The Dynamics of Corporate Culture

According to dictionary.com, the definition of corporate culture is: “the philosophy, values, behavior, dress codes, etc., that together constitute the unique style and policies of a company”. In other words, corporate culture determines the personality of a company. This personality can develop in a variety of ways:

  • It may be based on the beliefs and morals of the founder.
  • It might grow from the personality and activity of the owner(s).
  • It might be planned by consultants to deliberately create a culture that owners and managers feel would best serve the needs of the company in the long run.
  • It’s almost always influenced by the industry that the company is part of and the customers it serves.

However, it develops, corporate culture influences how a business works to achieve its goals. There is always more than one goal that’s important to a company, and these goals are often in conflict with one another. The dynamics that govern the implementation of these goals are prioritized by management and then revealed to employees, vendors, and clients. Sometimes, the resulting policy is planned and implemented formally; sometimes it evolves as a result of repeated actions, reactions, and consequences. Either way, a culture is developed within a company, and it is communicated to everyone inside the company as well as those outside.

In for-profit companies, making money for the company is always a top priority. Often, it’s the primary reasons that the company exists and the driving force that keeps a company going. Taken to its extreme, maximizing profits can overshadow all other goals. In publicly owned companies, the amount of profit a company attains becomes a matter of competition in attracting shareholders and other investors.

In many companies, however, maximizing profit is tempered by other considerations. Management may consider certain moral or ethical factors important enough to divert a certain amount of funds and energy away from profits. Charitable contributions, sponsorship of sports teams, and organized volunteer work show that a company has values other than profit alone.

Not-for-profit organizations, of course, take this consideration to the extreme. Usually, their existence is based on a benevolent cause. Some non-profits do have an ulterior motive, however. They might be formed to achieve a strategic benefit, such as publicity or political gain.

Many woodworkers start businesses for creative reasons. They want to be able to design and build wood products of their own. To many woodworkers, the satisfaction of creating an innovative product is their ultimate goal. The product may be one that fills a need in a unique way, or it may be a new aesthetic applied to an existing form. In these cases, recognition and appreciation by their customers is a high priority. The owner of such a company may add value to a product beyond the monetary compensation they receive. This goal must, of course, be tempered by the need to make money or the business can’t succeed.

Values that define a corporate culture are communicated to employees in many ways. In a very small company, such as a craftsman and a helper, the helper learns by watching the craftsman work and speaking with him or her personally. One aspect of these values that the helper learns is how to balance the opposing goals of quality versus speed of fabrication.
When a company becomes organized into departments, it becomes necessary to communicate the philosophy that defines corporate culture in a formal manner. Owners and managers may communicate these values to a shop foreman who, in turn, will communicate them to workers on the shop floor. If installations are included in the scope of work, this process will need to occur through the field supervisor, as well. Important issues should be in writing so that they can be referenced when necessary.

In even a moderately sized company, it becomes necessary to have formal documentation on company policy. Most of these items, such as employee handbooks, are written based on standardized documents designed to protect management and employees alike. There is an opportunity here, however, to include values specific to the particular company. Companies that are concerned about getting new employees up to speed on company priorities can also consider an orientation class.
It’s important for management to be consistent in living out company policy on a daily basis. Top management needs to be an example to the whole company as well as to associates and customers. Middle management needs to be on board with not only the policies but the values that define the company since they are often the ones who communicate policy to those in their charge.

If there’s disagreement among management, it must be resolved. Otherwise, it will find its way through the whole company. Unresolved issues and conflicts affect everyone in the company.

Less deliberate methods of communicating corporate culture to employees speak more credibly than words. Some examples are:

  • The quality of tools and materials that a company purchases indicate the importance of quality in the products that the company produces.
  • Working conditions in the shop convey both the importance of quality workmanship and concern for the safety of shop workers.
  • Existence of high production machinery tells employees that a high volume of production is expected.
  • The condition of the restrooms and break room, if provided, tells how much concern the company has for the comfort and happiness of its employees. This, of course, depends on the company. A very small company may not be able to afford a separate break room. But if management has elaborate offices while shop employees are expected to sit at their bench for lunch and use dingy bathrooms, the company obviously doesn’t have much regard for its employees.

An astute candidate looking for a job can see these aspects of a company’s culture before he or she is hired.

No flowery pep talks or inspirational speeches can make employees feel that the company cares about them when the working environment tells a different story. Management might get away with it for a little while, but in the long run, their words become meaningless. Tactics by management that mislead employees, associates, or customers will lead to a loss of credibility that cannot be easily restored.

Regardless of the particular priorities present in a company’s culture, it’s important that they are implemented consistently. Mixed signals about what’s most important lead to confusion and lack of productivity.

A strong corporate culture, applied with integrity, is a vital part of making a company prosperous.