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Corporate Culture

See also: What's New with Corporate Culture?

Many articles and books have been written in recent years about culture in organizations, usually referred to as "Corporate Culture." The dictionary defines culture as "the act of developing intellectual and moral faculties, especially through education." This writing will use a slightly different definition of culture: "the moral, social, and behavioral norms of an organization based on the beliefs, attitudes, and priorities of its members." The terms "advanced culture" or "primitive culture" could apply to the first definition, but not the latter.


Every organization has its own unique culture or value set. Most organizations don't consciously try to create a certain culture. The culture of the organization is typically created unconsciously, based on the values of the top management or the founders of an organization.


Hewlett-Packard is a company that has, for a long time, been conscious of its culture (The HP Way) and has worked hard to maintain it over the years. Hewlett-Packard's corporate culture is based on 1) respect for others, 2) a sense of community, and 3) plain hard work (Fortune Magazine, May 15, 1995). It has been developed and maintained through extensive training of managers and employees. HP's growth and success over the years has been due in large part to its culture.


Another successful company that expends a lot of energy in maintaining its workplace culture is Southwest Airlines. Southwest is the only major airline in the U.S. that has been profitable in each of the last five years. It also has a good reputation as an employer. In an article written in the ACA (American Compensation Association) Journal, Winter 1995 issue, Herb Kelleher, Southwest's CEO, indicated how Southwest maintained its culture:


"Well, first of all, it starts with hiring. We are zealous about hiring. We are looking for a particular type of person, regardless of which job category it is. We are looking for attitudes that are positive and for people who can lend themselves to causes. We want folks who have a good sense of humor and people who are interested in performing as a team and take joy in team results instead of individual accomplishments.


"If you start with the type of person you want to hire, presumably you can build a work force that is prepared for the culture you desire...


"Another important thing is to spend a lot of time with your people and to communicate with them in a variety of ways. And a large part of it is demeanor. Sometimes we tend to lose sight of the fact that demeanor - the way you appear and the way you act - is a form of communication. We want our people to feel fulfilled and to be happy, and we want our management to radiate the demeanor that we are proud of our people, we are interested in them as individuals and we are interested in them outside the work force, including the good and bad things that happen to them as individuals."


In both of these examples, the top management of the companies were vigilant about maintaining their cultures. The behavior rules and boundaries are relatively clear and communicated often . However, this is not typical. I believe most organizations operate with a diversity of cultures. This is especially true considering the increasing worldwide mobility of people and cultures and values.


There have been some recent models created to attempt to study and classify cultural diversity. One model, the Hofstede Cultural Orientation Model, as reported in the Spring 1995 issue of the ACA Journal, classifies cultures based on where they fall on five continuums.


1. Individual vs. Collective Orientation

The level at which behavior is appropriately regulated

2. Power-Distance Orientation

The extent to which less powerful parties accept the existing distribution of power and the degree to which adherence to formal channels is maintained.

3. Uncertainty-Avoidance Orientation

The degree to which employees are threatened by ambiguity, and the relative importance to employees of rules, long-term employment and steady progression through well defined career ladders.

4. Dominant-Values Orientation

The nature of the dominant values - e.g., assertiveness, monetary focus, well-defined gender roles, formal structure - vs. concern for others, focus on quality of relationships and job satisfaction, and flexibility

5. Short-Term vs. Long-Term Orientation

The time frame used: short-term (involving more inclination toward consumption, saving face by keeping up) vs. long-term (involving preserving status-based relationships, thrift, deferred gratifications).


There's some debate over whether companies should design their personnel policies and reward systems around cultural values. Currently companies tend not to, because of the concern about stereotyping certain cultures.


A popular trend is for companies to "reengineer" themselves, which involves an attempt to change their culture, usually to a team orientation. As reported in the ACA News (September 1995), studies indicate that the following are necessary for a company to change to a "team culture:"


  • Common and consistent goals
  • Organizational commitment
  • Role clarity among team members
  • Team leadership
  • Mutual accountability with the team
  • Complementary knowledge and skills
  • Reinforcement of required behavioral competencies
  • Power (real and perceived)
  • Shared rewards


The importance of corporate culture is growing as the result of several recent developments. Companies are encouraging employees to be more responsible and act and think like owners. In exchange for more flexible work schedules, employees are expected to always be "on-call." With the demise of more traditional communities (e.g. neighborhoods, etc.), companies are filling employees' need to belong to a community. At the same time companies are encouraging teamwork and the formation of teams.


Therefore, organizational leaders shouldn't ignore corporate culture. Rather, it should be addressed in the organization's mission, vision, and goal statements, and emphasized in company sponsored training and company communication . The statements should include the following:


  • To be financially successful, etc. (employees want to belong to a successful organization)
  • To be accepting of cultural (ethnic) diversity
  • To encourage employees to "have a life" outside the company (provide sufficient paid time-off benefits and encourage employees to take the time)

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