Organizational Culture

What is corporate culture? And a TV recommendation.

I want to give my take on what corporate culture is.

Culture is a word banded around in the corporate world, sometimes with the same frequency as those annoying business jargon phrases like “drill down”, “circle back”, and, “on my radar”. 

Many people use it in all manner of contexts, and few use it sparingly with the right meaning and sentiment. But what does it mean? Well, a brief flick through academic papers gives us dozens of different definitions at first glance, hardly encouraging. 

To me: (culture is the way we do things around here) when no one is looking, and there is no reward to be gained.

I´ve used brackets in the definition because I want to highlight what the essential part of the definition is. Of course, its the part about culture being the thing that thrives when no one is looking, when people are not gaining an advantage, not playing the system, not trying to win points. 

The definition reminds me of a TV show, in the middle of its 3rd series now, called The Good Place (8.1 rated on IMDb). It is a comedy about a group of people who pass to the afterlife, thinking they are in The Good Place, when in fact they are in The Bad Place. As the show progresses, they come to realize that they had not achieved enough good points during their time on Earth to make The Good Place. The problem then becomes how to get enough good points to make The Good Place, which in the end they cannot do because their intrinsic motivation is driven by their need to make The Good Place, and not actually be good – without reward, when no one is looking. 

It would be great to chat to Michael Schur, the creator of the show, about culture. He has a great grasp about doing the right thing. It is difficult though, most people are conditioned by their environment. We know all about consumerism, and any other ism we can think of. Coining a new word, we have cultureism too. 

We can change the cultureism of organisations though. Through the workplace environment, and through the talented individuals in each organisation. There is a self-fulfilling cycle at play here, if you have the right talent with the right motivation in place you will improve the workplace environment, and if you improve the workplace environment, you will enable the right talent to thrive. 

There is a lot we can do, but I plea to those responsible for driving culture agendas in the workplace to at the very least build environments where a great culture can thrive. It means elevating and supporting those with the right behaviours, displayed because they believe in them. It means enabling great leaders to lead by example, embrace diversity, inspire innovation and encourage their teams. And, it means having the right talent in place. 

What does corporate culture mean to you?