Culture Shock – Tips for Understanding Corporate Culture
Ever walk into an office and get a “feeling?”
Without words, there’s a sense of something as you pass through.
More than likely, that gut feeling or impression is a reflection of the company’s organizational culture.
From a communications perspective, it’s important to understand a company’s culture in order to reinforce communications for both internal and external audiences. A strong corporate culture supports the core of a company, which will in turn affect employees and trickle out to external communications.
So what exactly is organizational or corporate culture?
One way to think of organizational culture is like the brand essence of a company—you may not know how to describe it, but you know it when you see it (or is that obscenity? Oops, same idea, though).
Here’s a run-of-the-mill definition — culture can be understood as the shared beliefs, values, and customary ways of thinking and acting which guides the behavior of an organization’s members.
To quote Marty McFly, that sounds a heavy. But think of organizational culture as you would think of culture from a sociological perspective or from your own personal perspective.
A favorite approach of mine to understanding culture in organizations is by way of Edgar Schein, who suggested that culture is a manifestation of three fundamental levels:
1. Artifacts - observable items, such as colors and decor, dress code, and emotional feelings an organization’s members convey.
2. Values - what a company explicitly says are its values, or the norms, ideologies, and philosophies. These may include a mission statement or value proposition.
3. Underlying Assumptions – this is what happens to the values at a certain point of time as they transform into what is accepted as “the way things are” within an organization.
That third level is where you get the feeling with regard to organizational culture, and it’s often the more tricky aspect to study or articulate. But that is where the core of culture resides.
For communicators, it’s worth the effort to understand and study a company’s culture and find avenues to integrate it into corporate communications (both internal and external).
It all goes back to supporting the company’s core– culture is like the heart of an organization, and a healthy heart will support and strengthen the rest of the body. A healthy cultural core supports not only a company’s business direction and staff, but also creates a being that is consistent internally as it is externally.
Here are some examples of organizational culture in action:
Leave it to the leading web company to have one of the coolest-looking offices and oft cited cases of superb corporate culture.
See the artifacts in this picture? The colors, furniture choice and how comfortable the staff looks? Google’s offices are a reflection of its commitment and openness to innovation and great ideas. No wonder anyone would drop to their knees to work for them.
What do zombie elves and social media have in common?
They’re both a part of the Zappos coroprate culture. Seriously. Zappos Community Architect Thomas Knoll participated on a panel discussion at CES where he shared the company’s commitment to integrating its use of social media with its unique company culture. With several corporate blogs and numerous staff on Twitter, Zappos openly shares its culture with its customers and reinforces why they’re a great company.
Do you think PR folks should also support a company’s culture? What have you observed of your company’s culture or do you have any additional examples to share?