Organisational Culture – the immune system of your company

Can you identify one common element that can:

  • Decide if you can find and develop a more profitable strategy in your company
  • Attract the best people, allow them to grow and at the same time, “push” away people that do not fit the team.
  • Help newly recruited people enter into responsibilities and stay in the company (onboarding).
  • Determine what interactions employees take in their workplace.
  • Affect employee engagement and their effectiveness.
  • Turn your company into one team
  • Turn employees into company advocate and evangelists.
  • Reduce stress and help prevent conflict (and mitigates them if they occur)


What would it be?


My answer is an organisational culture.


What is an organisational culture?


“Corporate culture / organisational culture / company culture – the values, beliefs, and behaviors practiced in an organisation. Formed over time because they are rewarded or punished (e.g. by formal or informal rules, rituals, and behaviours).” [1]


I like this definition – it’s simple, practical and helps to focus on the key aspects of this very complex phenomena. The culture starts to be created immediately when people start to work together. The culture is always dynamic, and it changes day by day, just as the people who contribute to it are changing.


It shapes and changes with the passage of time because all its manifestations are rewarded and punished (by formal and informal rules, rituals, management reactions and colleagues etc.). Interestingly, and surprisingly a company culture is also shaped through a lack of reaction as well. Each company has its own unique culture.


Why is culture is so important?


Have you heard the saying – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”?

Your company culture effectively determines what you can do with your business. Culture influences whether you will be able to implement e.g. a new more profitable business model. Have you heard the saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast?


An effective, healthy culture acts like an immune system that defends companies against problems.


Can organisational culture be shaped/designed?


This is a hot question, and I am very aware that many of you will have a strong opinion here. Let me share what I stand for: I think this question should be answered with yes and no at the same time.




Yes – we can, we can design elements of culture, we can promote value and behaviours, we can be very aware in rewarding desired behavior and punishing undesirable behaviour (through management, communication and policy and procedures), we can support people who develop the desirable elements of culture


No –  we can not – culture happens. management efforts are interpreted independently by culture contributors, and they (consciously or not) decide how to react to them. It’s shape is also influenced by external factors. In addition, the world is not perfect – so all the actions taken are also not perfect. Even positively intended actions can cause unexpected effects. The decisions made are superimposed by logical errors and imperfections of perception that affect the actions taken.

To add to all of this, culture is also shaped by our omission (and our omissions are often a result of lack of awareness).


Personally I really like the metaphor of the garden. Let’s imagine you are a gardener. You can design a landscape, you can plant the seeds of  plants you like and you can look after your garden – but the garden is dynamic – it changes every day. Even if you act for good, for example, while watering the garden, you are never can be 100% sure if you have provided the plants with the right amount of water (or maybe they are just beginning to have too much water and the roots have started to decay.  Also, the end result is affected by weather, pests, plant’s diseases and many more. The garden is constantly subject to the laws of nature, if you will leave an aspect of your garden without the attention, nature will immediately demand it’s rights and the garden will change.


Is there a perfect organisational culture?


Writing in the previous paragraphs about “good” cultures, I used the term healthy / unhealthy (desirable / undesirable) culture, which I had not previously defined. Let’s try to ask ourselves whether there is any “good” universal culture, which can be introduced and always improves the company’s situation?


The answer in my opinion is, unfortunately, that this is not possible. Every company on the path to greatness must find its own recipe for an organizational culture that will help it achieve success and allow people in a company to thrive (and I describe such a culture as healthy / desirable).


Each company is different and has (needs) its own culture. Let’s consider whether transferring Amazon’s culture to Apple would help Apple or rather cause a catastrophe? And yet Amazon’s culture allowed the company to achieve the position it has achieved.


What the organisational culture is not


I have conversations regularly, and sometimes I observe some frequent misunderstandings around culture. Here are the top three:

  • the organisational culture is not your company mission – although the company mission can have a great impact on your company culture
  • the organisational culture is not a leadership – although your leadership will have a great impact on your company culture
  • the organisational culture is not your polices and procedures – although they will have a great impact on your company culture


There are well established tools and processes to design and make an impact on company culture. If you would like to know more – please contact me.


Don’t let your culture just happen.


[1] This definition has been developed by Strategyzer


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