The subject of corporate culture presents a headache for many team leaders. In fact, just coming up with a definition that everyone agrees to can be quite a challenge.  Some people go with the fairly simple definition as “the way we do things around here,” but personally I prefer something a little more tangible. I pulled this quote from a Fast Company article on corporate culture:

“[Culture is] the formal and informal activities and accepted ways for how people operate–everything from how leaders conduct themselves and how meetings are run, to office dress codes and the physical look and feel of the place.”

For a more detailed breakdown of the specific components that make up culture, take a look at this article from the Harvard Business Review, which suggests six elements of culture; Vision, Values, Practices, People, Narrative, and Place.

  1. Vision: A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employee’s make.
  2. Values: A company’s values are 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.
  3. Practices: Of course, values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices. If an organization professes, “people are our greatest asset,” it should also be ready to invest in people in visible ways. And whatever an organization’s values, they must be reinforced in review criteria and promotion policies, and baked into the operating principles of daily life in the firm.
  4. People: No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values. People stick with cultures they like, and bringing on the right “culture carriers” reinforces the culture an organization already has.
  5. Narrative: Every organization has a unique history — a unique story. And the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation.
  6. Place: Why does Mark Zuckerberg sit in a cubicle? Why does the GooglePlex play such a special role in the lives of Google employees? One answer is that place shapes culture.

This definition of culture leads me to make several observations:

  1. You are defining culture whether you mean to or not. You can’t opt-out of culture, your only decision is whether to be mindful about it or not.
  2. Culture is the combined result of everyone (and everything) in your company.
  3. There is a culture aspect to every business decision you make – small or large.

Defining culture is the first step to actively directing its creation.