People love to contribute. In fact, when given the chance they'll often surprise you with brilliant ideas.

What is Corporate Culture? 4 Key Elements Found in Great Companies


What is corporate culture and how do I create the right type?

Corporate culture - the glue that binds your people together -  can make or break an organization. In companies I've worked with over the past 20 years, I’ve learned that a strong thriving culture equals success and a weak, toxic culture equals failure. I’ve worked with companies at the leading edge of the marketplace and those white knuckling their way back from disaster. The ones that have succeeded recognized that a strong culture created the foundation of a strong company.  And as I've worked with these companies, I've noticed they all have shared four key elements that create a culture that works.

What is corporate culture? For starters, a team working together to solve a problem .

Great workplaces are thoughtfully unique

While there may be some core values that matter to many businesses like being solution-minded, remaining positive, and showing respect, great workplaces bring their own uniqueness to the table. In many ways organizations are like tribes. Each tribe had a slightly different way of doing things. That unique approach may have been based on their geographic location, the vision of the wise elders or traditions that have been passed down through the generations.

In fact, take a minute and think about your organization as a tribe. What is unique about yours? What gets people excited to get up in the morning and come to work? What’s specific to your roots, passion or vision?

Leading organizations recognize that in order for the culture to sustain and foster good mojo, it also needs to be unique to them. For example, one of Netflix’s values -  judgment - transfers directly into their culture. They value spending extra time to find the root cause of a problem and not just solving superficial challenges. In fact, people receive rewards for using good judgment.

At the Army Research Labs, one of their key cultural elements is discovery. With a mission that aims to “discover, innovate, and transition science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power”, it makes sense for them. People constantly ask questions, dig deeper and work past assumptions to discover the possibilities or solutions.

Great companies infuse culture everywhere

I always say that leadership speeches and plaques on walls don’t make a corporate culture. That's never enough. Think about the last time a politician stood up and made a statement you knew they would never deliver on. That’s how employees feel when leadership puts words on the wall without actions to back them up.

What is corporate culture without actually infusing it throughout everything you do? Probably not the culture you want. You must consider how your values are implemented throughout the organization and adjust them as needed to constantly build a great culture.

That means, look at everything - from the layout of your offices, to your email communication, to how you hire and fire - examine everything. Let's say one of your cultural elements is smart collaboration - the right people, together at the right time, talking about the right things - you'd probably need to have a lot of small meeting areas in your workplace, not just one big conference room. Perhaps you'd even add a few lounge areas and small tables throughout to encourage collaboration.

Great organizations draw a line in the sand

Organizations with strong cultures hire and fire based on their values and their culture. They draw a line in the sand that tells them if someone is a good fit or not.

I once worked with a sales team who struggled with one top performer and a team of average performers. Not surprisingly, the top performer refused to play nice and acted, in many ways,  the opposite of the company's values. Rude, manipulative and a lone wolf defined this team member. The problem? In letting that team member get away with it, the message to everyone else was that our values don’t matter around here.

Leadership did finally wake up and fire the team member. The "mediocre" sales team responded by doubling their sales in 6 months.

A strong sense of what is in and out of bounds when it comes to your values and culture helps you attract and keep the right people and avoid the wrong people.

Successful companies encourage innovation

People love to contribute. In fact, when given the chance they'll often surprise you with brilliant ideas. But, they need permission, accountability, and the right tools. Footers Catering encourages its team to, “do better everyday”. It's their way of articulating innovation as a value and continually looking for ways to improve. Leadership gives their employees many opportunities to innovate and even gives peer based awards for it.

At LaunchStreet, we define innovation as, “people, each thinking differently about what’s in front of them to create differentiated value”. That’s a huge part of our culture. My team and I constantly look for ways to shift our perspectives on what’s right in front of us. I have cut bonus checks due to this. I have let people go due to their inability or desire to do this. Big opportunities have been created because of it. It’s in everything we do.

Are you ready to build your culture?

I hope so. There's a saying, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast", and although we don't believe you really can have a successful company without strategy, we know you can't have a company ready to last a lifetime without an incredibly strong culture.

Interested in more helpful tools and techniques to increase your company's success? Visit Innovation 101 for ideas on employee engagement, business innovation, change management and of course, corporate culture.