“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.”
Ed Catmull, President, Pixar
Corporate culture, as the term implies, is a set of behaviors that are acquired by the company in the process of adaptation to the external environment and internal integration that has been effectively shared by the majority of the members of the organization. Its components are:
- adopted system of leadership;
- styles of conflict resolution;
- system of communications;
- position of the individual in the organization;
- and adopted symbols: slogans, organizational taboos, rituals, and so on.
However, this is an ambiguous concept, and managers are still arguing about this while providing new definitions and considering new perspectives of the process or phenomenon.
Even in medieval guilds, there existed within professional communities both written and unwritten rules, and their violation could lead to very serious consequences, for example, to the exclusion of people from the community. The term “corporate culture” was first used in the 19th century by German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke to characterize relations among the officers, who were governed by statutes, courts of honor, and duels.
It is my opinion that Carl Jung said it more precisely when he stated that the corporate culture is the collective unconscious. It was he who began to study the highest human values of culture and religion from this perspective. Corporate culture management, in my opinion, is the management of the collective unconscious. Jung was the first who said that values are a driving force of human behavior. The meaning of life is not only instincts but is much more. Much later, Abraham Maslow combined these theories in his famous pyramid.
In many companies today, the relationship with the corporate culture is very primitive; it is often wrongly ignored, and it should be changed when this is the case. Managers often do not realize the importance of corporate culture. Most often, it looks like this: Some values are developed, they are beautifully printed and posted in prominent places throughout the office, and they are then displayed as the corporate values and attributes. That’s it. The staff then very quickly fails to respond to this.
But the corporate culture exists in any case—whether leaders want it to or not. If it is not formed professionally, it will be formed at the level of everyday conversations of employees or colleagues or communication among themselves and with managers. For example, if the corporate culture is not developed by the business itself, it is enough to visit the break room and listen to the conversations there. If people are talking mostly about personal matters, criticizing top managers, and gossiping, most likely the corporate culture is sick and hinders the development of the business. But if people are mostly talking about work and about the challenges they face, it is quite another matter; in this case, the corporate culture helps businesses move forward.
Two questions arise: How can you diagnose corporate culture, and how can you manage it? You can diagnose it, and culture management is not only possible but it is necessary for the company. After all, if it is evolving spontaneously, it is controlled by “backleaders”—by the people who discredit the leaders at all levels—and by the company itself.
We can talk about the methods, techniques, and elements of corporate culture infinitely. A lot of things have been both said and written. There are different classifications and methods, but they all boil down to a fairly simple methodology:
- Providing the definition of the core values and the company’s mission and then bringing them to the attention of employees.
- The adoption of the internal rules and regulations of behavior and communication in the company: This concerns symbols, internal vertical and horizontal communications, corporate events, and so on.
- Monitoring and evaluation of the work and behavior of employees in terms of corporate-wide values.
- Motivation to comply with the corporate culture.
Sooner or later, the value becomes a habit, and the new employee can easily understand which behaviors or actions are allowable in the company and which are unacceptable. This is the introduction to the corporate culture. But if the culture is not clear, then any new employee may still understand which acts are acceptable, but this will have a negative result because it is “accepted”—but by whom? By those that are indifferent to that particular organization or business.
Basic errors that prevent the construction of an effective corporate culture
The topic of corporate culture is constantly on the minds of managers because even the smallest changes in an organization affect the people in that organization and hence affect (or at least should affect) the corporate culture. Management’s dissatisfaction with the corporate culture (or part of it) is dissatisfaction with the leaders (or their leadership style), the method of conflict resolution (confrontation instead of cooperation), the quality of communications (disconnection instead of teamwork), and the attitude towards employees.
The manager or leader cannot be strong and valid if he or she does not know the art of formation and management of an effective corporate culture.
To master this art, it is important to get rid of these misconceptions:
1. All activities for developing corporate culture are nothing but a staff brainwashing.
It is impossible to impose or compel employees to comply with the rules and requirements of the company, although you can make the observance of these rules a new norm of behavior.
2. There are companies that do not have a corporate culture at all.
Corporate culture always within the company, but leaders start talking about it when they realize that corporate culture affects the productivity and efficiency of the organization.
3. Corporate philosophy can be ordered, for example, in the PR department.
Signs of a strong corporate culture include the following:
- availability of the declared corporate philosophy (as declared by its owners and top managers, as they decide which way the company should evolve along with which objectives and by what means to use to achieve these objectives);
- the existence of corporate philosophy broadcasting systems (internal PR, corporate events, private behavior of top managers, etc.);
- the support of the majority of the members of the organization’s declared philosophy (internal PR, “correct” selection of candidates, etc.);
- the matching of the real action with the declared values (degree of responsibility for this is divided from top to bottom).
4. There can be multiple corporate cultures in the company—for the employees, customers, partners, etc.
Businesses benefit from being honest. If a company wants to demonstrate friendliness to their customers and show attention to them as individuals and yet it does not respect its own employees, it does not work; only satisfied personnel can create satisfied customers.
5. Corporate culture can be both good and bad.
Corporate culture can’t be both good or bad; it can only be effective or ineffective in achieving the company’s targets.
A manager who has deep convictions and believes that people do not like to work and will find ways to take time off, brings the following features to the corporate culture:
- strict hierarchy;
- distance between the leadership and employees;
- strict accountability;
- ignoring the proposals for improvement of processes.
Another manager, who has deep convictions and believes that people like and want to work well, brings the following features to the corporate culture:
- openness of the management’s decision-making;
- staff involvement in the discussions;
- flexible individual approach to the distribution of tasks;
- control aimed at development rather than the search for the perpetrators;
- “behavioral” regulations introduced where really needed.
6. Yes, corporate culture exists, but it is what it is, and it is impossible to change something.
Nothing can be changed if you ignore the process of culture formation. But ultimately, the company’s leaders will realize the need of the intervention in this process.
7. Corporate culture management is the task of the company’s shareholders; it doesn’t make sense for the rest of the people to delve into all of this.
In this process, all the staff and top managers of the company are involved by default. In relation to corporate culture, people can be divided into the following groups:
8. There is no point in all of these “mission statements” when the purpose of the existence of any commercial organization is obtaining the maximum profit.
A wide range of stakeholders is interested in the principles on which the activity of your company is based. They have their own interests, which may be different and contradictory. Clarification of the mission will bring together stakeholders for the implementation of the company’s goals.
More factors affect the formation of the effective culture, but in order to form a strong foundation, it is important to understand that the integrity of the culture can’t be built without the people. People are the biggest asset a company has. It is necessary not only to form but also to maintain an internal culture, so careful selection of staff and loyal corporate culture candidates will make your company even stronger.