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What is Corporate Culture?

What is Corporate Culture?

Posted on June 26, 2018 by Jonathan Mills

When I tell someone that I consult on corporate culture, the first question they ask is, “What is corporate culture?” To be fair, this subject is nebulous and broad; but understanding its meaning is critical to managing what is ultimately an extremely powerful force in your organization. So, I answer in one of two ways:

  1. Corporate culture is “the way things are around here.” It is that sense of expectation for the way work-life is experienced. When you go to work on Monday, what do you assume will happen? How do you expect to feel? How will you interact with others?
  2. Corporate culture is your company values expressed in day-to-day work-life. These are the ground-floor, authentic beliefs and paradigms created by your daily practices. They are not the high-level corporate values from your website, although healthy organizations can draw a line between their corporate values and their culture.

The reason this subject is so critical is that an employee’s work-life has a dramatic impact on their effectiveness and on their personal health. People need healthy experiences to be productive. Anything else is a substitute that results in despair and disillusionment.

Highly successful firms have discovered the importance of fostering their culture as a core competency, treating it as a strategic necessity. For these firms, team and customer interactions are shaped by their core values (e.g., integrity, civility, creativity, cooperation, trust); and employees demonstrate values-aligned behaviors that help them deliver top-quality products and services. They might also enjoy any of the following benefits:

  • Reduced collective uncertainty: Employees hold a common understanding and expectation for change.
  • Social order: Expectations are clear, understood, and communicated.
  • Continuity: Values and norms are maintained from one generation of employees to the next.
  • Collective identity and commitment: Loyalty and a sense of family are fostered.
  • Vision for the future: Employees feel inspired and motivated to move the organization forward.
  • Employee morale: Happy employees produce and serve with excellence.
  • Commitment: Employees finish their projects with excellence.
  • Productivity: Even unassigned employees are never idle.
  • Physical health: Low health costs and low levels of absenteeism.
  • Emotional well-being: Reduced risk of burnout.

The consequences for overlooking culture are also worth considering. One such consequence is workplace aggression, which manifests in the absence of modeled core values. Groupthink reinforces this behavior, making change difficult. It manifests itself as passive-aggressive behavior like the intentional missing of deadlines, the production of sub-par work, or being absent or late for meetings. Overt expressions occur in the form of workplace bullying, public criticism, gossip, or being generally pushy and uncooperative. These issues occur far more often than most would like to know and in many forms. If you are in a leadership position, you should take a close look at your employee work-life, because workplace aggression isn’t always obvious.

In 2011, Monster posed the question, “Have you ever been bullied at work?” and received 16,517 responses (click here):
“A surprising two-thirds of respondents admit to having been victims of workplace bullying and about half of the employees that have not been bullied directly have witnessed it.”

Corporate culture is a lynchpin for your company’s success. If you don’t have a good grasp on what it is, then spend some time learning to understand it. You can also reach out to Corporate Culture Specialist for guidance and training. Our mission is to elevate this subject to a higher level of visibility, helping organizations think strategically to make work-life culture a powerful competitive edge.

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