What Does a Winning Corporate Culture Look Like?

To be an enduring, great company, you have to build a mechanism for preventing or solving problems that will long outlast any one individual leader.” ― Howard Schultz

We recently began work with a new client who asked for our help in assimilating a new senior team with 70% of the new leaders being in their jobs less than 6 months. While some of the departures of past leaders were due to health issues or retirements, a lot of the changes could be assigned to the common problem with this organization: they have a very tough culture and few leaders survive long term. Supporting this fact was the HR leader’s plea for help due to massive team dysfunction and suffering morale issues. 

So what is a corporate culture and why do some companies struggle to define it?

Jeffrey Fox and Robert Reiss in “The Transformative CEO: Impact Lessons from Industry Game Changers”, describe it this way, “corporate culture is a company’s personality.” While some leaders may find culture difficult to describe, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton make the case in “All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results” that the illusive description is “rubbish. If it’s so excruciatingly hard to describe your culture, then you don’t have a great one. Culture isn’t invisible, indefinable. When you walk into a great culture, it smacks you in the face with its concreteness.” And the opposite is also true, a difficult culture can also be very easy to describe.

Certainly our new client found it easy to describe her company’s culture. She used words like:

  • Blame
  • Silos
  • Turf wars
  • Dysfunctional back stabbing
  • Hierarchical and dictatorial in nature 

What does a winning culture look like?

We have been fortunate to work inside many positive cultures and the overarching feeling is
 one of purpose and inclusion. People genuinely like coming to work, they feel empowered to create solutions that move the business forward. Winning cultures tend to:

  • Attract talent that strategically aligns with their values. They are meticulous about hiring for just the right fit. 
  • Focus on the overarching mission, vision and purpose of  the company. This passionate focus on the vision creates a platform whereby employees feel connected to the mission and proud to work for the company.
  • Encourage new and innovative thinking. These cultures solve problems by asking all levels in the organization for solutions. 
  • Set consistent priorities and goals. These goals exist across the entire culture creating clarity for the direction and intention of the company.
  • Hold each other accountable. This serves as an indicator of how invested the culture is in getting better results and building leadership capacity rather than being about proving someone wrong. 
  • Address derailing behavior swiftly. Address behavioral issues and work to understand the reasons behind why the behavior began to seep into the culture in the first place.
  • Work hard to develop a culture where trust is a valued currency worth protecting and cultivating through doing hard things together.

The need to call it as it is

While we tend to see far more dysfunctional cultures struggling to get on the same page and break the long-term habits that perpetually keep the culture mired in finger pointing and blame, the good news is companies can reinvent their culture

How do you change organizational culture? It is our opinion that the only way to do that is get the CEO and the Senior Leadership Team to acknowledge the reality of the situation. That is the first step in changing the culture for the better. 

What is the culture at your company like? Does your CEO and Senior Team Leadership have an accurate picture? If not, what impact does this have on your company personality?

Your brand is your culture.” – Tony Hsieh

This post was originally authored by Becky Dannenfelser.