Think about companies like Google, GE, or Southwest Airlines, and you probably get an image in your head. Perhaps the image is of slovenly-dressed techies or colorful aircraft. Whatever comes to mind is more than mere brand image. It’s a visible reflection of the company’s culture. Culture defines a company as innovative and edgy, performance-driven, or fun and frivolous.
At its essence, a company’s culture is its personality, and every organization has one. Even the absence of an obvious culture depicts a culture of sorts. Cultures aren’t always created consciously. They often evolve from the values of top management or the founders of an organization. That said, it is important that organizations nurture strong, positive cultures, and even more critical that they work to transform unconstructive, negative cultures.
Why is corporate culture so important? One reason is that career experts suggest a company’s culture is becoming increasingly important to job seekers when deciding between opportunities. In addition to the position itself, compensation, and fringe benefits, job applicants are considering a company’s culture before accepting a position. In many cases, applicants want to be sure the company and its culture is a good “fit” for their own personality and work habits.
How would you define your company’s culture? Does it attract or deter job applicants?
There’s much more to culture than meets the eye. Corporate culture is like the proverbial iceberg. The portion visible above the surface is small relative to the whole. Those things that are visible may include a stated mission, vision and values, organizational charts, policies and procedures, and published processes. What lies beneath the surface can be far more significant. It’s the shared assumptions, norms, unwritten rules – it’s “the way things really work around here.” It may not always be consistent with what is visible at the surface, but it is what’s beneath the surface that truly cultivates culture. Consider these subsurface culture components:
- Work Environment – How do employees interact? What degree of communication or competition exists among employees? Is the environment fun and friendly or hostile and cutthroat?
- Work Schedules – What are the number of hours employees are expected to work? Are flex schedules or telecommuting options offered?
- Dress Code – Are employees wearing coats and ties or shorts and flip-flops?
- Work Space – Is it cubicles or window offices? Are doors opened or closed? What rules exist regarding the display of personal items?
- Career Development – What training or skill development is offered? How quickly can employees rise through the ranks within the company?
- Onsite Perks – Are there break rooms, meals provided, gyms and game rooms, daycare facilities, and more?
- Downtime – What, if any, amount of time outside the office are employees expected to spend working or with coworkers? Is socializing, through softball teams or mixers, encourage or even sponsored by the company?
- Management Interaction – What access do employees have to supervisors and top management? Does senior management engage lower ranking employees or is there a members-only attitude among top executives.
Your company culture speaks volumes about your organization. To determine what your culture says about your company, ask yourself these questions:
- What are the company’s stated cultural values? Progressive companies recognize the influence culture plays on today’s work force, so they will often develop a set of written values they want to promote within their organizations. Cultural values are not the same as performance goals. Instead, they are behaviors encouraged by the company – invent something, work smart, play nice, communicate constantly, do something that scares you every day. Stating what is important and what isn’t at your company can visually reinforce your culture, and over time those values, assuming they are lived by top management, can also permeate a conflicting subculture.
- What does it take for someone to be successful here? What kind of personal characteristics are valued by the company? Risk-taking? Entrepreneurial spirit? Teamwork? Take note of the personality traits that are encouraged and rewarded – what do these says about your company culture?
- What kinds of employee achievements are recognized by the company? Again, the answer to this question reflects what skills or characteristics the company values and rewards. Are there any unique or unusual awards given (outside the standard sales or customer service awards) that recognize such things as creativity, collaboration, or volunteerism?
- What kind of sponsorships or community initiatives does the company participate in? Does the company support a particular philanthropic cause or does it avoid such things? Does it encourage or even sponsor employees to participate in charity walks or runs? Does the company allow paid time off for volunteer activities? Are you proud of the community initiatives the company currently supports?
- How does the physical environment influence employee performance and satisfaction? Are the VPs in cubes like other employees or in lush offices? Is space set aside for collaborative teamwork or brainstorming? Does the layout promote or discourage interaction between departments? What’s displayed in the lobby or break room? Wellness posters, pictures of recent award ceremonies or volunteering events, or even a sign-up sheet for a college basketball pool reflect daily life and what matters at the company.
Some may know their company’s culture like they know their own family. Others may find their culture difficult to recognize or define. Either way, it’s there. It may be indistinct or ill-defined, but it exists. If it is good, celebrate it. If it is bad, transform it. If it is undeveloped, take the opportunity to build something remarkable where nothing existed before.