Describing your Company Culture: Do’s and Don’ts

Company culture impacts employee retention and overall performance. If you haven’t thought a lot about your company culture, it’s time to start.

Company Culture

What is your company’s culture like? It can be a bit difficult to define.

“Culture, quite simply, is temporal,” according to Dr. Matthew J. Stollak, a professor of business and human resources at St. Norbert College in Green Bay, Wisconsin

“The real meaning of company culture is of its time and place. Those leaders and HR professionals who don’t take the time to reflect on their organizations and consider hypothetical constructs are missing out on an opportunity to improve the culture and, ultimately, the productivity of their companies.”

Yes, your company’s culture is a product of your mission and values. But it’s defined by the way that those values are expressed through the words, actions, and attitudes of your employees.

Those leaders and HR professionals who don’t take the time to reflect on their organizations and consider hypothetical constructs are missing out on an opportunity to improve the culture and, ultimately, the productivity of their companies.”

How do you describe your company culture?

Here are our best tips for the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of describing company culture.

DO use easy-to-understand, non-jargony language

Let’s start with a list of common words that HR professionals use to describe organizational culture.

 

  • Nurturing: Do you actively work toward helping your employees grow and advance in their careers? Then you can describe your organizational culture as nurturing.
  • Friendly: In a friendly organizational culture, employees engage in positive, enjoyable interactions throughout the day.
  • Autonomous: When managers empower employees to make decisions independently, they promote an autonomous culture. This can be very attractive to professionals who hate to be micromanaged. 
  • Challenging: In a challenging company culture, employees feel encouraged to take on difficult tasks and enrich their skill sets.
  • Motivating: If you can describe your organizational culture as motivating, that means that your company inspires workers to feel good about their job and want to work hard.
  • Casual: Do you employ Millennials and Gen Zers? They might want to work in a place that feels relaxed. This means flexible work hours and a casual dress code.

These are a few examples of good words to describe your company culture, but it’s not an exhaustive list. You might want to choose a few that jump out at you. But try to come up with your own list of words that are specific to your company and the culture you wish to build.

DO describe your company’s mission, vision, and values

Your company’s mission is your overarching goal, or purpose. It’s the reason your organization exists. Your vision is a statement of something you want your company to be at some point in the future. And your values are the core beliefs or ethical principles that guide your business decisions.

These 3 concepts are interrelated, each dependent upon the other. And they are also integral to your company culture. In order to properly define your culture, you’ll have to define your mission, vision, and values first.

Here are some popular values that many companies choose for themselves:

  • Community
  • Teamwork
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Sustainability
  • Respect and fairness
  • Growth mindset
  • Passion
  • Positively shaping the future

DON’T forget your employees

So far, we’ve talked about concrete steps you can take to write a description of your company’s culture. But remember, your culture isn’t only your mission, vision, and values. It’s defined by the manner in which those concepts are expressed by your employees in their day to day work. If you leave your employees’ behaviors and attitudes out of the equation, you’re not accurately describing your culture.

Organizational culture is primarily the product of your people. Think of how they interact with one another, how they like to work, and the things that make them unique. Are they excited about your company’s mission? Do they even know what it is? Do they live your stated values? Answer these questions, and you’ll have a much clearer picture of your company culture.

DON’T lie

If you’ve got a dysfunctional organizational culture, you might be tempted to simply re-write it and move on. This is especially tempting when you’re hiring new talent. You want promising potential hires to think your company is a great place to work, and you’ve just written this great new set of values, so why not communicate this new cultural description in your interviews?

Company culture doesn’t change overnight

Here’s the problem. Company culture doesn’t change overnight. It’s great that you’re working on a cultural shift, but you might not be there yet. And if new hires accept a job thinking that the organizational culture will be collaborative, friendly, and nurturing, they will expect to see that at work. If instead, they find themselves working in an overly competitive and isolated environment, they’ll know that you lied to them. What’s more, they will probably begin looking for work elsewhere.

It’s best to be upfront, and describe your culture as it actually is. If you are working on a shift, say that. Let new hires know that you are hoping that they will be part of that shift. Then let them make an informed decision about working for you.

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