Fortune released its annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, and the results are always fascinating to analyze. Editor-in-Chief Clifton Leaf kicked around several reasons why these companies made the list (“Building an Idea Factory” March 2018, p. 6). Perks such as unlimited vacation time, sabbaticals, and periodic blocks of time to work on anything without regard to the company’s normal agenda are just a few of the items that make these companies so effective at attracting and keeping talent.

The relationship however is symbiotic. All that tangible and intangible investment in its people directly drives benefits to the organization as a whole. This derives from that larger factor that causes employees to deliver their best every day—the corporate culture. Ultimately, it is the defining ingredient of any company. Leaf speaks to this concept indirectly:

“Not every company, of course, has that kind of relationship with its employees . . . But employers who can forge that trust with their workers seem to have an extra advantage on the competition: They get a potentially never-ending font of fresh ideas.”

The corporate culture drives innovation and innovation drives company success. Without that high-quality corporate culture, the opposite occurs, and that is why I say corporate culture is the defining ingredient of every organization. Here are four truths about corporate culture:

1—Corporate culture always moves from the top down. An organization’s leaders set the tone for the entire organization. Regardless of whether you have a rotten corporate culture or a golden corporate culture, look to the leadership. You can usually see the connection.

2—Corporate culture by definition is omnipresent. Whatever the company’s pervading values, ideas, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are, they tend to be everywhere. You cannot escape your corporate culture and that is why it absolutely affects everything you do.

3—Corporate culture can be changed. Notice I did not say “will be,” but “can be.” I have seen organizations willfully, strategically, and effectively change their corporate culture. It demands a great deal of group and individual soul searching, but for the organizations that are willing to do that, success will eventually arrive.

4—Corporate culture will make or break your company. This is why corporate culture is one of those nonnegotiables. When it comes to the story of a thriving, vibrant, successful company, high-quality corporate culture must be there in the beginning, the middle, and the end. Too many companies with great products and services have met their demise due to a dysfunctional corporate culture. On the other hand, when an exquisite corporate culture is in play, it is a beautiful thing to behold; as much art as it is science, as much relationships as it is tasks.

Thinking about your own organization, here are some questions worth asking:

  • How is your organization defined?
  • How do you want your organization to be defined?
  • What is your corporate culture?
  • Does your corporate culture need to change?
  • Will your corporate culture change?

How you answer those questions may very well send you on one of the most exciting and productive adventures of your career. I wish you the best!

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