petri dish growing culture
You need to to build and grow your organisational culture.

How does corporate culture make your brand grow?

Culture is what people do. What you do communicates your personality, and the personality of a group is the culture.

Actions become rituals

Corporate rituals to strengthen a community

Ceremonies and rites are the actions that help to create a shared identity among employees in an organisation. Rituals may help bring new members or external groups up to speed and into the fold. The right rituals for the right occasion may stimulate emotions and reinforce desired behaviours among members of an organisation. Without rituals, the culture, or brand of a company, won’t be strong.

As a leader, you may find it timely to instigate a ritual at some point. It’s important that you balance the social need for a ceremony with a task-oriented behaviour. Ceremonies can combine well with stories that are shared with new employees through rituals. We perform a ritual because the act itself has meaning, or because doing it make us experience something. Rituals may create some emotional neutral ground where we allow ourselves to enjoy feelings or express emotions that we wouldn’t want to express otherwise.

“Cultural change is an evolving piece.” – Brian McKay

Employees and other members of an organisation participate in corporate rituals to strengthen their sense of community. Customers and other partners may also be invited to company rites if their trust and loyalty are important. Professionals who live through major occasions without rituals can become physically and emotionally isolated. Unfortunately, not all situations or places have a ritual. If this is the case, we need to find or invent new rituals.

Environments affect our actions

The workspace enhances or inhibits productivity

An office space has to meet the criteria of space and equipment for the kind of work that needs to be done. Does the workspace make employees content and enhance their efficiency? Does it give the right signals as to what’s valuable to the company? Spaces are about atmosphere and how it makes us interact with technology and other people. It comes as no surprise that colour, spatial structures, light, temperature, and level of noise affect us. We have to consider the different needs of workers, such as concentration or collaboration, and how our workplace caters for those needs.

Office spaces should be differentiated so that employees can meet as a group, collaborate one-on-one, or be alone. Workplaces don’t just refer to physical surroundings; they’re also a symbol that exudes the culture of the organisation.

“How to reverse corporate culture” – Dan Pontefract

Office spaces should be practical, but should also have a combination of function and atmosphere. Office spaces either enhance or inhibit certain roles and actions and thereby shape the company culture.

People have different personalities. Even if you get the most energy from being alone or being social, as a modern worker, you need to work well by yourself and with others. People prefer to work at a place that’s convenient and fits with how the rest of their life is played out. Professionals like a workspace that supports the tasks they need to do and supports the brand values of the company.

Symbols define a culture

Symbols help people understand organisations

A company’s brand elements may function as a symbol of its culture. Symbols are the sensorial experiences of an organisation, and they help us understand the culture that it represents. Recognising symbols and using them as guides to action is ingrained in us. When we’re part of a culture, we need to signal people around us that we’re members of the culture and that we agree with its philosophy.

As elements of brand identity, the symbols of a culture can be made consciously or can appear organically. The symbols that have the most impact are chosen because they have a meaning and they represent a story that has value. Symbols function as triggers. When the members of the culture see the symbols, they’re reminded of the meaning of the culture. Cultural symbols are used to strengthen the community.

“Your corporate culture makes you money.” – Darrell Kopke

The members of an organisation’s culture include employees or visitors, vendors, suppliers, managers and customers. People outside the culture need the symbols to recognise and relate to the culture and its members. Symbols are populated on interfaces and touch points that can be exposed to a lot of people. The environment where objects function as symbols needs to be relevant to the culture.

How to establish an organisational culture

A company culture grows out of personality

If you’re a founder, you’ll automatically establish a culture in your new company. It’s the personality of the owner's values and norms that define the culture. The first stage of establishing a company defines the basic production and management. Culture will manifest itself no matter what the founders do, however, with conscious attention, a culture may develop into a valuable asset. The corporate culture is what your stakeholders will experience – it’s your brand.

Corporate culture is created when founders and leaders are aware that their company behaviour needs to reflect the story of where the founders come from, what they want to do and how they want to accomplish it.

“The impact of company culture on customer satisfaction is measurable.” – Nicholas Klisht

In a start-up, the headcount is small and therefore it’s easy to discuss challenges, agree on what’s important and act consistently. At the beginning, when companies develop products and services, the corporate culture might not be the priority, but soon the experiences generated by what is provided establish the culture.

All stakeholders in an organisation are members of the culture. A single, charismatic leader may make a culture known, but a group of people is needed to establish a culture. The story of the creation of the company says something about 'where' the founders come from both culturally and geographically. The region in which a company is established affects the people in the organisation and thereby its corporate culture.

Maintain and manage culture

Nurture the valuable parts of a culture

There are three aspects of corporate culture: 1. The values of the organisation; 2. The climate within the company; 3. The style of management. Management of a company culture includes integrating the new culture and affirming the attributes that work well. Every company has a corporate culture that encompasses both the internal climate and the public display of values. Managing this culture ensures an efficient operation. Executives can control a culture through elaborate planning, or accept a cultural milieu and harmonise with it.

Managing corporate culture involves identifying the conditions affecting your business and modifying the culture to maximise performance under these circumstances. Managers of an adaptive culture pay attention to all stakeholders in a culture and make changes when needed.

“There needs to be a alignment of the company’s vision of culture and the employee’s professional goals.” – Dan Nicholson

Managing cultures involves correcting the course of culture through small steps rather than through imposing a totally new one. Established corporate cultures are extremely resistant to major changes.

Management of culture involves teaching employees about behaviour by example and communicating values to customers through stories. Culture management is most needed and at the same time most difficult when trying to blend two organisations into one. The failure of company mergers is often because of conflicts between corporate cultures.

Culture springs from leadership

Climate and morals come from your behaviour

Organisational culture and leadership are conceptually intertwined. Leaders need to agree on what is important for them and their customers and act with a personality that honours those values. Companies with cultures that attract both employees and customers are good business. With a strong culture, employees within the organisation may operate on a more autonomous level. The cultural attributes steer them to use appropriate behaviour towards colleagues and customers.

Culture can be changed through symbols, stories, rituals, and can represent the values that the leaders own. The most important actions leaders can take towards a more consistent culture are hiring employees based on personality and values, and giving them the power to execute. What leaders need to focus on is either to establish or to change the culture. The leadership of corporate culture is most effective when the company has established the structures of the company and needs to make processes happen every day and with high quality.

“Articulate your corporate culture with the help of your employees.” – Kelvin Claveria

Selecting employees for a company is like selecting members to a tribe; they need to share the purpose and values of the existing members. In organisations that have a strong culture, people do things because they think it’s the right thing to do. People within this culture don’t necessarily have to be in the same location. A context can have symbols and display rituals that enforce a culture. It’s the leader’s job to find and adopt those symbols and rituals.

How to build a culture

Create an internal culture that generates external support

There are three stages of building a corporate culture. The first stage starts when you commit to forming an enterprise around an idea and ends when a customer begins using the product or service. Culture begins to exist where the function of the leadership supplies the energy needed to make the organisation viable. This stage is called the ‘developmental culture stage’ because it’s associated with leaders who focus on delivering what’s been promised to potential customers.

“The fact that no idea is too stupid or too ambitious was really important to our culture and forced us to hang on to our playfulness.” – Tobias Bæck

Founders need to have the flexibility, readiness and adaptability to be able to create an internal culture that generates external support. The creator of company culture has to attract customers, employees, partners, investors and the press to support a new idea. The horizon for the leader at this stage of operational validity should be as long as necessary to make a product that fits the market.

While a culture is made up by the whole team, it’s drawn from the personality of the founder. All start-ups will begin to take on the leader’s strengths and weaknesses, and even show, for better or worse, her energy.

Operational validity

Developing a processes culture

In the second stage of organisational and culture creation, more and more customers are willing to follow through with your offer and use your product. The culture is getting firmer as new processes produce consistent value. The leader must ensure that customers are satisfied to confirm the potential of the company. The stronger the culture, the less corporate processes are needed. The company needs to deliver the product, find customers and administrate the enterprise. As a leader, you have a better understanding of who can take on which role and you start to delegate more.

“Identify the existing culture if one exists” – Mark Edwards

The manager starts to establish new processes and some of the existing members understand their roles and step up. The culture motivates people to figure out how to make things better, and the leaders must recognise and praise them for mastering those tasks. The operational validity stage starts when the projects of making a product and bringing it to the market are completed. Stage two is complete when all the processes work seamlessly and are simple enough to ensure their viability.

At this stage, the leader(s) needs to hire people for specific roles so that the whole culture can function autonomously. The leadership must incorporate strategies for how employees can advance their careers to reward the ones that generate significant value. The company processes have become functional and scalable.

Innovation culture

Cultures that emphasise innovation provide sustainable growth

Innovation culture involves training and the broader development of human resources to create customer experiences. A successful innovation culture takes you back to the beginning, where you need to recreate the organsation. As a leader, you’ve come to the point where you realise that the entire way the organisation operates is becoming out-dated and ineffective. Customer needs and markets are changing and make it essential that the organisation innovates continuously. The company culture must leverage for this innovation.

“What makes the company’s culture? – We make you feel like a family”. – Rachel Vanier

As a leader, your vision on how the culture evolves should be based on the strategies for the organisation that have been documented and communicated. The leader has to support the organisation while it experiences the anxieties of unlearning the processes that were previously successful. An innovation culture is established when the manager starts a project to create yet another service or product to capture new customers. A project to establish the culture of innovation has been set up. This stage ends when a process has been set up to produce more innovative products.

It’s difficult to get the existing culture excited about changing the culture. The company is probably too mature for the leader to just go through the motions with a few good people. The leader needs to assign areas of responsibility and bring key people from the organisation in line with the changes that she’s leading. Organisational cultures that emphasise innovation provide sustainable growth for the company. Innovation can help companies fulfil their promise through experiences and leads to a stronger relationship between organisations and their customers.

Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg is a visual communicator and branding consultant. He specialises in building brand strategies and brand identities. Christian has worked with several specializations within visual communication as well as teaching and being an author. Christian now works on his third stint as an entrepreneur.