If someone asks you to describe your corporate culture, how would you answer? Think about the question and try to answer it before you read any further. It just could turn out to be a major “AHA” moment for you since you will be rewarded as much for “fitting in” as for what you do!

Corporate Culture Defined

All the management gurus and academics agree that corporate culture is fundamentally the personality of an organization. It is the mood, attitude and atmosphere of the organization - the story acted out each day that defines a company. It is powerful, invisible and its effects are far reaching. And it's rarely written down. Whew! So wrapping your mind around your organization's culture will take a little more than reading the Mission Vision Goals posted in the lobby.

Since you're probably wondering, the experts also agree that, while organizational cultures are not inherently good or bad, they ARE strong or weak.

  • Strong cultures exist when employees respond positively to their jobs because of their alignment with corporate values.

  • Weak culltures exist when employee alignment with corporate values is lacking and control has to be exercised through a cumbersome bureaucracy.

Where Does Corporate Culture Come From?

In most organizations, it is created unconsciously and reflects the attitudes, beliefs, values, philosophy and personal style of the founder/owner/CEO of a company. It's the responsibility of managers to ensure it permeates the ranks of the company.

(WalMart does a highly visible job of promoting its corporate culture today and credits founder Sam Walton's values for its success.)

Other factors that influence an organization's culture include the age of the company, its size, the industry of which it is a part, and sometimes even its geographic location. Would Microsoft's entrepreneurial culture work in a decades-old family-run printing business? You get the picture.

What Does the Corporate Culture Mean
For Individual Managers?

Everything! As a manager, the better you understand the organization's culture, the sooner you and your team will be able to align yourselves with it, "fit in", contribute to its strength and rise within it.

Ron Rael, Leadership Coach from Sammamish, WA suggests looking at corporate culture as a mosaic, made up of integrated and interconnected components. Components that include:

  • Necessitating that manager's lead employees in adopting the mindset of the company's owner/operators

  • Expecting compatibility with employees' personality types

  • Defining the company's core values, beliefs, ethics, attitudes, accountability and rules of behavior
  • Determining how things are done, from the dress code to the door code

  • Influencing how employees think, act and feel

  • Determining the organization's priorities

  • Defining corporate "politics"

  • Attracting customers to or pushing them away from your company's personality

  • Helping new employees fit in

  • Understanding the cultural history - because people remember how it was, have long memories and are generally reluctant to change

  • Long-and short-term planning that clearly reflects and is connected to cultural ideals

The way these mosaics connect result in cultural characteristics that provide you with a roadmap for the best, and sometimes the only, way to get things done.

Your Corporate Culture In Action

Develop a good handle on your corporate culture by answering the following questions. Then follow the tips provided for each. Does your culture:

  • Distribute key projects, senior titles and decision-making authority proportionately among men and women or disproportionately to men? If the former, maintain a high level of visibility - committee assignments, meeting attendance, etc. If the latter, do the same things to subtly influence the recognition that you are as qualified as your male counterparts.

  • Encourage entrepreneurial thinking or reward employees for doing what they are told? If the former, keep dreaming and doodling. If the latter, crank out your assignments better than anyone else can.

  • Welcome new ideas from everyone or just from a few "sacred cows"? If the former, do your research and share your conclusions with your boss (never go over his or her head) as suggestions. If the latter, beome a really good listener and volunteer to help.

  • Rely on internal talent to direct major projects or think they have to pay an external consultant a fortune to achieve a good result? If the former, think big! If the latter, focus on smaller projects to prove yourself.

  • Genuinely care about customer satisfaction or only pay lip service to it? If the former, your customers instantly become your best friends. If the latter, you may need to be more creative in managing your customers - internal and external ones.

  • Include employees in planning and decision-making or are decisions made behind closed doors by only a hand-picked few? If the former, be sure you don't miss important meetings. If the latter, accept the decisions with equanimity and move forward enthusiastically.

  • Respect collaborative efforts or prefer employees compete with each other? If the former, identify projects where you can work with people you respect. If the latter, learn as much as you can about your competition for a project and demonstrate that you can do the job better.

  • Encourage risk-taking or are employees relegated to "failure" status when they try something new and it doesn't have the desired results? If the former, gather as much input as possible to have the best chance for success before launching your idea. If the latter, stick to the tried and true processes.

  • Promote from within or hire new people to fill executive positions? If the former, keep your "internal resume" up to date and your ear to the ground. (I've found company grapevines are suprisingly accurate about upcoming opportunities.) If the latter, expect that some day you may need to choose between your relationship with the company and your personal feelings about the glass ceiling.

In the best of all possible worlds, you will have developed an understanding of a corporate culture before you accepted a management position in it. However, if your answers generated some "ouch" moments, find out where you are out of alignment because no one manager will single-handedly influence a culture shift.

Can a Culture Change?

Short of an intentional corporate reengineering program, usually necessitated by poor financial performance, it is difficult, if not impossible, for individuals or even groups of individuals to change an organization's culture. It is simply too deeply imbedded.

Cultures do evolve though. If a small company grows larger, new leaders come in, bringing their own sets of values and behaviors from other cultures. But while a cultural impact is inevitable, a core part of the original culture will always remain. As more people join a company, increased structure is inevitable and the culture tends to shift from less to more formal, losing some its original sense of family.

The larger an organization is, the more sub-cultures there will be. This is where your opportunity to impact the overall culture resides.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Take the time to assess your corporate culture! Whenever I faced a thorny problem, wondered why I couldn't make something happen, couldn't understand the behavior of another employee, felt like someone or something wouldn't let me do what I thought my job was . . . the answer could be found in misreading the corporate culture in which I was functioning and a misalignment of my personal style with it!

Make Your Corporate Second Nature

When you develop a good sense of the mosaic that is your corporate culture, you can anticipate the best way to get things done and will be able to understand, at least in part, why co-workers act and think the way they do. You will also earn the coveted reputation of a team player and be rewarded for "fitting in" AND for what you do.




Proceed to ETHICS


Proceed to RISK TAKING

Proceed to SUB-CULTURE