What is Corporate Culture – Good News and Bad News

what is corporate culture
what is corporate culture
Corporate Culture Good News, Bad News

What is Corporate Culture?

How is culture measured and defined?

One HR colleague said it well: 

“Company culture isn’t super easy to define. It’s every communication, every conversation, every emoji, tool, decision that your company makes.”

Culture is SOCIAL and dynamic, and is often LEFT TO CHANCE… versus more common businesses structures, such as “capital investments” or “finance” or “IT” – which are usually governed by common rules and frameworks.

The most common Corporate Culture definition is “how we get things done around here.” In over two decades of practitioner experience leading cultural change – often when the WHEELS have come off the bus and the culture is toxic … the “How’s” that matter most to people…

How these 3 areas of Corporate Culture is managed, are particularly crucial: 

  1. People are hired, trained, rewarded, promoted,
  2. How leaders foster connection to purpose and “core values” – and align decisions behind them. (My Gallup  newsletter today, shared that 6 in 10 employees feel disconnected from their company’s purpose. BIG MISS! 
  3. How leaders give attention to the struggles of their people – rather than what matters to THEM as leaders…career path, “the numbers,” EBITDA

Three Keys to Defining Corporate Culture 

#1 Old School Culture vs Reality. 


Too often, outdated, bureaucratic and old-school management practices run rampant in companies  – like pure hierarchy, outdated budgeting processes, the annual re-org – “this is just the way it is.”  

But many of these are truly out of touch with modern worker expectations – and the pace of change ….. 

The GOOD NEWS is, a bureaucratic “old school” corporate culture is not a given when you increase in size or scale … 

MANY of the Top 20 on the Fortune 500 – think Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Kroeger – treat culture as an essential business process – always evoling it based on real feedback from their people – which, as we know, is not easy when you employ 147,000 people (in Apple’s case) – it’s about …. 

  • Seeing people as talented HUMANS worthy of being cared for – vs a number on a balance sheet. 
  • Flexibility!  A top FEEDBACK item for years in terms of what people most want from their employer. 
  • Career Development – even if you’re small, are you encouraging people to learn, take on new challenges, grow their skills?
  • Healthy Change – shaping ongoing company changes in a way that involves people, versus change that is forced on them, and dictated by a few folks at the top. 
  • Local autonomy – creating sub-cultures in the different locations and functions of the business, with standardization and mandates being requirements in quality control, compliance or branding. 

#2 …. Define It & Manage It!

The bad news:  It’s not easy to SHAPE, measure, keep fresh, and evolve an essential business process that is:

  • Mostly intangible, 
  • That everyone wants a say in, 
  • That doesn’t share a common definition or framework or “generally accepted process” among leaders and practitioners of culture 
  • That most executives feel is mysterious, fluffy and a “nice to have” – versus an essential enabler of top performance. 

The GOOD NEWS is culture IS definable, measurable, and tangible as a business process. 

Consider this analogy: 

Imagine you just attended a great music festival. (hopefully again soon!)

The feelings, the experience, the memorable moments – evoke a specific kind of feeling and “mental story” – while you’re there, and afterwards. 

It was no accident, how that experience was created – shaped down to the details of costumes, opening songs, staging – in an amazing show, everything from the pre-marketing of the show to the last encore is designed with the entertainEE in mind. 

Corporate culture is not a theatrical production! (though more of the fun-factor never hurts productivity). 

But when leaders who view themselves as “producers” of a positive and energizing experience of their people, they

  • Gain a lot more loyalty, tap into people’s creativity and ideas, 
  • Generate a long waitlist of applicants who want to work for them
  • Darn good ROI, to have that word-of-mouth in the customer arena right?  It works similarly, and just as potently, in the employee arena.

The best companies promote leaders who are good with people. 


In these companies, people managers are passionate about creating a positive employee experience – living and demonstrating the core values – or they don’t get promoted. 

THIS IS NOT HR’S RESPONSIBILITY!! HR’s role is to help bring the tools, the knowledge, the structure to shape the management practices – 

But there is no substitute for leadership who see their job as creating a positive experience for their people – OR turning negatives into a win by listening and responding to feedback. 

#3 – The “Uncle Joe phenomenon”

The BAD NEWS about Corporate Culture – is WHEN people are hired and let go, with no reinforcement of the Core Values. 

In most toxic cultures, there’s an Uncle Joe who sits atop a department or division… no one knows what he does or how he brings value – but he’s STELLAR at being a road block for all the essential work of a big percent of the employee base. 

The feedback has been ignored for months or years – he’s a fixture. In his wake, are dozens (or hundreds) of disgruntled employees who feel the company is at the core, unfair. 

The GOOD NEWS about corporate culture, is greater transparency – fueled by websites like Glassdoor – the TV show “Undercover Boss”  — is becoming an expectation and reality across every part of our society.

Making it harder for the Uncle Joe phenomenon to thrive in a transparent world – 

Especially in a company that wants to build a loveable brand, and not just rely legacy or a single product. 


OK, so bottom line, CORPORATE CULTURE can be a strong fuel-source for your bottom line. 

You need to get three things right – and measure your employee perceptions about these honestly:

  1. Strong Purpose
  2. Right Leadership
  3. Fairness in People Decisions

If we can assist in designing or carrying out this process in your company, please reach out for a no-obligation free “10-Point Performance Tune-Up.” 

How do YOU define corporate culture?  Would love to here your comments! 


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