Your Corporate Culture: What’s Inside?

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“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”-Jack Welch

Jack Welch isn’t alone in this opinion. Many of today’s most successful business leaders agree — culture is a powerful force that can make or break a business.

So, what is this elusive culture thing, anyway?

It is a topic the TalentCulture community obviously takes seriously. (After all, it’s at the core of our identity.) But even among culture specialists, the concept isn’t easy to define. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as an experience — created and shaped by the collective values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of your workforce.

You can’t necessarily “see” culture. But evidence of it is often easy to spot. Similarly, culture can’t be manufactured, manipulated or imposed upon employees. But without clarity, consistency and communication, it can rapidly erode.

Looking Closer Look at Corporate Culture

MIT Management Professor, Edgar Schein, presents culture as a series of assumptions people make about an organization. These assumptions occur at three levels — each is more difficult to articulate and change. Schein’s three-tier structure includes:

• Artifacts (Visible)
• Espoused Beliefs and Values (May appear through surveys or other narrative)
• Underlying Assumptions (Unconscious beliefs/values. Not visible; may be taken for granted)Culture 3 LevelsIllustration via Chad Renando

The Business Case for Culture: Zappos

In recent years, Zappos has become known for its deep commitment to culture as a competitive advantage. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, often speaks about the importance of workplace culture, and why it is his company’s chief priority. To understand Tony’s perspective, watch this brief video:

Below are Zappos’ “10 Commandments” — the core values that drive culture, brand and business strategies:

1) Deliver WOW through service
2) Embrace and drive change
3) Create fun and a little weirdness
4) Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
5) Pursue growth and learning
6) Build open and honest relationships with communication
7) Build a positive team and family spirit
8) Do more with less
9) Be passionate and determined
10) Be humble

What do you think of “commandments” like these? How does your organization articulate and reinforce cultural norms across your workforce? How effective are your efforts?

Beyond Zappos: 100 Great Company Cultures

Of course, Zappos is only one of many organizations that invest deeply in culture. Last week, Fortune Magazine offered 100 other examples in its 2014 “Best Companies to Work For” List, developed by Great Place to Work Institute.

Even before the list was revealed, Great Place to Work CEO, China Gorman, shared several key observations about the cultural characteristics that help great companies attract top talent.

And yesterday, China talked with us in greater detail about lessons learned — first in a #TChat Radio interview (hear the replay now), and then in a lively community-wide #TChat discussion on Twitter. (For a full recap of the week’s highlights and resource links, read: “Workplace Greatness: No Guarantees.”)

As the moderator of this week’s Twitter event, I’d like to thank the hundreds of professionals who literally contributed thousands of ideas about what makes organizations “tick.” Your input is always welcome — the more, the better. So let’s keep this conversation going…

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Nancy Rubin

Nancy Rubin

Nancy Rubin, Ph.D. is an expert and recognized thought leader in instructional design, technology and curriculum. She is strongly committed to educational excellence and creating a positive learning experience in the online environment. She has presented at many conferences, has been published in educational journals, and is the Associate Managing Editor for the Journal of Literacy and Technology, an online peer-reviewed international academic journal exploring the complex relationship between literacy and technology in educational, workplace, public, and individual spheres. She was selected as a 2012 Top 20 Most Influential Tweeter in Learning Technology.


  1. Great article, Nancy, and a topic I don’t think that gets enough “airtime” in today’s workplace. I’ve had the pleasure of facilitating many programs and workshops on change management, leadership development, and personal resilience, and so many times the concept of “corporate culture and values,” “ individual employee values” and their respective “fit” (or lack there of) comes into the dialogue. So much discord arises when there’s misalignment between “corporate” and “individual.”

    At SweetRush, Inc. we’re a 100% virtual company, so there’s a lot of extra effort involved in making sure each “SweetRushian” doesn’t forget that they are part of a bigger corporate culture. From small things like our senior leadership team signing every email with “be well” or “good things,” (helping to reinforce two of our corporate principles) to larger things like company-wide days of service and report-backs to targeting socially-conscious clients, I’m proud of how the leadership team really takes the lead to set the tone for the culture of SweetRush and ensuring all members are aware of the expectation to support that culture. Heck, my interview process took over six months to be sure I would fit into the overall corporate culture, a move I don’t think enough organizations focus on during the recruitment and onboarding process.

    Thanks for bring up this very important topic!

  2. Corporate Culture needs fluidity to adapt to the current business environment. Often, cultures lack the flexibility needed to sustain long-term growth and existence. Those companies that have existed for several years have been able to adapt their cultures or transform them to conform to their space. Cultures can be nurtured to meld into the world without sacrificing the core values of the company.

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