Saturday, December 12, 2015


Best Definition of "Corporate Culture"

If you ask 10 people to define "organizational culture," you will get 11 different answers!

Fortunately, from my consulting and writing on leadership and organizational change, I created my definition of organizational culture:

"Corporate culture is how every employee knows she or he must act -
even if no one is watching."

Knowing your company's culture proves crucial for multiple reasons, including:
+ Only organizational changes that fit into your company's culture will succeed.
Changes not fitting into the culture will fail and not achieve desired results.
+ Hire employees who fit into the corporate culture. That is, "Do not try to fit a square peg into a round hole!"

Fastest Way to Uncover Your Organization's Culture

From my consulting experience, I devised a super-quick way to uncover an organization's culture: Discover the story all employees know and tell other employees. In fact, hearing the company's signature story is a right-of-passage for new employees. Hearing the story implicitly tells a new employee the actions and values the organization expects.

Here are two examples taken from my book entitled, Absolutely Fabulous Organizational Change: Strategies for Success from America's Best-Run Companies.

1st Story: Ritz-Carlton-Hotel Company

Leonardo Inghilleri, senior vice president of The Ritz-Carlton-Hotel Company, told me this story often is repeated among his company's employees.

"Ladies & Gentlemen Serving Ladies & Gentlemen"

When he was 14 years old, Horst Schulze -- currently president of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company -- worked in as an apprentice waiter in a very fine restaurant in his native Germany. Initially, he saw himself as a "servant."

Then, he realized the fine restaurant was staffed by highly skilled professionals. For example, he looked in awe as he repeatedly saw the matre d' chat with and entertain the diners. In fact, the matre d' spoke many languages. So, he spoke German to the German diners, French to the French guests, and English to the English customers. He also expertly helped diners with their food and wine choices.
From this experience, it dawned on Horst Schulze that a luxury establishment is composed of ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. He instilled this insight into The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company where he now is president.

Ritz-Carlton's Culture

Company president Horst Schulze's experience gives rise to The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company's customer care motto which precisely expresses its corporate culture: "We Are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen." Note: The company's culture perfectly dovetails with Ritz-Carlton's big, exciting, compelling vision: "Our key goal is to be the premier worldwide provider of luxury travel and hospitality products and services."

2nd Story: Intuit

Brooks Fisher, vice president and general manager of Intuit's consumer internet business, told me Intuit's signature story is the following:

"Follow Me Home"

Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, was so focused on understanding and fulfilling the customers' needs that he invented "Follow Me Home." He would go to a store where Intuit's software was being sold. Then, while a customer was buying Intuit software, he would ask if he could follow the customer home. At the home, he would watch how the customer installed and used the software.

Intuit's Culture

Given Intuit's story, what is the company's culture -- or main focus? Fisher says the story conveys Intuit's culture which is "The customer always is first." And, as Fisher puts it, "That's how you win." Note: The story also precisely meshes with Intuit's big, compelling vision: "Our key goal is to revolutionize how people do financial work."

Hire Applicants Who 'Fit Into' Your Company's Culture

You know it proves difficult to "fit a square peg into a round hole." Likewise, companies need to hire applicants who 'fit into' their organizational culture.

For instance, one company I consult to is ultra-customer service oriented with super-friendly employees. When we did benchmarking studies for this company with the Abilities & Behavior Forecasterâ Test - to customize the Forecaster Test to help hire the best - we discovered successful employees in every job scored high on two of the test's scales:
+ Helping People Motivation, i.e., customer service-orientation
+ Friendliness

Such customer service-focused and super-friendly employees 'fit into' the company's culture, and prove most likely to succeed.

Message = Don't bet against your organizational culture when you aim to hire the best. Fortunately, you can do by
1. benchmarking your "superstar" employees in each job - by having them fill-out a validated pre-employment test to discover their "benchmark" test scores

2. focusing on hiring applicants whose test scores are similar to your company's "superstar" employees' test scores

Now, You Can Uncover Your Organization's Culture

To discover your corporate culture, you simply need to uncover the story that
1. employees hear in their first week on-the-job and repeat to new employees
2. perfectly conveys how all employees must act - even when no one is watching!

Usually, the story is about the company's founder. It typically conveys insights and actions that lead to remarkable, profitable success.

© Copyright 2005 Michael Mercer, Ph.D.,

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