Maintaining Corporate Culture In The E-World


The quantification of the benefits that corporations can enjoy over their completion (as much as a 20 to 30% gain over other companies, according to James L. Heskett) came about in the 1980’s. Since then corporate culture has been an area of focus for top executives for obvious reasons.

Facebook, Twitter and the like were originally viewed as millennial playthings, especially by senior executives. However, many companies have come to the realization that they are a way of building and maintaining corporate culture.

They are the digital analogue of offices, meeting rooms, letterhead and all the other myriad ways that companies communicate their culture and values in the physical world.

What is corporate culture?

Kennedy and Deal’s book Corporate Cultures, one of the original standard texts on the subject, stated that a corporate culture was created by the values, rites, rituals, and heroes within the organization, not just top management, but from the top of the organization right down to the bottom.

Corporate culture is not a mandate from the CEO. It is visible in the cultural artifacts within the organization: not just what people do and say, but also what “things” are evident in the workplace. This means that an outsider could make a fair assessment of a company’s culture by simply observing how its people behave on a day-to-day basis.

Six components of corporate culture in an e-world

A recent Harvard Business Review article identified six components of corporate culture: vision, value, practices, people, narrative, and place. Managing these in a world of social media requires some new thinking.

Vision: A company’s vision states what the organization wants to be in clear simple language. It is critical that a company’s vision is clearly articulated and understood throughout the organization. It answers the key question of “Why does this company exist?”, and so, by extension, for each employee “Why do I go to work?”.

The “Why?” is fundamental to motivation and high performance (see this Simon Sinek TED talk). Without it tough times are just that. With it, they are irritations on the way to a much larger goal.

For example Kilbourne Group’s Instagram account. This does a great job of communicating why the company exists, the corporate ethos and what it is like to work there.

Lesson: High performance and sustained focus are motivated by a clearly articulated and understood ‘Why’. It may be intangible but it has very tangible results. Communicating this both internally and externally should be a key component of a company’s social media strategy.

Values: Values state how an organization will operate. Once the values are articulated, it’s important to “live the values” every day. The example set by senior management is a far more powerful driver of behavior than a values statement ever will be.

The viral video of Uber’s CEO treating an employee with great disrespect showed that the CEO didn’t live their articulated values. Since then a number of issues have emerged, including the viral blog post detailing the company’s blatant sexual harassment, making it clear that employees have been following their leaders’ behavior despite the company’s stated values.

Lesson: You are far more visible than ever. The issue with values has always been that if behaviour does not align with it they they are essentially worthless. Senior management must demonstrate behavior in line with values, especially in difficult and stressful times, if it wants employees to see that they are committed to them and in their turn live them.

People: All high performance organisations need to recruit and retain employees whose personal ethos aligns with the organization. This does not mean all “yes men,” but instead employees with a healthy diversity of thought while being able to work within your organization’s values.

Candidates and employees will be aware of a company presents itself on these channels. They will rightly see these as extensions of the company. For example, Camping World explicitly uses its Facebook page to promote activities that are representative of the organisation’s culture and ethos knowing that, for the right candidates, this will make the company a far more attractive potential employer.

Lesson: Use Facebook and other social networking sites (within the limit of the law) to assess employees for fit with the corporate culture before hiring. Also think carefully about how you present your company on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Before a candidate meets the company they will most likely be their primary source of information on your company.

Narrative: Companies create a living history filled with cultural artifacts, such as Nordstrom’s story of giving a customer refund for tires, which, of course, the company did not sell. These stories become legends, much like the oral history of prior centuries, but now they have the advantage—or disadvantage—of spreading like wildfire digitally. Consider the recent Google narrative from an employee who made headlines with personal theories of why women are underrepresented in tech fields.

Lesson: With unlimited access to digital communication platforms, every employee of the organization is a company spokesperson, whether authorized or not. Internal communication builds the company narrative and allows employees to work more effectively with customers.

Place:Place shapes culture. Corporations today are omnipresent. They have some bricks-and-mortar buildings and also increasingly, virtual customer interfaces and employees as well. Many “touch points” now happen without ever physically meeting however it is a touch point regardless.

Think about how your present yourself in these places as carefully as you would your corporate offices. For example, InVision has heavily customized its Slack installation. Slack is “…at the heart of all the ways we interact for work…” and so investing to have this customized to align with their culture was viewed as a good investment.

Lesson: Think as carefully about virtual places as you would company offices. If employees and customers interact with you virtually then you can influence their impression with the impression that the setting of that virtual interaction gives, in exactly the same way that you do with your offices

Practices: While words matter, what a company does is more important. REI states that it “connects people with the outdoors, and our co-op’s health depends on the environment’s health” and delivers to that promise with employee gear grants, customer member rebates, outdoor-focused community involvement, and green operating practices. The culture is pervasive and REI has been on the Forbes List of 100 Best Employers for 20 years. One act of forgoing Black Friday store sales for an Opt Outside alternative actually delivered 26% higher sales online for REI.

Lesson: Practice what you preach. Employees and customers can easily identify misalignment between a stated mission and what they see in practice, especially when literally millions of bloggers are happy to report corporate inconsistencies.

What else?

Consistency: A seventh component is consistency. It is important to avoid confusion and reinforce key messages. Look at criticisms of President Trump’s tweets. For nearly every current statement, a contradictory tweet can be found from prior years.

Lesson: Always remember that information has the durability of plastic. Just like the trillions of tons of plastic in landfill, information can be dug up years after it’s discarded. Any cracks in the cultural foundation need prompt and consistent rebuilding.

Becoming part of the culture

Switching from the corporate perspective to that of a job applicant, showcasing your personal alignment with company culture can have a very positive impact on getting the job. While you don’t want to misrepresent yourself, knowing what the target company’s culture is and demonstrating how well you will fit in can help interviewers see you in your best light. Pore over the company’s website, press releases and outside news stories to learn about the business, not just its products and technology, but also its stated mission, corporate social responsibility, and customer wins and losses. Think of situations from your career that you can use to highlight this during and interview – ‘show don’t tell’ using the STAR technique.

This article was written by Acuity Training.