Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Sponginess of Corporate Culture

I have worked lots of places.  Different companies, even different departments have widely different feels. I can only imagine that trucking, logging and brain surgery would be more different.

The jargon is these are different corporate cultures. What exactly is a corporate culture?  Two guys, researched 164 different definitions of culture back in 1952, so sixty years ago it was muddled and vague.  It only got more confused when "culture" made its way from anthropology to business in the late eighties and early nineties.

Bjorn Bjerke says about corporate culture that "every concept which has gradually come to contain more and more, sooner or later will become cumbersome and even meaningless. And he says this is happening to "corporate culture."

One culture consultant said culture is transmitted through telling stories. This is self-serving for him because he can give a day of training, and never say clearly what corporate culture is or what to do about it. Stories teach something, but we skip a vocabulary to talk about it.  The academic literature on organizational culture spans disciplines from Anthropology to Psychology to Sociology to Business, and each brings their own spin, metrics and vocabulary.

Nonetheless, corporate culture has something to do with the way people relate to each other or the networks they are in. Second it has to do with their sense of right and wrong behavior in the group also called norms and values.

 This looks like a corporate culture
ritual! Actually it is a corporate culture retreat: link.
Anthropologists say there are rituals and symbols in every culture. I am sure that budget planning meetings are rituals. How about business dinners and sales meetings?  A company promotion letter and organizational chart is a symbol. How corporations handle these events says a lot about their cultures.

Authors and consultants tell leaders that they can change the culture. No leader will know if s/he succeeded because what culture means varies so widely.

Corporate culture is important. Different outfits have differing productivity because of their norms and values. If we could tailor the corporate culture  -- that would be great. I think we need to advance beyond the pop business literature to do that.

Look for a flow up posting on how.