Corporate culture is a set of factors linked to the way an organization is and does that are shared by its members. These factors translate into unique facts perceived internally and externally, which differentiate an organization from others and serve to position it in the environment and cohere internally. They have been articulated based on its history and evolution, its successes and mistakes and the people who have passed through the organization.

These factors end up shaping unique characteristics that are deeply rooted in the organization and very difficult to change, since they are the result of how the organization is understood and its way of doing things, consolidated over the years.

Corporate culture has an external projection (how the organization distinguishes itself in its environment and compared to other similar organizations) and an internal cohesive effect (what has value, what it rejects, how everything is done and what are the basic patterns of relationships between people).

At the same time that we talk about corporate culture as the main culture of the organization, in fact, there can also exist within organizations subcultures that function with their own peculiarities and differentiated from the main one. The acceptance and survival of these subcultures will depend to a large extent on the characteristics of the corporate culture and its tolerance of the existence and degree of manifestation of different subcultures.

Factors That Determine Corporate Culture

The factors that determine corporate culture in organizations have been studied by different authors who have generated multiple classifications. Taken together, these factors can be summarized in six binomials.

1. History and myths. Real facts corresponding to the creation and evolution of the organization (personality of the founders, anecdotes, successes, difficulties, major changes, impact of the different cycles of organizational life, etc.) are interrelated with the fabulation and consequent mythification that have been made over time of some of these facts.

2. Values and norms. The values that highlight those qualitative facts that are especially valued and shared by the organization as a whole (quality of service, innovation, performance orientation, communication, teamwork, etc.). Values are embodied in norms, which are the mechanisms through which the behaviors that need to be followed are made operational.

3. Symbols and rituals. The symbology linked to the corporate brand, hierarchical power, the use and distribution of physical spaces, etc., is combined with a whole series of rituals understood as repetitive ways of doing things that range from day to day (starting the day in a certain way, specific ways of addressing the members of the organization, etc.). making a coffee at certain times, etc.), to the specific events that take place during the year (celebrations of special days, public acts of recognition, parties, etc.)

4. Management style and relationships. One of the factors that most affect the culture of an organization is the style of management. A management where hierarchical and formal criteria weigh heavily will leave a very different mark compared to one that is based on results and informality in treatment. This has an impact on the type of relationships that exist between people in the organization, especially between the different hierarchical levels.

5. Own know-how and technology. The way in which the processes of product development or service provision are articulated, the added value that the organization provides in its products or services, the role of innovation in general and technological innovation in particular, the enhancement of information and communication technologies in the development of the organization, are some of the elements that make up this block of factors.

6. Image and language. The image that you want to transmit to others through the construction of a certain identity is fundamental in corporate culture. Some examples may be the messages that are promoted to the outside, the way its members dress or the design and distribution of the spaces. All this is linked to the type of language used by the organization: degree of formality, treatment formulas, use of egalitarian or sexist language, etc.

The Dark Areas

Every corporate culture has dark areas made up of taboos, prohibitions, forgetfulness and silences.

They may refer to: patterns or behaviors that are frowned upon; the experience of bad organizational moments that “it is better not to remember”; reference to people who have left the organization traumatically; specific events that broke the harmony and generated a kind of feeling of unease among the team; some miserably failed professional experience; etc.

In short, they are elements that threaten the key aspects of the corporate culture and that become invisible and are silenced by the organization as a whole at a public level.

Only when profound changes occur in the corporate culture of the organization can these elements emerge and become elements of the organization’s own history or even become part of its myths.

Changing the corporate culture

When does an organization’s corporate culture change? As mentioned above, corporate culture is created over time and is based on factors that are very solid for the organization. Therefore, it is not a conjunctural aspect that changes often, on the contrary, changing it tends to be complex and difficult.

Although difficult, it does not mean impossible, and even more so if some of the situations discussed below occur.

-Strong changes in the environment. The entire organization, consciously or not, is subject to the changes that occur around it. Sometimes these changes are slower and more imperceptible and sometimes faster and more obvious. Whatever the pace and how it manifests itself, there is a time when certain changes in the environment (social, economic, political or technological) affect organizations in their corporate culture.

-Very rapid evolution of the organization. When there is a very rapid process in the evolution of an organization, its values and other factors of corporate culture usually change very quickly as well. This culture, which initially served a small team of qualified professionals, is overwhelmed if the organization experiences significant growth in a short time. Clear examples of this phenomenon can be found in organizations closely linked to technology sectors.

Deep crisis of the organization. The crises that organizations face in situations that seriously affect their general functional nature, or even their survival, are usually accompanied by a major questioning of their own corporate culture. In this type of situation, where drastic decisions are made and important changes are made in the organization’s policies and strategies, it is more than easy for the previous corporate culture to be replaced by new values and ways of acting.

Disappearance of key people. The disappearance of a person who plays a very important role in an organization’s culture does not necessarily mean that that culture has to change. It can have its continuity in the people or teams that replace it. However, what is certain is that there are cases in which this fact is decisive for the change of culture, either due to generational causes, personal differences in the way of being and ways of acting, having different values or facing the vision of the corporate future with different perspectives.

As a company grows, it becomes more difficult to communicate internally by reaching a global consensus. A strong and clear culture will help keep it cohesive and therefore competitive.


Montse Bordas

Branward’s® Corporate Culture Strategist

Photos: Shutterstock