Company culture, what is it?

Written By: Brittani Esplin

Company culture, what is it?

These days the term “company culture” seems to be a buzz word circling the internet. But what does it mean?

Company culture is more than ping pong tables, catered lunches and a gym membership. The following definition of corporate culture is from “Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside of business interactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.” Each culture is unique and countless factors go into creating one.

A company's culture could be reflected in its dress code, office setup, employee benefits, turnover and hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction, business hours, and every other aspect of operations.

When talking about company culture you may hear things like “This is a fun place to work.” “Everyone here cares about each other.” Or “We are results oriented, this is a great place to learn and grow.” These statements are a good sign of positive corporate culture. The following is a negative statement reflecting company culture: “You can’t speak up without fear of retribution, I don’t see how my work contributes to the overall goals of the company.” No one wants to work somewhere with a culture that doesn’t fit with their personal values. Identifying and understanding the climate of your current culture can be the first step to revitalizing or reshaping culture in a company looking for change.

Millennials now consume around 30% of the workforce in the United States today and this number is still increasing. suggests that it is crucial for companies to adjust their culture to this generation to attract and retain talent. Many studies show that millennials simply live by a different set of values relative to other previous generations. This is especially true when referring to corporate culture.

Millennials don’t want their lives to start when they clock out at 5:00 p.m. It is important to them that the work they do all day matches their values and interests. Being a millennial myself, I can validate these thoughts. I know when talking with my friends and peers, company culture is often a hot topic and a reason for a job change. But company culture is not only about millennials, no matter the generation corporate culture can have a great effect on everyday work.

So how can you tell if your company has strong company culture?

It is not always easy to categorize if your company has positive or negative culture. Company culture is based off of opinions of employees and how they feel about the company they work for. This includes how the values of the employees match with the values of the company. So where would someone wanting to improve their company culture begin? Luckily there are guidelines to help lead you in the right direction.

You can't just wake up today and say, "Today we are going to build great company culture." Changing company culture is a large task that ultimately can take years, but working towards a better, stronger culture can be worth every effort put in. With stronger culture employees are more willing to be involved and invested in their everyday work.

Changing company culture is a large task that can ultimately take years, but working towards a better, stronger culture can be worth every effort put in.

John Coleman, author and business person who has been featured in publications including the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, the Washington Post, and Bloomberg Businessweek wrote the article Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture for the Harvard Business Review. The following is a summary of a few of his suggestions to improve company culture. For more information, and more suggestions visit the article at

First and foremost a strong and positive culture starts with a VISION or mission statement. This vision should be known and supported by all employees. It doesn’t need to be long or fancy. It can be one sentence. After creating a company vision statement, John Coleman explains that a company’s VALUES are at the core of its culture. “While a vision articulates a company’s purpose, values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision.” These values are specific ways employees can focus on the vision. The third component to improve company culture builds upon the first two. It is PRACTICES. Practices are critical as they are the things done every day to build strong company culture. This could be something like a catered lunch once a month or recognizing work anniversaries. Practices are how you invest in your values. If a company values “team work” they could have a practice of having regular team building experiences. If a company had the value of “continual learning” they may provide opportunities for their employees to further their education.

Another component of a great corporate culture is awesome people. No company can build a strong consistent culture without people who either share its core values or are willing to embrace the vision, values, and practices. Employees stay at companies with cultures that they support. According to Charles Ellis, as said in a recent review of his book What it Takes: Seven Secrets of Success from the World’s Greatest Professional Firms he says, “That’s why the greatest companies in the world also have some of the most stringent recruiting policies.” These people reinforce the culture and make it stronger as they stay from year to year.

Cultures can grow organically or through deliberate and consistent planning and action. There are many factors that influence corporate culture, but these few components can provide a firm foundation for strengthening it. The best organizations understand their culture and take careful steps to manage and improve it regularly.

Steps to Improving Company Culture

  1. Vision
  2. Values
  3. Practices
  4. Awesome People!

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