Shaping an Authentic Corporate Culture

Mar 21, 2012
4 Min Read

What is the purpose of a company mission, vision, and values? It is a way of communicating what the company does and how it does it. It also serves as a guide to decision-making. For example, when faced with a difficult decision, a leader or a committee can call on their corporate mission, vision, and value statements to act in a way that is in line with the long-term objectives of the company.

Is this too idealistic?

Beneath the printed mission, vision, and values—which are often written with an eye for marketing—exists the company culture. By definition, it is the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices of a specific group of people. Culture is what actually happens, and tends to be influenced by the leaders of the organization. Most organizations will have divisions or departments with sub-cultures of their own.

In many companies, the mission, vision, and value statements are simply an operationalization of the company culture—a way to put what happens into words for clients, outsiders, and newcomers. But in others, the actual culture and the public facade could not be more different. A recent example is Greg Smith’s description of the culture at Goldman Sachs.

This dichotomy poses a problem.

It’s usually not illegal. Depending on the circumstances, it might not even be immoral. And in many cases it’s not even widespread throughout the entire company. But when what you do and what you say you do are misaligned, something is missing: trust, authenticity, integrity, employee satisfaction. With greater transparency thanks to technology and social media, it also poses a PR risk.

The goal of business is to balance serving client needs with generating profits. Sometimes things happen--external or internal to the organization--that shift the balance of that equation. But when that shift is extreme enough that one comes at the expense of another, you might manage to create success, but that success will be short-lived at best.

Profit cannot be the only goal of an organization. It may have worked in the past; such pure capitalism may have been effective in certain industries. But favoring short-term gains at the expense of long-term company sustainability--especially when pretending to do otherwise--is a losing strategy and does a great disservice to the majority of the stakeholders.

Shaping an authentic culture at your own organization:

  • New leaders, new divisions: be crystal clear about what you want your culture to be. Talk about it often.
  • Once is not enough: continuously make sure your employees are aware of the desired culture. Market it internally.
  • Align rewards: behaviors perpetuating the culture should be rewarded. Formally and informally, explicitly and implicitly.
  • Walk the talk: behaviors that threaten the culture must be effectively discouraged. No matter what.


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