#44 Corporate Culture: The Cumulative Traits of Your Employees

Culture, culture, culture. I’ve repeated the word 100 times, but I haven’t done a good job of defining it.

Investopedia.com defines Corporate Culture this way…

“The beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact…Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and developed organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.”

That’s a good definition. Especially the phrase “often corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined”. Not that people don’t try to “expressly define” their culture. There are missions and visions and goals and handbooks and values and beliefs strewn all over the place. 

Unfortunately, most of it is idealistic and cookie-cutter. It fails to reflect what the business isabout. And it fails to be specific enough to be useful. So people ignore it. 

And that is a huge missed opportunity.  Getting culture nailed down is a potential gold mine. It can simplify every single decision in your company.

And you, the business owner, are the only one that can right this wrong. If you have an ill-defined, inconsistent culture it’s yours to fix.


I'm not the only one that thinks culture matters. Here are some thoughts from folks with way more credibility than I’ll ever have.

I’ll start with a quote from Peter Drucker, one of the most influential management gurus of all time.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, operational excellence for lunch, and everything else for dinner!”

Or maybe you're too hip to listen to old dead guys. How about world renowned blogger, best-selling author, and recognized change agent Seth Godin? Here's what he had to say in a recent post.

"And, person by person, trait by trait, we build a broken organization because we believe that function trumps cooperation, inspiration and care.

Until it doesn't, and then, all we've got left is a mess…

Build a team of people who work together, who care and who learn and you'll end up with the organization you deserve. Build the opposite and you also get what you deserve."

Or maybe you're more inclined to listen to someone from the world of academia.  How about Stanford professor Bob Sutton, the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss. Here's the advice he gives his college students.

"When you take a job, take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with — because the odds are you’re going to become like them, they are not going to become like you. You can’t change them. If it doesn’t fit who you are, it’s not going to work."

So there’s your third party endorsers that reinforce the critical nature of culture. 

Is there anyone left in the world who isn't all in on culture?

Yes, me!


I despise culture.


There's a sizable part of me that fantasizes about an elegant system that tells everyone what to do and when to do it. Then we all just close our mouths and get to work.

No distractions. No noise. A productivity nirvana. 

And, by the way, I don't care whether you like your assigned task. Or whether you love your job. Or whether you like working with Cindy from accounting. Or if you feel heard and valued and actualized. Or that your cat is sick.

Screw your cat. Shut up and do the work or get the freak out. 

BUT, then what? 

At the end of another cold, procedural day how would I feel?

Wouldn’t that robot-like control and predictability turn things gray? Wouldn’t everything start to taste like oatmeal? Wouldn’t I want to poke myself in the eye after a week or two of this all-powerful dictatorial monotony? 

And from a performance perspective would this really be so great? What about the fact that we humans feel things. And that those feelings impact quality of work and outcomes?

So I despise corporate culture. And, in my exact same brain, I believe it’s the most amazing, powerful force in business. I believe it’s potential payback/ROI is off the charts.

Think of it this way. You can follow the herd and continue investing in tuning your processes to the nth degree. Unfortunately, you’ll make zero relative progress because your favorite six sigma consultant is also calling on your competitor.

Or, you can walk the tougher but more rewarding path. The path that will provide you sustained competitive advantage. The path of nailing down and living your culture.


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

So where does culture live on the map?



The map is 100% about defining and living your culture. So let’s look at it section by section to see why I say this.


By definition, culture rules on the BFD side of the map. We’re building on the Herzberg research around environment and context. And we have bullets like BE YOURSELF and DEMAND FIT. 


Culture might seem less obvious here, but don’t be fooled. Recall our corporate culture definition from the opening.  “The beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact”. 

Well, one of the most important types of interaction we have is providing each other FEEDBACK. And FEEDBACK is a big deal over on the HGH side of the map. Which means so is culture.

And yes, this kind of conflicts with my post #8 - Movement is Not Necessarily Motivation. Where I said the HGH side was all about INTRINSIC growth and motivation. Internal. 

I still believe that, motivation and growth do come from within. But that doesn't mean there's no room for culture. 

Have you ever tried to be motivated inside a culture that violates all of your senses?  I have, twice. It felt like a chronic, nauseating headache. I couldn’t keep my focus. Plus, I hated these places so bad I didn’t want to give them my best work. I wanted them to fail. So crap cultural FIT led to negative motivation.

Conversely, have you ever noticed your motivation skyrocketing in a place where you FIT? Where you felt like everyone in the place had your back?

I have, and it’s awesome.

So yes, motivation and growth are intrinsic. BUT culture, an external force, can be a powerful catalyst.

And yes, people more resilient than I have done amazing motivated things under adverse cultural conditions. But that doesn't mean inconsistent random culture should be your plan. Do you really believe that’s how you’re going to get the best work out of a group of people that have other employment options?


These special areas that I’ve made front and center on the map are the core of the “beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact”. They’re the drivers that fuel both sides of the map. They are the flesh and blood representation of culture.

And that is why, for the next several weeks, I’m going to dive into the core of culture - WHY ME IF CAN - from a business perspective. We’ve already done it for our self maps, but now it’s time for work. 

***Note: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.