What Is Company Culture? 25 Business Leaders Share Their Own Definition•
When you look at job boards and the overall hiring market today you’re likely not going to get very far before running into terms like “culture fit” and “company culture”. In fact, people are tossing the phrase “company culture” around like confetti with the assumption that everyone’s talking about the same thing.
But are we?
Well for one, Merriam-Webster doesn’t even have a definition for it:
Yikes. That says a lot about how open for interpretation it is.
And when you look at Wikipedia (albeit, not my favorite source for definitions) the closest thing they have is “organizational culture”, which they describe as the “behavior of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviors.” Sure that makes sense, but pretty vague if you asked me. There just seems to be so much more to a company’s culture than that.
To be fair, this whole conversation wouldn’t even matter if company culture had no impact on business success, but the reality is that it does. A lot. For example – with over 60,000 companies reviewed on kununu, the companies that ranked best have significantly better company culture than companies that ranked worse:
- Among highest rated companies on kununu (4 stars or higher), the average rating for “company culture” is 4.51 stars
- Among lowest rated companies on kununu (2 stars or lower), the average rating for “company culture” is 1.31 stars
Alright. So if that’s the case – let’s define what company culture is.
I have my own thoughts about the definition of company culture but since I have a horse in the race, so to speak, I figured – why not find out how other people would describe it? Especially people in leadership roles who have a strong perspective into the makeup of their organizations. So that’s exactly what I did.
I asked a group of 25 people, from CEO’s, HR experts and business execs, this question:
What does company culture mean to you and why does it matter?
What I discovered is that people had very different (and unique!) ways to describe the same thing and it all managed to make sense. From “glue”, “DNA”, “atmosphere” and more, here are 25 different definitions for company culture:
The spirit of your people.
Company culture, in essence, is the spirit of our people.
Corporate culture, in essence, is the spirit of our people. It’s morale. And it matters greatly. Truth is, it determines how well our company does over time. If our culture is not good, we may have a good year or two, but we’ll be struggling and will not enjoy good results on a consistent basis.
Our culture includes communication down and up, people development, ideas flowing up, teamwork and collaboration, diversity, flexibility, levels of unhealthy (or ideally healthy stress, which is rare), and our managers’ leadership.
Our culture must be a top priority. It can be assessed and improved!
-John Keyser, Founder & CEO of Common Sense Leadership
A composite of employees, interactions and environment
Company culture is a composite of your employees, their interactions and the environment in which they work in.Company culture is something that has become a bit muddled lately. Company culture is NOT what your core values or culture code states – it is really more a composite of your employees, their interactions and the environment in which they work in.
Company culture is absolutely critical to both attract and retain employees. Job seekers today have more than just options for where they work, they also have more information at their fingertips than ever before. A company culture plays a big part in your employer brand, which is much more than just what your company says it is like to work there on their corporate handles and website.
What your employees say and communicate about the culture online and socially rings more authentic to prospects for hires and also allows them to say loud and proud what they like or dislike about your company. If they are allowed to be proud and share this with their networks this can also be a very effective tool in retention.
-Ed Nathanson, Founder of Red Pill Talent, LLC
Your best manager
People talk about company culture in high, cerebral terms and I find that leaves out the really simple explanation of what company culture is: the best manager your business has. A good company culture keeps people interested in their work, it asks workers to communicate with each other about ideas and problems, and it greases the gears of the workplace and makes them run smoothly.
-Susan Bratton, CEO of Savor Health
A massive galaxy built by your team
We think of culture as a massive galaxy that’s been built by our team collectively. It’s an atmosphere made up of their brilliance and intelligence, and is dotted with all the fun artsy, whimsical or quirky sides of the individuals who work here. So when we are adding to our team, we don’t look for a culture fit– we look for an individual who is going to add to our culture, rather than just fit into it.. This is so important because it keeps us growing socially and with so much diversity.
Team members who don’t feel like they belong to the team aren’t going to stay –or worse– they are going to stay and become a dark cloud in the office; like a little black hole that expands and sucks in the good atmosphere surrounding it. We’re always seeking to add more stars to our galaxy.
-Kirstin Davis, Director of People at Medology
The intangible glue that holds all of the pieces of a company together.
As a C-suite manager for over 30 years, I write and speak on boss-subordinate dynamics, building powerful engaged teams and managing people/teams that annoy you and steal your energy and time, even though they are competent. I work with Executives and their teams who must breakthrough stuck process and solve workplace issues to increase the bottom line and grow their sphere of influence with employees and clients. I’ve addressed many culture fit situations in my coaching and management practice.
Company culture is embodied in the core mission, values, beliefs, and style of the founder and the management team. The culture is the intangible glue that holds all of the pieces of the company together in a cohesive package. It’s the special sauce that makes the sum greater than all of the individual parts. Culture is executed through your policies, practices, and interactions between employees, customers, and business partners. Your employees feel it through compensation decisions, talent sourcing, available resources, work environment, investment in professional development, and emphasis on quality and ethics.
Your company culture sets the tone for all organizational transactions. It all comes down to what is truly valued and rewarded in your workplace. Core values and actions must be in alignment to drive the work. It does not matter if your culture is competitive, collaborative or entrepreneurial. If your policies and practices are not in sync with those values you will be plagued by high-turnover, customer retention issues and stagnant growth. Culture is everyone’s issue and often no one’s responsibility. Make a positive workplace culture your priority and prosperity will follow.
-Ilene Marcus, Founder & CEO of Aligned Workplace
An anchor, a rallying point, a compass
To us, company culture is a combination of a lot of different things, but includes values. However, those values need to be more than just mandated from high. They need to be demonstrated FIRST to the employees, and then to the customers. If it goes in this order, then the employees will help carry those values through to the customers. Culture is how organizations communicate, treat one another, and behave. The culture is frequently articulated in value words, such as trust, communication, etc., but it should be carried out one step further to state HOW a company demonstrates trust, etc.
Additionally, it’s the vibe. In my company, we treat everyone like adults, which means they plan their days to get work done, I don’t sit here and prescribe things my staff. However, when you are treated like an adult, the subsequent conversations are with that in mind, which means if they screw up, we have a very adult conversation, as well. We also say what we need to say and move on. We have Wine Wednesday, which is part team building, part letting loose, and part client interaction (if we invite clients). We don’t watch the clock. We help each other out so nobody is ever overwhelmed. The last two people in the building always leave together because we care about each other. Culture is words, but it’s also actions. And a lack of articulated culture is a culture, too.
To me, a company culture is an anchor…a rallying point…a compass. When we all know the words, actions, and feelings of the organization, we’ll know if and when we’re on track and if and when we’re not.
-Sharon DeLay, President of GO-HR
The way you treat each other
Company culture to me is the way we treat each other (employees and independent contractors), our clients, and our prospects. It is the very fabric of our emails, conversations, marketing materials, and interactions with the people we come in contact every single day of the year, not simply during business hours. Company culture is important to me because I want to work somewhere I look forward to going to every morning. A cause bigger than myself and a place that’s making a difference in the world.
-Ben Walker, Founder & CEO of Transcription Outsourcing, LLC
The DNA of the founders and executives and passed down to the people they hire
The soul of a company, its values, vision, environment, language, behavior, attitude, rituals, and people, are all a part of the company culture. The great thing about company culture is there is no right or wrong way, each is the sum of the people that work in and for the organization. Culture is in the DNA of the founders and executives and passed down to the people they hire. With that said, there are bad and good cultures. We’ve all experienced them in one way or another either as an employee or a consumer.
When it comes to Pro Back Office, my partner Mike Ford and I have always been in sync about who we are and the environment we want to create for our team and customers. Our moto is, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Trusting and respecting everyone you work with, having transparency in your communications and being flexible, are all important facets of our culture. As a leader, you quickly learn that you can’t teach culture, you must hire people that fit your culture. The wrong person can bring everyone down. This is the same for the clients you work with and the suppliers you partner with. There is no doubt that our success is attributed to our company culture attracting the most talented team members and loyal clients.
-Jennifer Barnes, CEO & Co-Founder of Pro Back Office
The atmosphere in the workplace
As most people spend the majority of their waking hours working, it is extremely important to enjoy what you do, where you work and who you work for and with. Company culture is the combination of people, vision and values that ultimately defines the atmosphere in the workplace and shapes how much you enjoy coming into work. A great company culture will attract top talent, while a poor culture will repel good people.
Developing a defining corporate culture also allows employers and employees to more naturally determine fit during the recruitment process rather than on the job, leading to a workforce that is happier, more cohesive, more productive and more likely to stay long term. Candidates often focus overwhelmingly on factors like job responsibilities, compensation and prestige, while companies regularly hire applicants who seem perfect on
paper, but then ultimately do not mesh well with the people, vision and values in place. A strong and clearly defined corporate culture forces each stakeholder to think things through in a more holistic, and in turn, shrewd and pragmatic manner.
-Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group
A deep emotional bond that develops between colleagues
To me, company culture is a deep emotional bond that develops between colleagues with shared values in pursuit of a unified vision. It can’t be manufactured, self-helped or coached into existence.
Company culture develops organically. The fuel that sustains it is love.
This isn’t easy to achieve (to say the least), so we often look to surface-level stuff like ping pong tables, casual dress codes and free lunches and label them as culture instead.
I’m all for casual dress codes. Anything that stifles creativity, innovation and the free expression of personality, I’m against. But you can sport t-shirts and crazy hairstyles while killing it at foosball all day, and still have a lousy culture at the end of it.
There are lots of reasons that my company’s culture is among my most preeminent concerns as a CEO. One of the most obvious is that companies with lousy cultures tend to perform lousily.
But on a personal level, I simply wouldn’t want to go into work every morning if I wasn’t laboring shoulder to shoulder with colleagues who believe what I believe about the importance of our mission.Colleagues, in short, who I enjoy being around and who enjoy being around me, because we love the same things. Loving the same things goes a long way toward loving each other.
I learned at a young age what it’s like to be an outsider, and how it feels to be bullied. I know the agony of not having a place or a sense of identity that goes beyond being a loner who gets picked on.
Small business lifted me out of that crap. Now I have an opportunity to help others escape by the same means, and to work with first-rate people with identical goals. Our culture makes this magic possible.
-Levi King, CEO of Nav
The backbone of your company
As a location independent business, culture is so important. Whenever we make hiring, promotion, or team member review decisions, we always refer to our company culture. It is the backbone of our company and a greater effort needs to be made with a remote team to consistently remind the team of our cultural values and their behaviour should be cognizant of the culture we worked so hard to establish.
Below are the three main pillars of our culture:
– Reliability: Do what you say you will do. A team member’s word is the most valuable thing they own and they must recognize this. Promises should be made very carefully and time estimates must be made deliberately.
– Enterprising: Each team member must be resourceful and creative problem solvers. Each of our team members is considered an intrapreneur and is expected to own their responsibilities. This higher level perspective towards a team member’s responsibilities incites more deliberate behaviour and holistic thinking on behalf of the company.
– Kaizen: This is the ideology coined by Toyota that believes that everything can be improved and deserves to be improved. Each of our team members strives to improve themselves at least a little bit every day and everything around them. Each team member looks at every facet of the company and has the top of mind question in their head at all times, How can this be improved?
It is because of our strong culture and the three pillars that MonetizeMore is the best performing outsourced ad operations company in the world.
-Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore
Your company’s soul
A Company’s culture is reflective of the company’s soul. When it’s positive, it can create a nurturing developing workplace and when it’s not, it can create a toxic environment that people will chose to either not join or leave. In the best environments, culture is deliberately crafted and cultivated by the leadership team and permeates through the entire organization. The company’s values are embodied by the employees they attract, the manner in which they treat their employees – work-life balance, benefits, and perks, the policies and procedures they put in place, and the ways the company’s leadership enforces them.
As a global, high-tech company, Radware has been able to cultivate and evolve its unique corporate culture through each stage of its growth and evolution. While many other companies struggle with diversity issues. It’s Radware’s nurturing and democratic culture that allows women and people of varied ethnicities to thrive. In fact, one of our cultural achievements is having several women as part of the executive management team, including our Chief Business Operations Officer, our Chief Marketing officer and our head of Human Resources. At Radware, women hold positions of authority all throughout the organization. This achievement comes from Radware’s empowering values and communicated expectation that each employee can and does make a difference regardless of their role or background.
Radware’s values emphasize the importance of being open and direct, committed and passionate, innovative and ambitious. These are true key factors when hiring new employees into the company and making sure that people who join aim high and that the company gives them the environment to succeed!
-Riki Goldreich, Vice President of Global HR at Radware
The beliefs, thoughts, and experiences of your employees
To me, culture is defined by the values, beliefs, thoughts, and experiences of the employees within a workplace, which in turn drive behaviors that form the culture. When organizations do a good job of modeling their values, they, in turn, are modeled by staff and a cultural norm of expected behavior occurs.
A strong, positive culture that is aligned with employee’s personal values is a huge retention tool. Many individuals buy into the company’s ‘sell’ of their culture during the recruitment process only to find out that what they say is not the same as what they do. This drives employee dissatisfaction and causes lower levels of performance and higher turnover.
-Jana Tulloch, HR Executive for Develop Intelligence
A unifying force
A company’s culture is defined by the set of values and behaviors people embrace while working together. Culture dictates what actions are considered appropriate and offers a common way of thinking for employees. We all know that great corporate cultures inspire communication, calculated risk taking, and ownership of one’s work. We also know that toxic corporate cultures are defined by mistrust, fear, and a sense of exhaustion among employees.
Corporate culture is important for two key reasons – 1) companies want to foster the best of their employees. It’s so hard and expensive to find great talent that companies want a workplace that can nurture an employee’s growth. 2) Great companies tend to outperform their peers by most measures.
Anecdotally today’s job seekers weigh a company’s culture as a top factor when considering an employer. We spend a lot of time at the office and working in a culture that is in line with the employee creates a sense of belonging.
-Todd Horton, CEO & Co-Founder of KangoGift
A system by which employees feel empowered and valued
Company culture isn’t beers in the Fridge every Friday, a ping pong table and pub lunches. Company culture goes a lot deeper than a repetitive system of carrots and sticks. Company culture is creating a system by which employees feel empowered to give their managers and employers frequent feedback, and knowing that that feedback is valued. There needs to be a direct feedback loop between employees with managers and managers with senior management.
Employees are often asked to give feedback through coarse and archaic annual surveys and appraisals, yet this happens usually only around once a year and these are just mere temperature checks of how people are doing. Often the feedback given in such reviews are kept with senior management and the effects never trickle down to employees. However, by creating an avenue through which employees can update their managers what their successes and challenges were each week and what they want to focus on for the next a direct connection can be made. This engages people with their work and help managers better understand their team and give them guidance when they are struggling.
With employers saying that employees are the backbone of every business, and with only 13% of employees engaged, there need to listening tools that go beyond the pub. The future of company culture is companies investing in their people and using online platforms to listen to what they are saying to make changes. Democratizing feedback, can help create a culture in a company which values their employees as people rather than human resources.
-Eamon Tuhami, CEO of Motivii
An environment based on deep friendship and past experiences
The company culture is based on the environment the founders set up based on our own deep friendship and from past work experiences.
This baseline of every company is really the differentiator between success and failure. At SaferVPN, we have invested in our baseline by building a family, rather than just a company with employees and bosses. We all wear several hats and are unified in working together for the same cause – to offer an exceptional product. We encourage transparency, and we support each other; there are no private offices, and everyone has the founders’ phone numbers – and uses them!
We all are part of the collective team and support a feeling of inclusion and comfort. That is why we decided to put our offices in an apartment building – to provide a homey feeling in a place where people would be happy to come, where they could feel comfortable. It’s really important to us to ensure our office has a warm and supportive environment. In addition to eating lunch together several times a week, our employees create friendships that extend beyond the office.
-Sagi Gidali, Co-Founder & CPO of SaferVPN
The defining force behind everything
Company culture is a defining force behind everything that a company does. It affects employee happiness, which can significantly impact productivity. It defines the office environment – this could be a work hard, play hard approach, an atmosphere of open communication, or a competitive/rewards-driven environment. It also sets the tone for all interactions between employees and customers. Essentially, company culture is the heart and soul of an organization. Without it, the business won’t survive.
Here at SD Equity Partners, we have used our environment as inspiration for our culture. Since we are based in San Diego, we encourage our employees to get outside and enjoy the weather. We allow a more relaxed dress code to reflect the culture that San Diego itself has created. The happiness it supplies our employees is apparent in their enthusiasm and in the great work that they do. We place a major focus on continuing to foster our company culture and make changes as our company grows and our staff changes.
-Evan Harris, Co-Founder & CEO of SD Equity Partners
The “how” of everything you do
The ‘what’ of a company is the reason they are in business, what generates the money that supports their existence. The company culture is the ‘how’ of what they do. As an organization, how are employees, clients, customers treated? How a company functions needs to be defined and committed to by everyone. Although what the company does is of utmost importance because it forms the economic driver, how this is completed is also very important, creating the relational aspect. Culture contributes to the ‘bottom line’ when one considers the factors that can influence employee performance.
Factors related to employee performance typically outlined in organizational values govern how employees are treated within the organization. Some examples include respect, dignity, inclusion, trust, being seen, heard and understood, payment for services provided, support(learning and growth) and generally how they are treated by their peers and managers. If the culture includes all of the factors mentioned above, employees are engaged, proud to be a member of the organization, accountable for their actions and committed to the company’s overall success. Morale is high, employees thrive, production is of high quality and innovation abounds. Clients and customers are listened to with the goal of ensuring their needs are met and if possible exceeded.
If the ‘how’ includes none of the above, employees will disengage, decrease productivity ensuring they do the minimum of what is required, have increased absences and make frequent errors. This results in the creation of inferior quality products/services and leads to poor morale and frequent staff turnover not to mention increased stress and tension that leads to conflict. It is easy to see how a company culture bereft of these factors also impacts the bottom line, in an adverse way.
-Kathy Taberner, Co-Founder of the Institute of Curiousity
The learned (and assumed) behavior patterns within an organization
Culture is the most powerful tool for creating value that an organization has, because it directs behavior. Company culture is comprised of the learned (or assumed) behavior patterns within an organization. A key element of these behavior patterns is that they are built on deeper assumptions. So, the three important components of company culture are that they are learned, they are patterns and there is an underlying assumption driving them.
Culture is important because it helps explain and predict how individuals and teams will behave. It’s important to acknowledge each of the three components. Acknowledging that culture is learned helps us see that changing it will take time and effort; we learn things through experience, so if we want to impact culture, we need to create the right experiences, not just change processes. Acknowledging that culture is a pattern of behavior helps us focus on the behaviors we see broadly rather than those that are isolated. Acknowledging that culture is based on assumptions helps us address the root, by addressing the underlying assumptions driving behavior we enable change.
When we see productive or unproductive behavior patterns in the organization we can ask, “what assumption might be driving the behavior?” and “what experiences might lead to those assumptions?”. If you want a culture of teamwork, but see a pattern of self-promotion and independence, asking these questions might lead to seeing how the company rewards and recognizes individual contributors more than it does teams. You can then work on creating experiences that contradict this assumption, leading to culture change.
-Kyle Brost, Principal of Choice Strategy Partners
Your personality and essence
To us, a company’s culture is its personality and essence. Creating a company culture that thrives involves clearly defining a unique set of values, embodying those values by walking the walk and talking the talk, and enacting policies that empower those values. A strong company culture is the biggest factor in its success, because, when done right, it creates a loyal workforce of happy, motivated and confident employees that clients can’t wait to work with. At SocioFabrica, our culture manifests through an inclusive environment where shared values shape how we collaborate and our processes where employees voices and ideas can be heard.
Sylvia Vaquer, Co-Founder & Creative Director at SocioFabrica
The baseline for success
Company Culture is the baseline for business success. It’s an environment that is created and sustained, where employees enjoy coming to work, leaving work and coming back the next day. Company culture starts at the top within the company and should start at the hiring stage when bringing people into the business. It’s a mindset; having a ‘culture first’ focus. When businesses focus on a positive culture, they create an environment to be proud of. Happy employees perform at their best when they enjoy their work, but these environments need the leadership that creates and sustains this attitude. A workplace like this comes naturally to some, others need to convert, which takes commitment and work. If your business is converting your culture, this is entirely possible and the reward is priceless. ConvertiCulture’s objective is to help companies live a ‘culture first’ mentality for their business.
We have worked in environments that did not have a ‘culture focused’ view, as have most people, and we know the impact of an un-motivated culture, where a job is just a job. In my own career, I have left 4 or 5 positions due to not being a culture fit. At ConvertiCulture, we believe in work environments that benefit everyone: employees, employers, customers and shareholders.
Everyone deserves to enjoy their work and in the start-up era, we encourage companies to incorporate ‘culture’ into their mission, vision and values. We encourage and work with businesses, to put an importance on it that wasn’t necessarily there before. Focusing on ‘company culture’ in 2017 will positively impact HR and businesses like never before. Try it and see.
Tanya Beaudry, Founder & Director of ConvertiCulture
How you interact as a family
Company culture is how the company interacts as a family. This is embodied in every interaction, whether it’s a status meeting, game night, or crab feast. Day in and day out, every employee at Vectorworks respects and learns from each other. My employees are extremely engaged in and out of the office, and these connections make all the difference.
Dr. Biplab Sarker, CEO of Vectorworks
More than logo-wear or on-site child care or Friday keggers
Company culture, at it’s root, isn’t about logo-wear or on-site child care or Friday keggers. Culture can be observed and monitored in the quality of your organization’s work environment – whether people are treated with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.
Most leaders invest more time and energy in managing results and profits than they do their organization’s culture, yet culture drives everything that happens in that organization, for better or worse.
Managing results is certainly important. But managing results is only HALF the leader’s job. The other half? Managing the quality of the work environment, the health of the organization’s culture.
When leaders create a purposeful, positive, productive work culture, amazing things happen. Employee engagement goes up by 40% or more. Customer service ratings go up by 40% or more. Results and profits go up, too – by 35% or more, all within 18 months of engaging in a shift to a culture where people are treated with respect, daily.
To create a purposeful, positive, productive culture, leaders must make values as important as results. They must make values – how people treat each other daily – as observable, tangible, and measurable as performance metrics.
Values become measurable when defined in behavioral terms. A value like “integrity” sounds great but if leaders “assume” that everyone knows how to act with integrity, they’ll be surprised quite quickly. Shared values, defined in behavioral terms, means that everyone knows exactly how they must behave to demonstrate their integrity value.
For example, one client includes in their integrity value a behavior of “I do what I say I will do.” That behavior is observable, tangible, and measurable in the way a player acts daily. With valued behaviors in place, and leaders that model those valued behaviors daily, employees will embrace those behaviors.
Don’t leave your culture to chance – be intentional with behaviorally defined values.
S. Chris Edmonds, Author, Speaker, Founder & CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group
A unified vision of what you stand for
To me, corporate culture is the set of values a company wants its name to be associated with and the processes by which it wishes to convey those values to clients, customers, partners and the public.
It’s important because it gives every employee, from the CEO to management to those on the front line, a unified vision of what the company stands for and what they are expected to convey and how they are expected to convey it.
Rafael Romis, Founder & CEO of Weberous
The heart of a company
Culture is more than the way an office is decorated or catered lunches. A recent Gallup study shows that 50% of full-time employees in the US are working 47 hours a week, so job-seekers, especially millennials, are looking for more than just a weekly pay check and a desk of their own. Culture is the heart of company values and is best shown in businesses who practice what they preach. At Inseev, we believe in measuring what we do, individual and company growth, and reward systems that allow us to party exceptionally when we perform exceptionally. This can be seen in the day-to-day atmosphere of the office as we set individual and team goals, celebrate wins, and offer clients unique insights into their businesses that ultimately achieve results. Company culture means setting a standard and living it day in and day out.
Jimmy Page, Founder & President of Inseev Interactive
Do you have a different definition for company culture that you want to share? (The more creative, the better!) Let us know @kununu_US! And if you’re feeling up to it, share thoughts about your own company culture and workplace with us.
Linda Le Phan is the Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a company review platform where you can get and share workplace insights that matter. When she isn’t focused on creating great content around the modern workplace, company culture, and workplace happiness, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.