Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviours that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. A company’s culture will be reflected in its dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction and every other aspect of operations.
Types of Corporate Culture
According to Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, there are four types of organizational culture: clan, adhocracy, market, and hierarchy:
- Clan oriented cultures are family-like, with a focus on mentoring, nurturing, and ‘doing things together’.
- Adhocracy oriented cultures are dynamic and entrepreneurial, with a focus on risk-taking, innovation, and ‘doing things first’.
- Market oriented cultures are results oriented, with a focus on competition, achievement, and ‘getting the job done’.
- Hierarchy oriented cultures are structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency, stability and ‘doing things right’.
Creating a Corporate Culture
A company’s culture is shaped by a number of tangible and intangible components that together create an environment that is conducive, or not, to good work. Here are some of the most-often-cited facets:
- Values. Whatever it is that a company states is its driving force – what it values – will affect what its employees focus on. The culture of a company that values caring will be different from one that values, say, creativity or speed or precision. One isn’t necessarily better than another, it simply will impact the types of employees that are hired and what everyone is working toward.
- Employees. To build a corporate culture that matches what leaders want the business to be known for, you have to hire carefully. Each and every employee needs to match the culture and the company’s values. Companies with the most desirable corporate cultures invest a lot of time recruiting and interviewing potential new hires because they recognize how essential each person is to supporting the culture.
- Environment. Where employees have to work will have a major impact on the organization’s culture. Pack everyone in a tight space like sardines, with little light and few creature comforts and you will likely build a culture centred on negativity and complaints Whereas a space that is open and airy, with ample workspace, will foster positive feelings and lower stress. Workspace matter.
- Actions. How a company demonstrates its values and priorities also shapes its corporate culture. Do its actions align with its values, or not? Companies that put customer satisfaction as its highest priority should have processes and procedures that ensure customers are delighted with its dealings with the company. Satisfaction guarantees, no hassle refunds, and no expiration dates on returns could be policies that support such a value.
- Opportunities for bonding. Companies that set aside time outside of work to socialize and get to know each other create opportunities for more fulfilling personal relationships to form. Some companies have annual off-site meetings that bring together all employees to talk about what’s going well and what’s not. Other companies schedule more frequent, and less formal, get-togethers, such as softball teams, potluck dinners, and Friday cocktail hour. How employees feel about, and express satisfaction with, their employer is the basis of a corporate culture. The more positive and fulfilled employees are with the organization they work for, the more loyal and effective they will be. That’s the benefit of a positive corporate culture.
Routines and Culture in Organizations
The term ‘organizational culture’ refers to a shared set of rules and beliefs that employees teach one another. These rules are reinforced by employees’ attitudes and are reflected in their work routines. As a leader, you can promote beliefs and behaviours to help employees perform according to your business model.
One way to look at the culture in a business is to examine the six elements of its cultural web – stories, rituals and routines, symbols, organizational structure, control systems and power structures. These are elements that you could find in many organizations, including small businesses. Rituals and routines are typically taught by managers and repeated in the behaviours of successful employees.
Most organizations have codified policies and procedures that inform employees how to complete work routines and make decisions within the scope of their work. If you spend time writing a manual that includes these important guidelines for work routines, you give employees a helpful information tool. If you skip this step, your workers must rely on what they can observe in successful workers.
Like a policies and procedures manual, training helps employees learn appropriate work routines, usually with the helpful advice of trainers, managers or experienced workers. A successful small business is a learning organization in which employees contribute ideas to improve work routines. Managers must balance encouraging employees to follow existing work routines and encouraging their expression of innovative ideas. They also advise trainers when it’s necessary to update training to include employees’ ideas.
In a small business, it’s important to avoid making the workplace culture too homogeneous. In such an environment, employees blindly follow shared work routines, and this atmosphere can stifle innovation. Create a collaborative culture in which employees can share ideas freely, even if that means they must pass them to their manager. If employees feel supported in sharing ideas, they can help the company increase efficiency, which will be a positive benefit for customers.
Rituals of a Company
Many companies employ awards ceremonies as a rite to entice higher performance goals from employees. Award ceremonies bestow recognition on the winners, while showing the other employees what they can gain by reaching the same goals. Workers will often strive to achieve customer satisfaction standards, complete projects under budget, or develop new innovations to win the respect that comes with such awards. Rewards for award winners can range from certificates and plaques to bonus cash and travel packages.
Companies also often sponsor after-hours activities as a means to build camaraderie among workers. These rituals, such as softball teams, bowling leagues and paintball games, promote team unity, social bonding and cooperative thinking among workers who may not have had the opportunity to know each other in the workplace. Many companies also provide off-site, multi-day retreats that allow workers and executives to communicate their concerns about the workplace environment in an open and non-judgmental space.
The best salespeople are often highly motivated individuals. When a company adds the ritual of rewards for its top achieving sales personnel, the motivational factors increase for these competitive professionals. Whether the reward is the simple recognition that comes from ringing a bell after a successful sale, or comes in the form of cash bonuses and luxury items, salespeople will often pursue such prizes with a higher level of personal drive and tenacity.
Rituals of a company can be practiced weekly or monthly. Teams can have rituals to bond with each other, to stay in the loop and to building a sense community.
All organizations have rituals — from the mundane everyday routines (coffee breaks, tea time) to major, less frequent events like annual meetings and retirement parties. Smart leaders, however, recognize that rituals like these and others are levers for improving the organization’s performance and they take the creation and nurturing of rituals very seriously. It’s a subject that I study closely, focusing particularly on the lessons that can be found for business leaders from the world of sport. From that work I’ve observed that ritual acts on team performance in next ways:
- It creates a shared identity.
- It stimulates the emotions and reduces anxiety.
- It reinforces desired behaviours.
Seven Rituals to Improve Your Business
- When you’re at work create a ritual to start your day. This might include: having a coffee at your desk, checking your PDA for appointments, not answering phone calls for 15 minutes while you read and respond to urgent emails. You might also: set an agenda for the day, plan goals for the week…the list is endless.
- At work, find ways to meet colleagues and socialize during a lunch hour instead of running a million errands. Also, if you’re challenged and need help, you’ll have some friends that can work with you. If you work alone, join a network group that is conveniently located near you, cost efficient and helps you build your business. Make it a ritual to attend the meetings and meet new people and create a ritual to record new contacts.
- Create time saving rituals for work. For example, only check email three times a day, organize your files, file away unused papers as soon as possible; create ‘time boundaries’, where you can’t be interrupted. Close the door, let the message machine take a call, get up and take mini breaks every 90 minutes (for productivity).
- At the end of a busy week designate a night as Movie or board game night with friends or family. If being at home doesn’t excite you, you could sign up for sports and get out your weekly frustrations. The key is to make time for something special once you complete work; this offers you a buffer to help ease you through a hectic week as you have something to look forward to doing.
- Create home rituals to ease into your time off. These rituals may include chores as you play ‘catch-up’ on errands. Be sure to add play to your list. Include ways to decompress, times to exercise, time with your partner, friends, family and time alone.
- Create self-care rituals that put your needs first. If you think this is selfish, consider the rules on airplanes. Parents have access to oxygen masks before their children so they can care for their family in the event of an emergency. You’re no good to anyone if you’re exhausted, resentful or angry because you don’t have time for yourself. For example, get enough rest, make time for things you enjoy such as: walking, yoga, working out at the gym, playing an instrument, biking, reading, writing etc. whatever makes you happy.
Rites and rituals are a powerful tool of organizational culture. They require members of the organization to participate in a performance that reinforces the norms of the culture. Rituals can take many different forms and serve various purposes. Most rituals have a manifest purpose which contributes to the functioning of the organization, but the real importance of rituals lies in their latent purpose and what values are being celebrated.