Who sets company culture?

By Robin Chambers

Team-hands-in

Company culture is what drives an organisation forward, and it is what the company bases its brand and values on. The right culture will take a company to places they could only have dreamed of.

Look at Apple, for example; a clear leader in its field with an undeniably clear company culture. This company was, in its origin, a humble startup born in the garage of a Californian university drop-out and a couple of his friends. But where does company culture stem from?

I believe there are two main drivers within a company.

The senior management team

If we look at SMEs, these tend to have been started up by one or two like-minded individuals who then grow the organisation organically around them. Subconsciously or not, these business owners will set the company culture and drive it throughout the business, by (in the best case scenarios) by leading by example. That is to say that if you want to foster a hard-working, positive culture to your company, then you have to be hard-working and positive person too.

Management professor Wei Li-Qun says that “Company culture is the basic assumptions and values of business leaders. It refers to the underlying values and beliefs held by business leaders that serve as a foundation of business management”

Inspiring business leaders will take their peers, their employees, their clients and their customers with them on their business journey. If you can live the values and culture through your leadership and actions, then the rest of your business will follow.

Everyone else

The second way is to allow the employees of the organisation to set the company culture. Can a business leader trust his teams to set the right culture for the future and for future hires?

“Just as societies have cultures so do organisations. Organisations are societies of individuals who come together to perform collective tasks. They have their own distinctive patterns of culture and sub culture”

(Extract from International Business by Dr Charles Hill)

Ultimately, whether the business leaders like it or not, social groups will form within and across teams. Employees are the lifeblood of an organisation and they should be given the scope to drive the culture of a business.

But should they set culture? I believe so, but the success of this depends on the leadership appointing the right people to do the right jobs. It only takes one ‘disruptive’ employee to send the culture the wrong way.

Mutual understanding is key

If a company cannot clearly define its culture through its leadership then how will the employees within that organisation be able to drive the business forward?

I believe that the best way to set a company culture is to have an inspiring leader who lives the culture daily, who doesn’t waver, and who allows his/her employees to set new directions for the culture to follow.

Let’s go back to Apple. It is now one of the most recognised brands in the world; a global phenomenon that may one day become the world’s first trillion-dollar company.

You simply do not get to that position without fostering the right culture and having the right team in place driving that culture throughout the business and throughout their global locations.

This video shows exactly the types of people that they want to join their company (hint: people who are excellent!) all the while selling their vision.

So, in terms of who is responsible for setting the culture, I’d say it’s down to both business leaders and employees. This hybrid approach allows a company to build a harmonious work force with everyone on board who will all pull in the same direction.

It’s absolutely vital though that the culture is tangible and true – it can’t be all marketing and rhetoric – people throughout the business have to buy into it and keep it going.

As they say, team work makes the dream work!

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