Archive for About Company Culture — Definitions

114 — Some Company Culture Maxims

    • There is no event in a vacuum. To understand an event, look at its context.
    • The event is not the problem. The person is not the problem. The system is the problem.
    • What people do reflects the culture. Culture is established by its leaders. What people do is information about the culture and about the leaders.
    • A company’s culture is the context for all that happens in the company.
    • Because the culture determines productivity and profits, it is the real bottom line.
    • The purpose of human systems is to serve people. If people are the subject, not the object — if people are put first — enthusiasm and high productivity will follow.
    • Don’t involve people just to solve problems. Use problems and problem-solving to involve people.
    • You can’t have a safe workplace if you don’t have safe meetings.


cc 114 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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112 — What is A Good Organizational or Company Culture?

“Good” means good for the business and good for people. A good organizational or company culture is both.

Many organizations emphasize the business side over the people side and as a result have an out-of-balance workplace. This is understandable; “If I didn’t pay attention to the finances I’d be out of business”.

While this is true, ignoring the people or human side usually leads to poor employee attitudes, low morale, and resulting low productivity and poor financial performance. An unbalanced workplace does not fully tap the largest resource in every company, its people.

In contrast, a balanced work culture allows people to satisfy their desire to be engaged and productive around the job. For example, most people want to be recognized by their team for their contributions, they want to be appreciated and know they are a valued member, they want to go home feeling they had a worthwhile productive day, and want to feel enthusiastic about returning the next day.

When people can satisfy these and other basic human needs on the job, they naturally bring more of themselves to their task, i.e., they will engage — taking responsibility not just for their own work but for the success of the company. When people feel this strong connection and the certainty that others across the company feel the same, the workplace culture rises to a level of performance otherwise impossible to achieve.

At the human level a good company culture has; high morale, motivation, responsibility, trust, creativity, responsiveness, flexibility and productivity.

To Learn People’s Desires, Ask!

When you ask people in any company, “What would you like more of in the workplace?” they usually say something like:

    • More involvement in decisions that affect me.
    • A feeling of safety — more openness and trust.
    • Better communication and more information.
    • Better teamwork and more cooperation.
    • More focus on getting work done and less on politics.
    • Clearer tasks, responsibilities, and boundaries, so I can be personally responsible for my work.
    • Looking forward to coming to work.


To Build a Good Culture, Move in That Direction

By definition, developing a good work culture means moving in the direction people want. While this sounds simple, it is hard to do.

To start developing the work culture, leaders can make small changes in how they do what they do every day, changes that show that they understand and encourage the values people want. For example leaders and managers might involve people in decisions that affect them, communicate more, make team decisions, and give people more information and responsibility.

What is a “Bad” Culture?

By definition, a “bad” work culture is the opposite of a balanced workplace. It is one where people cannot fulfill their desires around the task. These poorly developed work cultures are usually led by managers who keep tight control over information and decisions, perhaps because they’re unsure of what will happen if they open up the workplace. Fortunately when managers learn to pass control to others they find that by sharing control, they actually have much more of it and greater profits.

In a good work culture, everybody wins.

cc 112 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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111 — What is Company or Organizational Culture?


Your Corporation’s Culture is Its Personality. It is the company’s shared beliefs, values and practices — the unique way your organization sees the world and acts. It is what employees do and what their actions mean to them.

Just as our personality guides what we do, so an organization’s culture affects everything employees do — how energetically they contribute to teamwork, problem solving, innovation, customer service, productivity, quality, and profits. The company’s culture makes it safe (or not safe) for a person, division or the whole company, to take responsibility, raise issues and solve problems, to act on new opportunities, or to move in new, creative directions.

Culture and personality are similar because historically cultures were developed by people to solve and satisfy people’s needs. When we describe a national, regional, or organizational culture we use words that can as easily apply to a person. For example we might say that a culture is “friendly” or “tough”. It might be “driven and aggressive”. It might be “active”, “analytic”, “trusting”, “collaborative”, or “open”. These adjectives can also describe a person.

To understand why people in a company do what they do, look to the culture. Or to say that another way; if you want to understand a company’s culture, look at what people in it do.

A Well-Developed Culture Easily Outperforms Competitors

A company’s culture is usually at the root of success or failure. It underlies difficult people-related problems in communications, teamwork, resilience, productivity, profits, motivation, morale, absenteeism, retention, safety, injuries, and insurance claims.

A company’s leader can change the culture. This is hard to do — because cultures resist change — but it’s not rocket science.

A company’s culture affects everything in it — including profits — so in many ways culture is the real bottom line. A company with a well-developed culture, open to all that its members want to bring, easily outperforms competitors with less developed cultures, where people are less involved and committed to success.

A Company Does Not Have a Culture, A Company Is a Culture

We talk as if a person has a personality, or a company has a culture. But people don’t really have a separate thing called a personality. A person is what they do, how they feel, what they think; their unique mix of emotions, attitudes and behavior. Similarly a company does not have part of itself called its culture. A company is a culture, the unique way it sees the world and does what it does.

Also, just as a person is not a problem — though sometimes what a person does may be a problem to others — so a culture is not a problem. It just is what it is.

A company culture contains everything that makes up the organization and how all the parts work together. It is the unique mix of equipment and hardware, processes and software, the authority, reporting and control structures, communications and relationships, and the nature and quality of its members’ experiences. See also The Five Levels of Culture. However when we talk of company culture we usually mean the human half. It’s like talking about a person’s personality — we don’t include his or her body even though the mind does not exist without the body.

Cultures Tell Us How to Behave

As we matured from infancy to adulthood, it was our culture — in and outside of our home — that taught us how to act. As human beings we are highly skilled at learning from social settings, recognizing almost immediately how we should behave. We know how to fit in, how to do what is needed, how to adapt, how to be accepted and how to succeed.

We jump and shout at a ballgame, sit quietly in church, pay careful attention in class, behave appropriately in meetings, and lovingly guide our children at home. These are all learned adaptations, always appropriate to the situation — from our country’s and local culture’s unique way of seeing the world and doing things.

To Understand a Company’s Culture, Look at What People Do

It is the very essence of all cultures that they tell members how to behave, what to do. The company’s culture is the stage or backdrop for what people do on the job, for everything that happens.

If people are open, forthright and engaged, you know that is the nature of the company’s culture. In contrast if people are defensive, irresponsible, and passive, you also understand the company’s culture.

Culture Mirrors Leadership

People look to their leaders for signals on how to behave. For example, although most people want to be open and engaged, they will only be this way if they think their leaders, and thereby the company’s culture, want it.

In any organization 80 percent of the members are potentially very flexible. If the culture asks for it, these employees will be engaged, responsible, pleasant, and highly productive. Conversely, if they think the culture asks for it, these same people can be closed, unengaged, irresponsible, unpleasant, and unproductive.

Surveys consistently reveal that only about a quarter of employees are actively engaged in their jobs. About half have no enthusiasm for their work. About a fifth are so uninterested or negative about their work that companies might be better off if they called in sick. Because most of employees’ attitudes comes from the culture, these surveys indirectly reveal that three quarters of all cultures are sadly underdeveloped.

Build the Culture You Want

It is simple — but not easy — to build the culture you want. If you want people to be engaged, engage them. If you want people to be involved, involve them. If you want good communications and relationships, simply communicate and establish good relationships. If you want people to be efficient and productive, help employees understand their financial and production environment, i.e. give employees access to the numbers in a form they can use.

A Well-developed Culture Is Highly Profitable

If you demonstrate desired qualities, everybody will see the change, like it, and respond. As you create a workplace where members can better meet their desires around their tasks (such as recognition, involvement, teamwork, creativity, responsibility, and productivity) high company performance naturally follows.

Because culture determines profitability it truly is the real bottom line. Sadly, in most companies, it is the biggest untapped asset.

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113 — Culture is “Personality Writ Large”


In her widely translated book Patterns of Culture (1934), Ruth Fulton Benedict wrote, “A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action”. Each culture, she held, chooses from “the great arc of human potentialities” only a few characteristics which become the leading personality traits of the persons living in that culture. “These traits comprise an interdependent constellation of aesthetics and values in each culture which together add up to the culture’s unique form or shape, its wholeness.”

In the book’s forward, Margaret Mead succinctly stated that Fulton saw “human cultures as ‘personality writ large.’” To say that another way, what you can say about a person, you can also say about a culture. In a proper sentence describing culture or a person, you can substitute the word ‘culture’ for the word ‘person’, and vice versa, and the sentence will still make perfect sense. In fact if you think of your culture as a person, with the full range of human needs and desires, you can get to know it and work with it most efficiently.

We Exist Only In Relationship to Our Environment

We are each connected intimately with the world through our senses. We are constantly engaged. In fact if we were not engaged we would not be alive, not be a person. We exist only in relationship to our situation. It is not a dualism — us in our situation. It is a duality – we are one with our situation.

In childhood the social piece of that situation was mostly our family and the local variety of our national culture. Of all the possible things we could say, or experience, or be, it was the particular form of our cultural relationship that allowed some aspects to come forward, others to recede. That does not mean they ceased to exist, merely that they have moved to the background.

Cultures are formed to satisfy the broad array of human needs. They express human needs. As we grow in any culture we learn to fulfill our individual needs through the distinct cultural pattern into which we are born. In fact you could say that person and culture are inseparable. We become who we are through the culture that shapes us. Without culture the person is not a person.

Cultures Evolve

Cultures evolve just like the people in them. We might think we have come a long way from Vikings, Angles, Britons and Saxons, but as cultures (or people) evolve they do not leave features behind, they merely add new dimensions. And these new dimensions are not really new. They were there all along, merely unused, unexpressed.

In other words, just because a person or a company or any culture does not show a particular human trait does not mean that trait is not there, waiting in the wings to come on stage. As modern genetics reveals, the expression of genes is largely dependent on context, on the environment, on needs. Genes are mostly switched on (expressed) or off as needed in the development of the organism. E.g. at the appropriate time the genes that form an arm or a leg will switch on. Fortunately genes also switch off, or we would have excess arms and legs, which would be quite inconvenient. It’s the same with any culture, including your company’s.

Companies Contain All Potential Qualities — Use Them

Company cultures have the potential to express any human characteristic. A well developed company culture allow members to fulfill their deep-seated desires, build the kind of loyalty and commitment that brings engagement, high satisfaction, and exceptional profits.

The current hyper-competitive market asks leaders to tap any unused potential. In most companies the greatest potential lies in their culture.

Ask Yourself, “What Culture Motivates?”

The fact that “Culture Is Personality” tells us that we can think of the organization as a person. This leads to, “What kind of person do I like to work with? What kind of culture motivates me?” The answers help you choose leadership traits and cultural qualities you want and need. These desirable cultural traits are right there, waiting inside your company to express themselves. Just release them! You’ll find the benefits truly endless.

cc 113 — © Barry R. Phegan, Ph.D.

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