Company Culture-Part One.


“Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

-Herb Kelleher, Chairman, Southwest Airlines

“Nice work, guys. Excellent. Good team effort all around. Go us.”

-Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, Iron Man 3 (movie)

There’s a great deal of information available today on the topic of company culture.  Experts are popping up with a load of advice, do’s and don’ts, how to’s and what not to do, and lots of insights and examples to share.

You might already have this topic mastered.  If so – congratulations – and don’t feel obligated to read on.  If you’re like me, however, and you take an interest in what others have experienced and what they have to share, please continue.

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several companies here in Silicon Valley since beginning my career in Operations nearly 30 years ago (yeeowwch- that long?  Really?)….in the mid 1980’s I joined my first start-up company (kind of before “start-ups” was a thing), and received a first class education in business growth, basic economics and most importantly, the art of working with others.

Company or “corporate” culture has been defined as “the beliefs and behaviors 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.” (excerpt from Investopedia).

In my experience, I’ve found that a company’s culture can directly influence the company’s success, employee participation and retention, and external marketing and awareness of both their products and their organization.  The company’s reputation is often directly tied to the company’s culture as well.  And a thriving, positive and engaging culture can even attract a higher level of talented team members.

Having made such a bold and yet obvious statement about company culture, I’d like to share a few thoughts on what a company culture is not as well.  The goal is simply to share my view on the topic.  In no particular order:

  • Company culture isn’t something that can be bought.  I know there will be those who disagree, but come on people, you cannot expect that simply providing treats, great coffee or even full-time chefs (been there, done that) who provide meals to your employees will earn a great company culture.  It’s much more than that.
  • Company culture isn’t defined by one individual.  As much as I have come to appreciate working alongside some great human resource people and business leaders, corporate CEOs and small start-up company presidents, they cannot be expected to single-handedly shape and direct the corporate culture.  By its very nature, culture is formed by groups of people.  Remember the saying – “it takes a village”?  Very true when it comes to company culture.
  • Company culture isn’t developed in a vacuum (at least, not a good, positive and engaging culture).  Great company cultures are grown over time, they are cultivated, they are fed, and they are managed.  It requires active participation by those interested in such a topic.  There needs to be a conscientious effort applied.
  • Company culture isn’t a “cure all” for whatever ailment your business currently suffers from.  This might seem obvious but I’ve experienced this first hand in more than one environment- the erroneous view that “if we could improve our company culture, we would improve the bottom line to our business”.   It just doesn’t work that way in the real world.  While a great culture can enhance and strengthen the business through motivating its members towards greatness, it should never be viewed as a solution to systemic business issues.  There’s no guarantee with respect to this idea.  Business is still- well- “business” at the end of the day so to speak- the rules around revenue growth, marketing spend and profit margins still apply.

Well- it’s a good start. Part 2 of this discourse will include a closer look into what a company culture is, what it can do, and how to affect it and promote it in a positive fashion, so stay tuned.  For now, give some thought to your role, your influence,  in your company’s culture.  Thanks for reading this short prose- onward!