These days, it is popular to explain the success or failure of companies everywhere with the simple statement “It’s their company culture!”. It’s an attractive and logical explanation. A strong corporate culture is hailed as the key to winning in a competitive marketplace; a weak one, the death knell. While the explanation is easy, the topic of culture is complex. We all think we know what we mean when we use the term, but do we?
While we can begin to describe a company’s culture based on how things are done and the values they profess, its real essence is the unconscious thoughts that drive employees’ decisions and behaviors each day. These thoughts are based on shared assumptions, typically originating with a company’s founder, which employees have successfully applied to solve internal and external challenges over time. This success serves to validate the assumptions and eventually results in a collective understanding of the right way to think, feel, act and interpret the business world.
The culture, then, determines how employees see themselves as part of the organization, how they relate to customers, how they interact with authority, approach problem-solving, how they understand the business overall, make strategic decisions, describe their company’s purpose and more.