No, You Can’t Define Your Company Culture

Earlier this month, Barb Buckner asked if culture can be defined or does it define itself?

No, You Can’t Define Your Company Culture

My answer: No. You cannot define culture.

You can define your organization’s vision. You can define its mission. Its values. Its policies and procedures … But you cannot define the culture.

Culture is made up of 2 things.

  1. The way things are actually done.
  2. How people feel about the way the way things are actually done.

Until people actually start doing things and feeling whatever way they feel about it, you cannot define your organization’s culture. Until that happens, your culture does not exist.


The good news is, while you cannot define culture, you can definitely influence it.

Since culture is made up of the way things are done and the feelings surrounding it, the way you influence it is by clearly defining and consistently managing the other areas.

When your vision, mission, values, policies and procedures are defined and management is making sure the spirit of these are followed in how the work is done, your culture will be positively influenced. Your culture will develop and flourish to make your organization a place where people want to work and never leave. Your employees will have good attendance, meet the deadlines of their duties and turnover will be at a minimum. They will speak positively about your organization to others. They will be ambassadors of your brand. They will be kind to customers, vendors and each other. Your company will be successful. Others will take notice and want to replicate what you’re doing … And that’s when you know your culture is on the right track!

However, when your vision is blurry, your mission is impossible, your values are worthless and you have no clear policies or procedures, your culture will be negatively influenced. And if you have all these things but aren’t educating and enforcing them, your culture will truly suck! Because the only thing employees hate worse than having an undefined workplace is having a workplace riddled with disparity and hypocrisy.

If your culture takes a negative turn, you will see attendance problems, missed deadlines, insubordinate and insolate behaviors as well as high turnover start to become the norm in your organization. Your employees will not speak positively about your organization. They will not be kind to customers, vendors or each other. The success of your company will suffer. Your doors may not permanently close — but you will lag behind your competition and you will look on enviously at others who grow at a pace faster than yours.

If your workplace is starting to look or sound like this, the way to fix it is NOT by defining (or worse “re-defining”) your culture.

Employee engagement event planning won’t help either. You cannot “potluck” your way out of bad culture.

The only way to get your culture back on track is to start enforcing what you’ve already identified as the way things are to be done in your organization. Go back to the basics are start living the things you’ve already said your organization is about. But leave culture out of it. Your efforts will be futile.

Culture cannot be defined.

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