Company Culture Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

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When you think about companies with a strong culture, there may be a few images that come to mind: a game room, team lunches every day, an open-plan office.

Organizationally, you may think strong company culture means flat structure, emphasis on team success, and employees who hang out together after work. But does this mean that every company that looks like this has a great culture, or that a more traditionally structured company can never have a strong culture? Not at all!

Some aspects of company culture have been shown by research to apply to nearly all companies, and those aspects form the basis of our core CultureIQ survey. These are qualities like support and collaboration, that will enhance your culture no matter what your company looks like or does. Finding out how your company performs in these qualities is helpful in identifying strengths and pain points, and figuring out where to focus on improvements.

But when working to strengthen your culture, it’s also important to look beyond the commonalities and find out how your specific company works. This is your strategic culture: a set of behaviors that support your organization’s strategy. When defining your strategic culture, here are a few (but not the only) things to keep in mind.

1. Industry. A culture of risk-taking may make sense for a digital marketing agency, but a nuclear power plant? Maybe not so much.

Think about what success looks like in your industry, and then what kind of cultural practices and priorities would help your employees achieve that success.

2. Size. A flat organizational structure might be great for a company of 25, but a lot tricker with 1,000 employees. Lots of process may be helpful or even necessary for a big company, but excessive for a small one. The way you construct your culture depends on the most effective way you can reach and engage individual employees.

3. Business strategy. Your company’s short- and long-term goals (i.e. where you’re going) play a vital role in determining your operational culture (i.e. how you’ll get there). If your company has just grown a lot, your priorities are going to be different than if you’ve recently downsized, and it’s important to take that into account when thinking about your culture.

4. Your employees. This is a tough one, because your workforce is made up of different people with different values and needs.

You may not know everyone personally, let alone what motivates each of them to do their best work. So what’s the best way to find out what they need from their company culture? Ask, and just as importantly, listen.

When working on improving your culture, you don’t want to shoehorn your company into a model that just doesn’t fit. What works for Google may not work for GM. Talk to both management and employees to define what your culture should look like, then work to attain the ideal culture for your company, not just a company.

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