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Who Owns Company Culture?

Smiling Girl In Sunshine Raising Hands

Will whoever owns company culture please stand up?

Not long ago I was sitting in a room full of HR professionals from every hot start up in the Silicon Valley: Eventbrite, Pinterest, Square, to name a few. The event? HR 2.0: Dealing With Fast Growth Tech. The idea? To have a conversation about the challenges and best practices in modern HR departments. Not surprising to me, the conversation quickly turned to culture and stayed there. For most of the night. 

Culture is a buzz word because it’s important. Culture is the living, breathing organism that speaks to what’s most important to an organization and what is valued. It’s easy to see why in tech companies, especially ones that are growing fast, culture would be a huge hot button. But it’s a crucial ingredient of any organization. A readily defined culture can help promote vision, build community and retain and attract (the right) talent. More broadly put, culture is about creating and sustaining the life of your business. What business doesn’t need that?

But where does culture come from? It wasn’t a question I heard addressed that night as I sat listening to the conversation. And yet it’s so important. In order to understand anything to the best of your ability, you have to know it’s roots. You have to know who or what created it. This, of course, is where the topic gets complicated. Is culture something that is created? Something that just “appears”? Should it be defined by the leadership or collected, in a sense, from the people? 

Many will say that an organization’s owner defines its culture. This is the trickle down affect where a company will take on what an owner values as its own values. If culture is never directly addressed, defined, put to paper, this will likely be the case. The owner or the core team will assert their beliefs and practices (what they say and do) and there will be a trickle down to the people. 

For others, culture is more about discovery. Culture can also be thought of as putting people into the workplace and seeing what values, groups, interests spring up and take shape. Rather than a top-down approach where values are promoted from the C-suite, culture developed through discovery happens at the grassroots level. It is unearthed, given legs, and nurtured where it already exists. It is an ever-evolving organism that changes with its people. 

No matter where your culture comes from, structure is essential. What do you stand for? What is important? What kind of people do you want involved in what you’re trying to accomplish in your business? In your world? How do you want this to be evidenced? The answers to these questions are crucial for bringing a business to life, for ensuring you hire well, and for retaining people and keeping them happy. And rest assured, the answers will be different for everyone. Culture is not a one-sized fits all, and that is a beautiful thing because people aren’t either.

What is culture to you? What are you doing to make yours the best it can be? 


Application Solution Providers, Inc. 866-764-8324

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