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Giving Corporate Culture the Harlem Shake

It’s the current darling of the business world, the subject of countless fawning HR odes, the sugary buzz on everyone’s lips: corporate culture. Without it, crow its adherents, no one would want to work for a company, and no employee would have loyalty enough for a place to hang around long.

But what, beyond in-office pool tables and Friday catered lunches, is this elusive essential? And how to get it for yourself?

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Some quick-hit corporate culture tips:

• Corporate culture is born in the corporate story. Cultivate your corporate story early and revisit it often. By reminding staffers of those things about the firm that make it special and upon which its success is based, management endows the scene with a sense of value and history, and ensures a universality to its message that is consistently reinforced. Trade on corporate lore in your story, and celebrate its treasures loudly. At Nike, employees use a Winnebago as a conference room (plonked right in the middle of the company kitchen) because cofounder Phil Knight is said to have first sold shoes out of such a vehicle. 

• Encourage buy-in by staging company-wide bursts of spirit. Such activities unify disparate groups that might otherwise work in isolation, and fill them with energy around a common subject, besides. A whack of companies have filmed and posted their own takes on the Harlem Shake, of late: a perfect example of such a coalescing exercise.

• Bear in mind always that corporate culture is set by an organization’s executives and management team. It is their behaviour that signals to subordinates what kind of behaviour is acceptable and expected. So those in the C-suite, remember always: you lead by example.

• Be patient. Bad behaviour, alas, spreads like wildfire; good behaviour takes a bit longer to catch hold. Establish a tone, support it with action and then dig in for the long haul. This corporate culture stuff is going to be a while.

Corporate culture matters for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that disharmony between an individual’s personality and that of the workplace at large has been linked to job dissatisfaction, absenteeism and high rates of staff turnover. Ignore its siren call at your peril.

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