What is Corporate Culture?

Google the “definition of culture” and you will find hundreds of definitions.  Some broadly accepted definitions of culture include (from Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952) A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn):

Culture is a way of life of a group of people–behavior, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

Culture is a system for differentiating between in-group and out-group people.

Culture has been defined in a number of ways, but most simply, as the learned and shared behavior of a community of interacting human beings.”  Useem, J., & Useem, R. (1963),  Human Organizations.

How we define corporate culture

Culture in a corporation is the relationship dimension and the how–both how we get things done and how we work together. You can assess the quality of a corporate culture by paying attention to how people relate to each other in these areas:

  • How they partner (or not) with each other- particularly during challenging situations
  • Individuals taking ownership for and demonstrating commitment to the organization’s values, vision, strategy and key goals
  • Individual and team engagement levels organization-wide

A reliable way to judge the quality of a corporate culture is by paying attention to how much high-quality relating there is in the midst of challenge, change and conflict. Useful questions to ask include:

What is the…

  • Quantity, quality and distribution of feedback (informal and formal)?
  • Frequency of curiosity about different points of view?
  • Level of trust and genuine caring between people?

Getting curious

The most common mistake people make when it comes to culture is assuming that it is fixed; they believe it’s a given condition of the work environment that they are powerless to change. Another common pitfall is for leaders to make assumptions about their company’s culture based only on personal observation.

We find that it is more useful to stay curious about culture.  Curiosity allows us to stay open to receiving valuable information and insight; through the lens of curiosity, we engage our teams, managers and customers by asking good questions and really listening to the answers.  Curiosity sets the stage for meaningful learning.  Learning–individually and collectively–is one of the most powerful forces available to us for shaping culture.  In order to get to whatever the next level of culture is for you, you will have to learn your way there.

Interested in learning more?  Let’s start a conversation about culture.