study will be utilizing Edgar Schein‟s model of organizational cultures. “Edgar Schein is a management scholar and consultant interested in the role of leaders in the development and maintenance of organizational culture” (Miller, 2006, p. 105). Schein (1992) believes that culture can be studied in levels, which are the degrees to which the culture is visible to observers. His three levels include artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions. According to Miller, artifacts are the most obvious in Schein‟s model which consist of the architecture, furniture, technology, dress, written documents, art, forms of address, communication during meets and decision-making styles. (Miller, 2006, p. 107108).

“The problem with artifacts is that they are palpable but hard to decipher accurately. We know how we react to them, but that is not a reliable indicator of how members of the organization react” (Schein, 1990, p. 111-112). The second level of culture Schein recognizes is that of espoused values. Schein‟s espoused values are, “the articulated, publicly announced principles and values that the group claims to be trying to achieve” (Schein, 1992, p. 9). Schein (1990) believes that the values, ideologies, and norms can be found using interviews, questionnaires, and surveys. Schein believes that, “Open-ended interviews can be very useful in getting at this level of how people feel and think” (Schein, 1990, p. 112). The third and most difficult level of culture for observers to witness is that of basic assumptions.

Miller (2006) believes that members of the group can rarely articulate these basic values since they are a natural part of their daily lives, making the basic assumptions even more difficult for observers to see. From Schein‟s models and definitions it is apparent that the Schein views, “culture as a complex pattern of assumptions, values, behaviors, and artifacts” (Miller, 2006, p. 111). Schein (1990) believes that through intense observation and the involvement of motivated employees usually unconscious assumptions and perceptions can be discovered about the organizations culture. Schein states, “Working with motivated insiders is essential because only they can bring to the surface their own underlying assumptions and articulate how they basically perceive the world around them” (Schein, 1990, p. 112).

In addition to these three basic levels this study will also utilize the ten major categories Schein uses to help define an organization‟s culture. These will include (Schein, 1992).: 1. Observed behavioral regularities when people interact 2. Group Norms 3. Espoused values 4. Formal philosophy 5. Rules of the Game 6. Climate 7. Embedded skills 8. Habits of thinking, mental models, and/or linguistic paradigms 9. Shared meanings 10. “Root metaphors” or integrating symbols Although Schein‟s models are widely applied and studied, areas of disagreement with his methods include how much time is actually required to reveal the levels of an organization‟s culture. How many participants are needed to properly assess the culture, and if bias affects the review of an organization also can all hinder the accuracy of a study based off of Schein‟s model.

To conduct this study eight of Schein‟s ten major categories were incorporated. The first, observed behavioral regularities are the languages, rituals, traditions and routines of employees. The second category is espoused values which are publicly known goals of the group. The third category is the formal philosophy which is company policies and interactions with customers. The fourth category will be the rules of the game which are the things new employees must learn to fit in. Embedded skills and shared meanings will be the fifth and sixth categories incorporated into this study. These are the necessary skills to do the job and how the employees have similar meanings for certain things.

Finally, the basic assumptions will be the eighth category incorporated into the study of the organizational culture of Cingular Wireless. (Schein, 1992) Methodology: To discover how Cingular fits into Schein‟s categories of organizational culture a method f participant observation will be used including observing daily routines, employee interactions amongst themselves and customers, and participating as a member of the Cingular staff at a retail store location. This ethnographic approach is influenced by an article Esteban, Hirt and McGuire. The article incorporated Schein‟s model in a study on “The Work Life of Student Service Professionals at Rural Community Colleges. The article was helpful in the organization of this study as well as an example of different methods of conducting the study itself. (Esteban, 2003).

Applying Schein‟s Model To Cingular Wireless-7 For this study, information from Cingular Wireless was collected including orientation information, employee handbooks, daily forms and corporate publications. In addition, the company owned retail store at Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie, Maryland was extensively observed and studied. The store has a manager, three full-time employees, and one part-time employee that were interviewed as well. These methods are being used because they will provide a window for gaining insight into the culture of Cingular Wireless. These methods will reveal the way the organizational culture is shaped by the management, employees, and corporate headquarters. The methods are better than others in this situation because it will allow the study to examine a variety of aspects rather than only one or two. Participants: Jason Celani, 34, has been the manager of the Marley Station store since its opening in the fall of 2005.

Celani was a former AT&T employee and has been in the wireless industry for about 8 years. His job consists of scheduling staff, ordering products, conducting inventory checks, reporting to a regional manager, conducting weekly meetings, and attending training sessions. Jason loves technology and enjoys reading about new products in his spare time. (J. Celani, Personal Communication, 11/06/2006). Tracy Corcoran, 39, is a full-time employee that has been in the wireless industry for 6 years. Previously Corcoran was also an AT&T employee. He is the senior sales representative at the Marley Station store and is not very interested in new technology.

Tracy is hoping to get out of the wireless industry within the next few years. (T. Corcoran, Personal Communcation, 10/28/2006). Is a part-time college student that has been working at the Marley Station store since March 2006. She enjoys having the newest phone on the market and loves being able to get her email wherever she goes. She has no previous experience in the wireless industry. (L. Andes-Miller, Personal Communication, 10/27/2006). Chuck Payne is the newest full-time employee at the store. Payne is 20 years old and a former radio broadcaster for a gospel station in the Washington D.C. area. Payne has never worked in the wireless industry but also enjoys getting new phones when they come out. Payne began his employment in late July of 2006. (C. Payne, Personal Communication, 11/01/2006). Alejandro Quant is the only part-time employee observed and interviewed at the Marley Station store. Quant, 21, is a full-time student at the University of Maryland.

Quant is valuable to the location because of previous job experience with T Mobile, another wireless provider and also because he is bilingual. He speaks both Spanish and English. (A. Quant, Personal Communication, 11/05/2006). The participants were all observed and interviewed and the way in which they interacted was noted. They were asked about likes and dislikes, daily operations, and if they saw a future within the company. This study was conducted at the Cingular Wireless at Marley Station by a parttime employee that has been with the company since June 2006. As an embedded observer internal access to the organizational culture of the Cingular store was gained. The research for this ethnography also benefited because as an employee the basic workings of the company was easily accessible, the other employees are not uncomfortable interacting with me, and access to internal documents and meetings was possible.

The goals of this ethnography are to gain a better understanding of the basic assumptions of the organization. The representatives studied work long hours and they have a good grasp on the organizational culture of Cingular. To bracket avoid bias in this study observations and interviews were conducted off the clock. Time was spent observing the employees out on the sales floor and also via the security cameras located in the office. Also to avoid bias, interviews were conducted outside of the work environment at local restaurants. They were not conducted during or after scheduled shifts. Materials: A variety of materials and sources will be used to support this study.

This will include orientation and training documents, internal employee handbooks, external documents, interviews with employees, and on site observations. Analysis of Data: To analyze the data collected in the study of Cingular Wireless at Marley Station Mall this portion will be organized according to eight of Schein‟s categories utilized for this study. They will be supported using internal and external documents, observations, and employee interviews. Artifacts: The Marley Station Cingular store had a plethora of easily observable artifacts. The most apparent was the colors and logo of Cingular all over the store. There was no furniture and a very linear floor pan.

In general all of the staff members said that they disliked the floor plan because standing all day got tiring and it was hard to maneuver around the store when it got crowded because it was small and the counter‟s linear design made it impossible to get around each other. The colors of orange and blue were on most signs and popular slogans such as “raising the bar,” “roll over minutes,” and “All over network” were visible all over the store. The floor plan pushed what Cingular refers to as its advantages over other wireless carriers. Cingular shirts and name tags were the next most obvious artifact. All of the employees wear Cingular branded shirts and a name tag on the right hand side.

Cingular has a contract with Lands End clothing company to customize what the company refers to as its “Team Colors.” (See Appendix A) Each employee is allowed $125 for their spring wardrobe and $175 for their fall and winter uniforms. Specific vocabulary and language is very obvious at the store. Celani often sends text-messages to all of his employees at the end of the business day and he refers to them collectively as “team.” When a representative has customers come in, they are referred to as an “opportunity,” and extras that can be added onto a calling plan are referred to as a “bolt-on” (J. Celani, Personal Communication, 11/01/2006). Cingular boasts that it has the largest product variety in the wireless industry. The store itself has a large amount of products on the wall which are referred to as „live.‟ This means that the phones are in working condition and the customers can try them out in the stores. “At dealers the phones on the walls are dummies, customers can‟t try them out” said Andes-Miller (L. Andes-Miller, Personal Communication, 10/27/2006).

There is a large amount of documentation conducted at Cingular Wireless stores. Every morning a form titled “Non-Negotiable Standards” is filled out by employees. (See Appendix B) This is a check list of standards such as cleanliness, work attire, and merchandise that is to be completed before the store opens. “The non-negotiables are like getting a cup of coffee in the morning, we all are used to doing them,” said Corcoran (T.Corcoran, Personal Communication, (10/28/2006). Every time a representative makes a sale or adds on to a customers account they are also required to mark it on the “Daily Sales Record” sheet. (See Appendix C) Observed Behavioral Regularities: Cingular has what they refer to as a six step sales process. (See Appendix D) Each employee is introduced to this on their first day of new-hire training, which is a program that introduces new employees to the Cingular way of selling.

According to this process each customer is to be greeted within 10 feet/10 seconds of entering the store. The representatives at the Marley Station store do this without thinking. Also included in this process is building value for the customer, offering solutions, asking for the sale, educating the customer, and thanking the customer. In addition to a set sales process each representative knows to sell what is referred to as “The Cingular Advantage.” (See Appendix D) All of the representatives are required to have skills on a computer system called Opus. This is the computer system which allows the representatives access, create, and change accounts. “Opus is much easier to use than past systems,” said veteran employee Corcoran, “It freezes but we all know how to deal with it. Each of us uses the same system and procedures every day to work on and verify accounts” (T. Corcoran, Personal Communication, 10/28/2006).

Every employee realizes that they must attend a meeting every Friday morning before the store opens. At this meeting the floor plan is discussed, scheduling is worked out, and any other issues are brought up. The communication between the employees and the managers is very informal. Everyone has a chance to speak and the staff knows that once all business is completed they will go out to breakfast. It is very obvious that Cingular‟s first level of organizational culture, the artifacts, is prevalent through out the store. Employees have a common vocabulary specific to their work, they have uniforms, a system for selling and a store that advertises what the company is all about, being the best wireless provider.

Espoused Values: The team at the Marley Station Cingular store is constantly striving to achieve goals which are advertised by the wireless company. While working with customers the sales representatives know that they need to promote the Cingular Advantages. The Cingular Advantages include the best technology, great value, best products and services, newest handsets, and the most convenient services. (See Appendix D) “Orientation and training pounds these ideas into our heads from the first day we have our jobs,” said Quant. “Cingular has high standards that we all must uphold” (A. Quant, Personal Communication, 11/05/2006). To ensure that the representatives uphold the values of the company Cingular sends out mystery shoppers to each store at least once a month to make sure that the representatives are selling in accordance to Cingular policy. The mystery shoppers have a checklist and grade the representatives. (See Appendix E)

The company also makes what it values available to the general public. On its website Cingular lists its goals and core values, as well as their definitions and what the values mean to the company. (See Appendix F) Basic Assumptions: The basic assumptions and values of Cingular wireless are hard to observe as both an outsider and as an employee initially. After extensive observation, job experience, and interviews there are some basic assumptions that surface. The first is that the organization values employees that are „hungry.‟ If it is a slow day at the store employees print out flyers and distribute them to local business or make calls to customers asking how their service is going in hopes of adding onto their plans. These behaviors are highly praised by the manager of the store for being innovative and going above and beyond the job description.

An example of this is employees distributing flyers outside of their scheduled hours for events such as “Friends and Family Day,” which gives customers extra discounts for coming in on designated dates. (See Appendix G) Unlike many full-time workers that have benefits the employees of the Marley Station store expect to work nights and weekends. If an employee begins to gripe about working these hours the other employees tend to remind them that that is just the way things are. Finally, all employees seem to understand that they are expendable by the company and do not question quotas, paperwork, or seemingly superfluous procedures that waste time and do not make sense. New employees tend to learn quickly the way are and solutions that have been turned into operational policies. All staff members know to let a customer know that not all phone numbers may be successfully transferred when they upgrade their phone but they will do their best.

Very rarely are numbers unable to be transferred but employees know the steps necessary to cover themselves in case rare things actually happen. “I didn‟t understand half the stuff when I started working here, I thought that Friday morning meetings were stupid, and I did not want to be here at 9am on Saturdays. Now I just how things are, I didn‟t realize that those things were a part of Cingular‟s culture. I didn‟t even know Cingular had a culture, but I guess that makes sense,” said Payne (C. Payne, Personal Communication, 11/01/2006). Conclusion: This study tried to examine the organizational culture of Cingular Wireless in relation to Schein‟s model and his levels of artifacts, espoused values, and basic assumptions.

The study would have been improved if there was an employee in the process of leaving the company that an exit interview could have been conducted on. This would have benefited the study because it would probably have uncovered some downfalls of the culture of Cingular. The next step and question in this study would have been to compare the employee experiences at the Marley Station Mall store to employees at a stand-alone store or at a kiosk to see if their experiences were any different. Finally, the implication of this study on later discussions of the corporation is that this study provides a solid base for a person trying to research this wireless provider in the Washington D.C./Baltimore market.


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  • Date: 20 November 2016

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