How Does Your Corporate Culture Stack Up?


In the world of Executive Search I find one of the most interesting (and I might add elusive, challenging and often misunderstood) areas we get involved in is learning as much as we can about our client’s corporate (or organizational) culture.  Sometimes what I believe is described, is what I would call their ’aspirational culture.’  In a recent poll by Hunt Scanlon Media – respondents cite culture as the most important workplace consideration at their organization (73%).  When asked how culture was driven as ‘a leadership priority’ at their organization, 42 percent responded ‘from the top down.’ Half of respondents said that culture at their company could be ‘significantly improved upon.’ Tellingly, when asked if culture could be ‘significantly improved upon,’ nearly half of respondents (48 percent) said yes.  As we all know this is not a new topic, it has been talked about for a long time, yet it remains a challenge.


For starters, what does corporate culture mean anyway and why is this important?  According to dictionary.com Corporate Culture is the philosophy, values, behavior, dress codes, etc., that together constitute the unique style and policies of a company.  In a simple word, it is the personality of the company/organization.  This all seems pretty logical; the tricky part comes in when you are trying to understand what that is for a particular organization.  Sometimes I find employees at the same company will describe their culture quite differently or when checking in with a placed candidate, they tell us the culture is not what they expected or is different than it was described in the interview process.  This is where the idea of an ’aspirational culture’ comes in – leaders might get a little too focused on what they want the culture to be, rather than what their culture is today.  When interviewing a candidate, it is helpful to explain what it is now and if you are seeking change.


As a leader, are you thinking about what your corporate culture is today and how to improve it?  If so, here are a few ideas that might be helpful.


First, it is important to remember cultures typically change slowly, however they are constantly evolving.  So don’t expect quick changes and it isn’t a one and done deal, it requires ongoing awareness and tweaking.


Second, step outside of your role and your affiliation with your company and assess/confirm what your culture is now.  This isn’t easy – but really try to focus on interactions with employees, in meetings, at company functions, observe the physical appearance of your staff and their work environment, consider both verbal and electronic communication including your website, as if you were watching a movie and you are the movie critic.  What surprises you?  What do you like?  What makes you cringe?  What isn’t clear?  Does anything seem to be missing?


Third, engage with employees at all levels of the organization about your culture.  This could be with small groups, informal leaders, employees who will speak their mind and/or consider a written survey – often employees will be more honest/direct if they can submit responses anonymously.  The goal is to get them to describe what they like about where they work and what they don’t like.  This sounds easy however sometimes it isn’t.  I have found when asking employees about their culture if they are struggling, I have them think about comparing and contrasting with other places they have worked or other cultures they have observed.  What do they like about working in your organization?  And what do they think could make it a better environment? How could we improve the way we operate?  Also, consider things like – what is the typical work day like for your senior leaders, mid-level management, and non-management?  Are they working non-stop whether in the office or on their phones?  Do employees have a good work/life balance?  How do you reward people/teams for exemplary work? Do people have some fun at work or is this a pretty serious place?  Is it a place that fosters innovation, new ideas, growth, etc.?  Are you connecting your mission, your strategies and your culture together?

I remember my husband worked for a technology company a number of years ago and the speed was about 120+ MPH.  Everyone put in incredibly long hours and there was lots of pressure.  They did things to try and create some fun as well, however a team member told me after she left the company (and she was one of their stars) she rarely left work before 9 PM – 9:30 PM and when she did leave at say 7:30 PM she felt guilty because there were still so many of her colleagues at work.  She finally just burned out and decided she needed to move on.  I know this happened to several others who were there.  So you need to consider these types situations.


Last but not least, once you have assessed what you like and what you want to change, create a plan. Focus on just a few changes at a time, pick the most important changes first and then really think through how you will patiently go about making those changes.  Remember, the old saying Rome wasn’t built in a day.


Culture is not only important to you, but working in a well matched culture is top priority for high potential leadership candidates and these are the people you want and need in your organization to succeed.  So while it isn’t easy to quantify, your culture impacts the high caliber talent you want to hire.


Good Luck!


Lu Miller is a Principal  & SVP of Business Development at Morgan Consulting Resources, a healthcare executive search firm celebrating over 20 successful years in business.

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