Corporate culture is the sum total of everything that has been and continues to be ongoing in an organisation.
Knowing your culture can clearly guide you and your employees to a better understanding of your goals, visions and approaches to increased productivity. Culture influences the way we think, what we do, how we work, and what is acceptable in the company environment.
There are three groups of attributes of a corporate culture that stand out:
Group 1: Beliefs, stories & experiences
When a new employee begins, what are the stories he is told about the organisation? About the people? About past events? Who are the company heroes and what have they accomplished that garnered them such a positive reputation that it deserves to be respected? More importantly, can these behaviours be emulated by others?
Group 2: Goals, norms & history
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else!” Anecdotal surveys show that the overwhelming majority of employees are clueless about their overall company goals. While it’s true that most know they should do a good job, many are unclear about the specifics and the nuances.
To help the employee better understand the culture, the entrepreneur and the employees all need to understand specifically where the organisation is going, how it will get there, by when, and with what degree of quality and success. Without this knowledge, the company is doomed to be an under performer or possibly to fail.
Norms define and describe what is acceptable: “the way things are done around here” from the simple to the complex. The former may include how early you have your staff come to work in the morning or how late they remain past 5pm.
The complex may involve whether to work as a highly productive individual or to work together as an accomplished team (collaboratively or competitively). Not knowing the difference can easily create problems for the individual and the work unit
History, like experience, provides a basis for behaviour. It helps employees distinguish between what has been tried and succeeded and those things that were attempted but failed; it allows workers to move beyond past failures through to innovation and achievement.
History can serve as a foundation or jumping off point to launch into new ventures or new procedures and policies. It helps the innovator deal with complainers who say, “We already tried that.” Supported by history, the employee can point out how this newest attempt will differ from and alter the past.
Group 3: Symbols, values & rituals
Symbols are icons or signs that tell visitors and employees something about the organisation. Nameplates and logos on doors, windows and stationery tell people something about the company. These symbols can be as concrete as a name and as abstract as cleanliness, high tech, or quality.
Something as simple as names on cubicles says that even though we may be cubby-holed, the company believes that people are important. A sparkling floor says that the company takes pride in its appearance and providing a clean environment for all workers.
One reason many people choose to work in an organisation is because of its values: honesty, pride, concern for others, independence, positive reinforcement for a job well done or well begun. These values may be unwritten but, nevertheless, are still potent qualities that exist to inform employees about the company, especially when a clash of values occurs.
Is it more valuable to complete one polished product or many that are in great shape but dull in appearance? The confusion can lead to diminished performance.
Rituals are traditions or ceremonies that occur on a regular basis. Quite often, organisations miss opportunities to use rituals to improve morale. Honouring birthdays, anniversaries, successes, or positive announcements all serve as occasions for the company to say, “We value you and we want to acknowledge you and your accomplishments.”
These events can be acknowledged with lunches, cakes, coffee or cards. There are many low-cost methods of telling employees how important they are. The results can be very powerful.
By reviewing corporate culture, an empowering entrepreneur can assess the current status of an organisation with an eye to modifying or eliminating the parts that are dysfunctional or impractical, then replacing them with qualities that will improve your working environment, productivity, and employee satisfaction. Then your culture will be positive, too.