We can easily agree that corporate culture has strong effects – both positive and negative – on a company’s staff and processes, whether it is in business practices, the meaning and value people give to their work, on management style, or how the offices are organised, all the way through to the question of the ultimate success of an organisation compared to others.

Not easy to define, organisational culture – like national cultures – is still ‘real’. It reflects the meeting point of many dimensions – a set of attitudes, beliefs, mindset of the people forming the organisation, the experiences and history of the company and its leaders, the stories told within and about the group, its values, language and politics – to name but a few. It is the spirit of the company and, as such, cannot be defined in a static manner nor easily changed. Yet its consequences echo at all levels of the organisation, from the quality of the work of the employee cleaning your desks at night, to the effectiveness of board meetings. It can give or take purpose from the work, facilitate or destroy collaboration and directly influence the productivity of staff and the quality of their output, as well as their happiness at work.

The strongest influence on a company’s culture generally comes from those who are called on to act as leaders – managers, senior colleagues, experts, directors, chairman, etc. ‘Leader’ is not a profession, it is a mission that is thrust upon those who are chosen or emerge to give purpose to a group, from a small working team to the chairman of the board of a major international corporation. They strongly influence the ‘company culture’ because they are the ones appointed to determine and manage the delivery of its objectives, who influence the style of collaboration, and as such are the ones defining the purpose of the group, setting rules, making the tough decisions. Not least they cast their shadow over others, setting an example of what is acceptable or regular behaviour, or allocating resources and rewards which incentivise or discourage particular actions and reactions inside the organisation.

Apr-Jun 2016 issue