When we talk about company culture or organizational culture, at its simplest level, we’re talking about “How we do things around here.”  

It can be difficult to be aware and objective about your company culture— because employees adopt your culture by observing you and other co-workers. Sometimes their interpretation of your culture is not what you intended.

How we’ve always done it

One of my favorite stories that illustrates this is about a husband and wife that were preparing a meal together. The husband watched the wife cut off about an inch from either end of the ham. He asked why she cut off the end.

She said “That’s the way my mom prepared the ham.” The husband asked “Why did your mom cut the ends off?” The wife didn’t know.

So, the wife called her mom to find out why she cut the ends of the ham off. Her mom said “Because that was the way my mom prepared ham.”

She called Grandma and asked “Why did you cut the ends off of the ham?” Grandma was silent as she thought for a moment. Then she replied, “so the ham could fit in the baking pan.”

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If you’re not developing your culture, it will develop itself

If we aren’t intentional about asking why something is done before you know it your company culture will be summed up in the phrase “That just how we’ve always done things.”

Company culture starts with company values

Company values are reflected in the beliefs and behaviors of the people who work there. These can either support the vision and shape the culture of what is important to stakeholders or grow like a weed without supervision, eventually taking over the original vision and values of the founders.

All too often, businesses focus on the technical aspects of a company and forget about their core values. Neglecting to intentionally focus on crafting values and principles that help define a business, is one of the more serious mistakes a growing company can make.

Companies that take a proactive approach to defining their culture, starting with values, can gain a distinctive competitive edge.