Corporate Culture: Why It's Important and How To Define Yours

Corporate Culture Your Dad probably doesn’t think it’s okay to have a keg in the office.

Or wear shorts. Or pump in Bell Biv DeVoe tracks over the office sound system (though, really, if he’d ever HEARD “Poison” that might be a different story). Not necessarily because he comes from an older generation, but moreso because he worked in a very different corporate culture than some of those keg-serving, 90s R&B-bumping companies do now.

But how do some companies make it clear to their employees that casual work environments were okay, while others insist on a more-professional approach? They’ve developed and instilled a corporate culture in their employees. And even if you don’t have enough people to even think about an office keg, there will always be an office culture.

Culture Starts With You

Like anything in life, the culture of your business will first be determined by its leader. Which, presumably, is you. So whatever values and standards you want your employees to have, make sure you’re the model of that. If you want your employees to act professionally, don’t start emails with “What’s up, Bro?”

That said, also remember that corporate culture is not unilateral. Sure, you may steer your employees a certain way and aim to hire those who fit your values, but ultimately it will be their attitudes and actions that determine it.

How Do I Figure Out What My Corporate Culture Is?

Figuring out how your workers are motivated and how they see the corporate dynamic is complex. So you’re going to need details, and the only way to get them is to ask your employees.

But what kinds of questions should you be asking?

Business Insider proposed a list of five simple questions to ask when trying to determine and develop corporate culture. They include:

    • What’s your company’s mission?


    • What core values do people share within your organization? What makes certain people shine (or not)?


    • What competencies or qualities did people who’ve failed in your organization lack?


    • What are the key annual events or recognition opportunities for employees? What sort of response do they inspire?


    • What makes your company unique in your industry? Is it your people? Your product? Your process?

And while this list is far from all-encompassing, it’s a solid start.

Your Physical Space

Believe it or not, the way your business is decorated will be the first indication anyone has of your corporate culture. For instance, if your office is filled with skulls and dramatic gothic furniture, employees might get the feeling that your corporate culture is a little intense. Or possibly terrifying.

Conversely, if it’s decorated with humorous photos and Dorothy Parker quotes, don’t be surprised if a potential hire begins joking with you right away.

Even small things like the colors you use – in any business – will speak to the attitude your company exudes.

Similarly, the layout of your business will also be a large determinant. Where do you (or whoever’s in charge) position themselves in relation to everyone else? Are you out with the employees? Or holed up in an office? Not that one is necessarily preferable to the other, but it will have an effect on how people perceive your business.

Look At Your People and Your Customers

While creating office outings to a bar or the local build-a-bear is great for company morale, it also gives you a chance to see how employees interact outside the office. See how formal or friendly they are with each other, note the language they use, the way they approach you “after hours” and use that information to figure out your company’s culture.

Even during office hours, there are ways of gauging this without asking employees directly. Just walk around and see how everyone interacts on the job. Or, even more telling, how they behave in meetings.

The other people you want to look at: Your customers. Yes, not every person bases where they eat dinner on how much they relate to your witty menu descriptions, but most businesses – no matter what they are – attract a certain kind of customer. And that customer is generally a reflection of your corporate culture.

Putting Culture Into Practice

Once you’ve determined your corporate culture, you need to let people know what it is. And, we’re not suggesting sending staff a 5-page email stating your corporate culture? All that will do is create a corporate culture of people who don’t read stuff. So here’s what you do:

    • First, write down your company’s values. And for the love of Warren Buffett, please leave out meaningless buzzwords like excellence, cooperation, innovation, truth, greatness and pride. Because no business ever said “Our values include mediocrity, selfishness, plagiarism, and lying.” Outside of Florida, anyway.Put out a BRIEF (did we say brief? Brief) statement of what your company truly values that sets it apart and isn’t cliché. Make it something the readers (your employees and customers) will remember, and more importantly relate to.


    • Secondly, develop a company voice. Have you ever noticed how all the stuff you see at Southwest Airlines – from the napkin copy to the safety announcements – is a little offbeat and funny? That is Southwest’s cultural voice. Compare that to, say, the voice of Delta – who has a recorded message from their CEO at the beginning of every flight - and the difference is easy to spot.


    • Third, hire to the culture. Look at resumes and see if applicants have worked at companies with cultures like yours in the past. And ask how they liked it. Similarly, make sure to ask questions about what the applicant values in a corporate culture to see if what you do is going to be a good fit.


    • Finally, develop goals and rewards systems that reflect it. For instance if your company is more cash than service driven, reward sales performance. If guest experience is your main goal, reward positive customer feedback.

So, yes, developing a corporate culture involves a lot more than having a casual dress code and serving beer in the break room. But if you take the time to figure out exactly what your corporate culture is – then take the time to effectively put that image out to employees and customers – you will become the kind of company you want to be. Just, maybe, not your dad’s.
Image courtesy of bplanet /

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