Many companies pride themselves on having a great corporate culture. Promoting a “unique culture” is consistently used as both a marketing and recruiting tool to make the organization seem attractive. While the term “culture” is used loosely by countless companies, many have difficulty defining what their culture really is.
The textbook definition of corporate culture is “the pervasive values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices.” Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Then why do companies have such a hard time defining what makes their culture distinctive? What makes a culture?
A company’s values are at the core of its culture. Values offer a set of guidelines and behaviours that are used to guide the company’s mission and vision, shape a company’s business direction, and gives a framework to daily decision-making in areas such as hiring, staff management, customer service, branding, etc. Typically, corporate values mirror the values set forth by the company’s leadership team. In the case of family-run businesses, their values may be based on loyalty, commitment, and synergy. High-tech companies, on the other hand, are likely to pride themselves on innovation, creativity and forward-thinking. Google’s values, for example, are best articulated by their famous phrase, “Don’t be evil.”
While many companies look to stand out, the originality of values is less important since they are truly different for every organization, depending on their size, industry, sector of activity, location and service. The importance is to focus on the core values that you feel truly represent the company and the way that you wish to do business. The values should be easy to remember and therefore limited in number to only those that you feel are most important (some experts believe that if the company has more than 3 core values they need to go back to the drawing board).
These values then need to be prominently communicated as they set the framework for the way the company will choose to treat its employees and clients and how it will choose to do business. As such, the goal is for corporate values to become shared values, whereby all employees, from top to bottom, share the same values and beliefs.
No culture is complete without having employees who embrace all the same values. People create a culture by fabricating and living the values of the company. This is why a company’s recruitment practices are most often based on choosing employee who not only have the right skills required for the position, but are best suited to their particular corporate culture. After all, it’s all about fit!
One study from Monster.com found that applicants who were a culture fit would accept a 7% lower salary, and companies who have a strong cultural alignment between departments had 30% less turnover. Generally, people gravitate towards cultures and values that they like and believe in. In turn, the people make the culture!
We can’t underestimate the importance of a company’s physical environment when defining its culture. How is the office space? Are they primarily closed offices, cubicles, is it an open-concept? Is the office in a downtown location, or in a remote area? Does it represent the values of the organization? All these factors need to be considered since the place (whether geographically, architecturally, or conceptually speaking) influences the behaviors of people in a workplace. For example, an open spaced style of architecture is more conducive for a collaborative or creative type of behaviour. On the other hand, it might be preferable for an accounting office to have closed offices which foster concentration and achievement. When considering to change the corporate culture, and align it with core values, one of the easiest things to change would be the physical space. There is no doubt that is has a direct impact on how people interact with and influence one another. For example, moving from a closed cubicle environment to a more open-concept would force employees to gravitate towards a more collaborative, participative, fun and friendly atmosphere. This, in turn, may change or redefine the culture of the company.
There is no doubt that a company’s corporate culture is a myriad of different components- whether it be the core values, the people or the space, but the culture indisputably starts at the top with the leadership team, and cascades down the employees. Culture is something that is unique to one organization, cannot be faked and that is developed over time.
So when people ask “can you define your corporate culture?” what will YOU say?