Industry Insights from Our Experts

The title of this post is a quote from a book I recently finished reading, Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson, founders of 37signals, and I wanted to share the rest of that quote from them because it really made me sit back and think:

You don’t create a culture
Instant cultures are artificial cultures. They’re big bangs made of mission statements, declarations, and rules. They are obvious, ugly, and plastic. Artificial culture is paint. Real culture is patina.
You don’t create a culture. It happens. This is why new companies don’t have a culture. Culture is the byproduct of consistent behavior. If you encourage people to share, then sharing will be built into your culture. If you reward trust, then trust will be built in. If you treat customers right, then treating customers right becomes your culture.
Culture isn’t a foosball table or trust falls. It isn’t policy. It isn’t the Christmas party or the company picnic. Those are objects and events, not culture. And it’s not a slogan, either. Culture is action, not words.
So don’t worry too much about it. Don’t force it. You can’t install a culture. Like a fine scotch, you’ve got to give it time to develop.

During my MBA course, Human Resource Management, we examined employee motivation theory and through discussions, readings and a lot of personal experience, I’ve determined that at a certain point the largest motivator in a job is the environment, the culture, and the job satisfaction – not money (keeping in mind that the lack of money is also a strong de-motivator). These factors determine whether someone will continue to wake up everyday and enjoy going to work.

So what exactly is corporate culture? People and groups in an organization define corporate culture as the collection of values and norms that are shared. So why do I think it’s so important? Many companies are realizing how important corporate culture is as they try to attract the best employees or retain the services of high performing employees and since corporate culture plays such an important role, companies strive to build the ideal workplace. One piece of that is corporate culture, but how does a company go about building this “ideal” culture? Companies may spend money on trying to change their environment; trying to force their version of culture on the employees by providing services (i.e. social events, picnics, parties, etc.), but Fried said it really well, “Those are objects and events, not culture.” While they help to provide opportunities inside and outside the office to interact and build a culture, they don’t define it. Culture is built by the actions of a company’s management / leadership. When the actions work against the culture, employees often receive mixed signals and the developing culture is one of mistrust and scrutiny. Corporate culture needs to be developed by the employees and reflected by the entire company. Going back to the definition of corporate culture, it’s the collection of values and norms shared by a group of people – not forced on or dictated down to a group.

So the bigger question is…how? How do you create a culture that is widely adopted by the employees and management? My answer is similar to that suggested in Rework:

  1. Make sure the actions of the management reflect the culture you want to grow and it will grow and adapt on it’s own.
  2. Hire employees that embody the essence of what is being reflected by the culture.
  3. Don’t try so hard. When the actions of management reflect the culture, it’s just a matter of time before that flows throughout the company.
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