Company culture is a mysterious sort. We hear it all the time: culture, culture, culture. But what is it? Culture feels like a lot of things; its ambiguity makes it tough to define, and even harder to implement.
If we run a Google query for “what is corporate culture?”, we see a few trends.
- Everyone agrees it’s important.
- No one agrees what it is.
- It’s both big and small.
- Many of the definitions lack a final purpose.
Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. — Investopedia
…outside business transactions?
Whether written as a mission statement, spoken or merely understood, corporate culture describes and governs the ways a company’s owners and employees think, feel and act.—Entrepreneur
…governs the ways we think and act?
The philosophy, values, behavior, dress codes, etc., that together constitute the unique style and policies of a company.—Dictionairy.com
Corporate culture is the amalgamation of values, vision, mission, and the day-to-day aspects of communication, interaction, and operational goals that create the organizational atmosphere that pervades the way people work.—Emergenetics
Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion.—Brian Chesky
A New Definition
Perhaps most important, and mostly lacking from contemporary definitions, is the idea that culture will always manifest into something tangible—products, services, engagement, morale, innovation potential, employee confidence, and so on. Just as the earth keeps turning whether we like it or not, our culture will also manifest.
I propose a new definition:
Corporate culture is a shared investment in the values, ethics, spirit and socially reinforced norms which convey meaning into products, services and community.
These are the core values that influence what we do every day. I like to think of them as winning values, e.g. sustainability over revenue; pragmatism over artistry. In the face of complex business situations, our core values can help to steer the ship.
The ethics behind our unique products and the way look after our people. Our ethics can be thought of as what we are, or are not, willing to compromise on the road to success (or failure).
Are we jazzed up about what we’re doing? Confident? Do we have a faith in our mission? Do we have that mysterious connection with our customers?
Socially Reinforced Norms
Socially reinforced norms are a good measure of the successful propagation of our culture. When our people are easily able to reinforce culture on a daily basis, it says so much about the strong foundation of a company.
How can we better document a culture?
To try and answer this question, I recently built a simple tool called Culture Designer 101. It’s meant to help people structure their thoughts around company culture. Documenting culture is one of the most important (and simple) things we can do—and it often gets overlooked. Founders and executives often assume that employees understand the ideal culture of the organization. It’s FREE, check it out!
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