As we spend most part of each weekday at work, it is only obvious why company culture is so important.
We immerse ourselves in an environment that should make us grow and develop. On the other hand, imprinting company values on different persons is a continuous process. It is also a very satisfying part of being a leader. Fascinating and sometimes complicated, the process leading to a successful outcome has a backstage phase.
Defining the company culture is proactive. You realize that you want to do it. You analyze, discuss and establish an identity. Authenticity is a permanent companion in this – or it should definitely be one.
But how did the professional perception of company culture evolved in the last decade?
A common denominator for company culture
In a quest to be unbiased, we chose HBR as a common denominator. Yes, we could have used insights from our own company. But, as we established ourselves as a standalone entity 18 years ago, in this big picture we are adolescents. Maturity is at the horizon. Yet, we are proud of our culture, and we learned and progressed with hands-on experiences.
Yet, the focus of this exercise involves a higher degree of societal relevance. How did the company culture concept evolve globally? What can we learn from comparing older and more recent recommendations from the same influencer?
Early 2000s – understanding the importance of values
This 2002 HBR article tackles “the confusion underlying many values initiatives”. Companies were willing to change something about their culture. But they were unsure about how to do this.
Besides listing the types of values, the article insists on three essential recommendations. One of these is to be aggressively authentic. Another one was to own the entire process. We’ll leave you to find out by yourselves the third one.
A decade and a half later, standardization makes its way
Most of us know by now why the “five ways to…” and “seven recipes to…” articles flood the online. They are SEO-compliant. They perform well with the search engines and at the same time attract the reader into clicking on them. Curiosity takes the better of all of us, sometimes.
However, these types of article also serve clarity and summarization. When experienced authors list rules and recommendations, you can be sure they used a thorough research process. Narrowing down a long list to just a few items surely takes time and pondering on the scope-matter.
There we have it – in 2015 HBR mentioned 6 rules for building and scaling company culture.
In short, the rules were:
- start with purpose
- define everything clearly and use a common language
- lead by example
- work with your cultural ambassadors – aka, the people who naturally love and embrace the company culture
- be truthful in your actions
- wisely manage the human capital (“hire for attitude, train for skill”)
The article goes into insightful details, of course. What we extracted from here, however, is that earlier theories (see the 2002 article) have been confronted with reality. All the validated ones now became rules. Although the time span between the two features is large, we can notice how some of the recommendations are the same. Authenticity (truthful actions) is still present, proving that it doesn’t get obsolete. Ever.
2017 – Routine and bigger teams generate new issues
Two years later, and the same publication approaches another side of the problem. Some strive for creativity and out-of-the-box solutions. But the company culture also includes those who perform routine tasks. Bigger team dimensions, plus routine may equal mediocrity. Mediocrity affects the entire group – and is ultimately counterproductive.
Demanding a step up to higher performance is not easy – and it should be rightly done. HBR provides 4 answers to the mediocrity issue:
- show the consequences (establish and state the cause and effect connection clearly)
- react with meaningful measures (and proportionate ones)
- establish peer accountability (a fuzzy accountability distribution is highly unproductive)
- defend the high performance standards vocally, “regularly and vigilantly”
2018 – Chronic company culture issues are toxic
In 2018 our influencer of choice went back to the big picture analysis. Their article on toxic company cultures speaks of the necessity of cultural capital. Investing in this type of capital is important. The cultural capital is a core element, “a type of asset that impacts what a firm produces and how it operates”.
Companies with a low cultural capital do not reflect the formal policies and procedures in the daily operations and habits. There is a disconnection. Somewhere in-between rules the traditional economy still applies, and the mere financial savings are the most important.
By keeping up appearances (and nothing more), these companies may feel like they get ahead of their peers in a sneaky way. Admittedly or not, they are trying to get by in the new economy, by re-using the old rules. In the long run, they end up just fighting against themselves.
The article analyzes why companies won’t invest in cultural capital, even after being aware this is bad for them. It also brings in a few public sector considerations. Turns out that the public sector influences the private one. It may encourage resiliency and support vital policies that ultimately shape people. Or it may not.
Pointing the finger at the most pressing problems, one by one
The 2018 HBR directory of articles as configured by the “organizational culture” topic selector looks like this – click here.
You may notice how the biggest issues are pointed out. From widely politicized problems to leadership questions, each one has its own article.
Workplace diversity, gender equality, pervasive peer attitudes, and a performance-obsessed culture – they are all in this list. The articles are interesting and they may well get you thinking. What does your company culture look like? Which are the most pressing unresolved matters?