Designing Company Culture

Date posted: October 17, 2012

By Julianna Davies

The term ‘company culture’ is somewhat general; however, the strategies a small software startup uses to foster positive culture might greatly differ from those of a multinational financial firm. Today’s guest blogger Julianna Davies shares how the concept of company culture is driven by key universal principles. Business leaders who recognize these maxims and figure out ways to apply them within their companies often find success, regardless of factors like workforce size or number of locations.

One universal truth of company culture is openness. According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, a recent survey of 400,000 employees in various industries indicates companies that foster a culture of open communication outperform their competitors. Another maxim of company culture is shared vision, writes Donna Fitzgerald of TechRepublic. In an ideal workplace setting, the values and goals of each employee are aligned with those of their company. But in order to achieve this synchronicity, leaders must take proactive steps to ensure all employees understand the mission statement. A third factor is community encouragement. In a ‘communal culture’, writes Kimberly Weisul of CBS News, every employee is allowed the equal chance to contribute ideas. According to Cox School of Business Professor Glenn Voss, “When it comes to encouraging a communal culture, it seems there’s no such thing as too much.”

The techniques used to foster company culture vary by factors such as size and corporate standing. Large companies, for instance, have well-established structures and goals in place, while small businesses and startups tend to be much more elastic with day-to-day operations. Money is another key difference – namely, the amount a company is willing or able to invest in measures like health benefits or work-life programs. The employee of a large firm or organization likely differs from someone who works at a small startup; these differences strongly influence culture, since it is built around the workforce. For these reasons, smaller entities must build their own culture of openness, shared vision and community encouragement more regularly; large companies, on the other hand, must maintain the cultural visions of their founders.

One company that has proven successful at fostering positive culture is Google. As Diana Ransom of Entrepreneur.com noted last year, the Internet giant has managed to build an inclusive, non-hierarchal company culture for its more than 24,000 employees. ‘No task is too small’ is a core attitude of Google’s upper management; executives have been known to answer phones, stock food in the cafeteria and perform other menial (yet necessary) workplace tasks. Another measure the company took was its implementation of the ‘Google-O-Meter’, which allows the entire workforce to evaluate and vote on single employee suggestions. Today, the $29.32 billion company is often touted as a prime example of solid company culture.

On the other hand, the leaders of software developer Zynga have been criticized for fostering a negative company culture. For years, Zynga’s environment was described as grueling and ultra-competitive; employees were forced to log long hours, and those who were unwilling to do so were fired. According to an article in The New York Times, the company’s workforce recently berated CEO Mark Pincus via phone and email for the company’s workplace vibe. Investors have also expressed concern; startups like PopCap and Rovio backed out of deals with Zynga due to the company’s perceived instability, and these failed ventures are valued at billions of dollars.

Though techniques used to design company culture may vary between businesses, the same core rules are in place for all companies large and small. Ultimately, company culture – whether it is handled well or poorly – stands to significantly impact every business.

Julianna Davies, writer and researcher for an online resource about MBA education, http://www.mbaonline.com.

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