What Components Make A Great Corporate Culture?

posted in: Culture, Currated Content, People, Values | 0

This will be the second curated post in a short series about Company Cultures. Out of the many great articles I found I grouped some of them around 3 themes:

  • Why – what’s so important about Corporate Culture?
  • What – are there building blocks that get make up a Corporate Culture?
  • How – Corporate Cultures can not, should not be replicated because every company is different

The first one you can find here. It might be worth reading that one before continuing here because it may explain why you should care about this post.

I’m reading Organizational Culture Change: Unleashing your Organization’s Potential in Circles of 10 by Marcella Bremer, and wanted to share this quote with you to get warmed up:

Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM knew from experience, when he said: “I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.”

So the question becomes, what is “the game”? What are the relevant aspects of “the game”? Let’s see if we can shine a bit of light on that.

Marcella writes in the book that a widely used definition of culture is “How we do things around here.”, and that

The other part of culture is under the water’s surface and that is how we think and feel about “what we’re doing here.” Why are we doing these things in this particular way?


In summary: shared beliefs and behaviors are the two main components of organizational culture. They are the factors that we are going to work with when we want to bring about successful organizational change.

Now you can say OK, shared believes, shared behaviors, that’s the game, get it – thanks, next topic. But then you didn’t really learn much, did you? What does that actually mean, shared believes and behaviors? And… is that really all there’s to it?

Let’s look at some other angels… see what we find…

Here’s an interesting article, Harvard Business Review (they know a lot as well):

Click here to view original article Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture

The benefits of a strong corporate culture are both intuitive and supported by social science. According to James L. Heskett , culture “can account for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.”

So far so good, if we play “the game” well, we can perform 20-30% better than our competitors that haven’t read this post and taken action on it!

I hope that by now you’re convinced (or have  raised interest) that Culture has a positive impact on people, on your company and its performance. Though I’m not that happy yet with my understanding of “the game”… What makes a culture? What are the components, the building blocks that can make a company culture great?

1. Vision: A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. […] A vision (or Purpose) statement is a simple but foundational element of culture.

2. Values: A company’s values are the core of its culture. While a vision articulates a company’s purpose, values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision. […] And while many companies find their values revolve around a few simple topics (employees, clients, professionalism, etc.), the originality of those values is less important than their authenticity.

3. Practices: Of course, values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices. If an organization professes, “people are our greatest asset,” it should also be ready to invest in people in visible ways. […] And whatever an organization’s values, they must be reinforced in review criteria and promotion policies, and baked into the operating principles of daily life in the firm.

These I get! These first three have been the themes of my posts here for several weeks (<– check the list at the bottom), and yeah… Vision & Values are Believes, and Values & Practices seem to line up with Behaviors.

4. People: No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values. […] People stick with cultures they like, and bringing on the right “culture carriers” reinforces the culture an organization already has.

Getting there, you need people, those are the ones that believe and behave…

5. Narrative: […] one of Marshall Ganz’s core areas of research and teaching is the power of narrative. Any organization has a unique history — a unique story. And the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation. […] But they are more powerful when identified, shaped, and retold as a part of a firm’s ongoing culture.

Now isn’t that a perfect example of “How we do things around here.”? Here’s an idea: empower the people to generate a Culture Book! Not a new, though a great idea for crafting ones history and retelling it as part of your culture, no?

6. Place: […] place shapes culture. Open architecture is more conducive to certain office behaviors, like collaboration. Certain cities and countries have local cultures that may reinforce or contradict the culture a firm is trying to create. Place — whether geography, architecture, or aesthetic design — impacts the values and behaviors of people in a workplace.

I can imagine “place” is where behaviors and believes are ‘most visible’. Though, being part of an all virtual company I’m struggling with this one. But no worries I’ll ask my colleagues from Collaboration Superpowers and Virtual not Distant, and see where we can get with “Place”!

But curation wouldn’t be curation without some material to compare with. We don’t just want to believe the above just because it comes from Harvard, do we?

Let’s check out CULTURE LABx, they seem to know what they’re talking about as well. Their Culture Code* has 6 components as well…

CULTURE LABx - 6 components of Culture

How about that! There’s a perfect match on the first three components of culture!

The last three components in both lists seem to describe what you need to make the first three work:

  • HBR‘s People, Narrative and Place do however take a company perspective (yes, the ‘people’ one as well). What can ‘the company’ do to cultivate the culture, what and how can we manage the environment , the system, to reflect and stimulate “how we’d like things are done around here”.
  • CULTURE LABx‘ Recogition, Rituals and Cues take a people perspective. Recognize and reward, stimulate, repeat, remind, it is how people learn, remember and (most likely) adapt.

I believe we need all of it (I call it Culture 3.0): Purpose, Values, Behavior, a People perspective and a Environment/System perspective. Getting all of those components to work together as an oiled machine and I’m more than convinced you can perform 20-30% better than your not-so-well-oiled competitors.

I do want to add 1 suggestion, though you might want to claim it is a value and a behavior: Trust.

None of the above will ever lead to something even close to something oiled if .. there .. is .. no .. TRUST.

What do you think – does this cover all key components of a great corporate culture or is something missing?


I have to give credit to the book of Marcella, the statements I show in this post are from the very early beginning of the book, and I’m already intrigued by it. I hope she won’t mind I keep reading and cherry picking pieces relevant to what I want to write about!


*If you are seriously interested in culture, make sure you check out this CLx book: Call for submissions

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