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Corporate Culture – What Does It Even Mean?

By MO.com Subject Matter Resource Kim Ades, MBA

I often read articles about ‘Corporate Culture’. Typically they are written by an HR professional who is just that – a professional. The language is always so sophisticated and fancy and the concepts are often hard to grasp. But what is corporate culture and how does it even translate to a small company with just a few employees?

Let me use an example that we can all relate to…

When you walk into your parents’ house… do you take off your shoes or leave them on? Do you give your mother a kiss, a hug, a handshake or just a wave? Do you open the fridge freely and take what you want or wait for dinner to be served? When you leave, do they give you the leftovers in a Tupperware container or was there barely enough food to begin with? What are the rules of engagement? And where the heck did they come from?


If we stick with this example, we begin to understand how all of these rules were established. My parents believe it’s rude to walk into a house with shoes on – it tracks dirt, it’s disrespectful – so I take them off. My parents believe that I am starving without their food – so I get leftovers. My parents believe that their house is my house so I am completely comfortable opening the fridge and taking what I want, etc…

Beliefs create culture – and usually, the beliefs of the leader carry the most weight.

So… what are your beliefs about how an organization should function? Let’s look at the rules of engagement that you have already created…

How do people interact with each other when they come in the door first thing in the morning? What happens at the end of the day? How are problems addressed and resolved? How are new ideas absorbed and implemented? What happens when someone has a personal crisis? How are customers treated when they buy? How are customers treated when they stop buying?

All of these questions, plus many more, contribute to the underlying beliefs that create culture.

Is culture important? Of course it is – culture is what determines success or failure. Or more specifically, the beliefs, values, and perspective of the leader are what drive corporate culture. The leader sets the tone and knowingly or unknowingly creates the culture.

Sometimes corporate cultures are not ideal and are characterized by a lack of performance, poor bottom-line results, destructive behavior, blaming, and conflict. When this happens we often see the leader of the organization scrambling to make changes resulting in a lot of activity including the hiring and firing of employees, private meetings, strategy sessions, and even team-building initiatives. What the leader is missing is that culture change is an inside job. If a leader wants to substantially make a change to the culture of their company, the change must begin with him or her first.

Here are some tips…

1. This is the toughest to handle – take full responsibility for the culture that you have created. Understand that what you see is a full reflection of your beliefs and your perspectives of the world. If you don’t like what you see, be prepared to do some deep personal work.

2. Every great leader tracks his or her thoughts and results. Use a journal to do that…and start to ask yourself some fundamental questions about your rules of engagement. How do your rules of engagement reflect the beliefs you have as a leader?

3. Explore other parts of your life and how they operate – for example, take a look at what it was like when you grew up – how did your family operate? How did you operate with your friends? How do you operate with your family now? Are there any changes you might like to make?

4. Use your journal to define and design the ideal culture. What does it look like? What are your new rules of engagement? What is the feeling in the office? What do you need to believe, think, and do in order to effect this change?

Kim Ades, MBA, President of Frame of Mind Coaching and JournalEngine™ Software is one of North America’s foremost experts on performance through thought management. By using her unique process of coaching through journaling, she works with hundreds of clients yearly to unveil and switch their thought patterns to ignite significant change and life transformation. She is now teaching this process to coaches all over the world for use with their clients. Visit Frame of Mind Coaching to sign up for your own free, secure, online journal.

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