Corporate culture.  It’s the kind of thing that companies too often only talk about but do little in the way of action.  Establishing a culture and keeping it running are too often not taken very seriously.

One of the reasons culture may get short shrift is because of its nebulous kind of nature.  Trying to define it can be difficult.  According to Wikipedia, culture is a “set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization.”  The question is, how does a company decide what those values and attitudes are, and even if a firm’s leaders do come to some consensus on these values, how can they get everyone in the company to use them as guidelines?

A firm’s leaders really can’t get everyone on the same page with a company’s corporate culture.  Leaders have always had trouble getting their people to abide by certain basic rules — even religions have trouble doing it.  Culture is not an objective that leaders can impose from above.  It’s more the result of behaviors established by everyone.  So, while leaders cannot order people to adhere to a culture, they can influence the shape of a company’s culture.

Leaders can do this first by communicating what their idea of a successful culture is.  Managers and executives need to let employees know what they see as the ideal way of doing things.  Leaders need to communicate what will set their company apart and how this will contribute to its success.  For example, Jack Welch of GE incorporated the ideas of speed, simplicity and self-confidence into that company’s culture.  He wanted to distinguish it from the company’s past culture that was more structured, bureaucratic and analytical.

Another way to influence a company’s culture is by showing how behavior can move the business forward. New behaviors will catch on if they lead to success. Another way to give a new culture a push is by incorporating it into human relations.  Things that can be measured and rewarded are strong influences on behavior.  So, if the new cultural values and behaviors are made to be part of the hiring and promoting process, this will help them catch on.

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