Where Does Corporate Culture Begin?

Where Does Corporate Culture Begin?
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Does corporate culture begin in the C-suite, or the boardroom, or the factory floor?

Culture starts – and stays – in a most unlikely place. And it’s not the corner office.
Here’s how to understand the beginnings of corporate culture.


Much has been said about the nature of corporate culture. The role of the CEO in setting up corporate culture can’t be denied. Guidance and messaging from the top is vital to expressing (and implementing) corporate culture.

But culture is more than just a mission statement, or a top-down initiative. Corporate culture is woven throughout the entire organization. Corporate culture can be observed and recognized in mid-level managers, in front line customer service workers, and in the boardroom.

Edward R. Murrow famously said:

“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”

A mission statement, while necessary and often inspirational, is not where culture begins.

Many times, in my work with corporations and individuals, I hear about the importance of a “15-second-pitch”. You know what I mean – that short, bursty “get the idea now” kind of speechifying that demonstrates your cleverness, but little else. It’s also called a “tag line”, in advertising.

Corporate culture doesn’t begin with a slogan, an ad campaign, or a short turn-of-a-phrase. Culture is about story, and a story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

The story of your organization needs to be a story about a hero. Submitted for your consideration, think about these characters as the hero of your story:

    • Your customers
    • Your employees

Lord Vader miniEvery good story has a great conflict – a dramatic and unexpected change to the status quo.

Remember when Luke fired those two missiles into the Death Star?

What’s the change that you create, for your clients? What’s the Death Star that you conquer, every day, as a result of your corporate culture?

Finally, the most compelling stories are often the ones that are the most authentic. Lots of people can write slogans, but there’s no one who’s better at your story than YOU. Aspirational mission statements serve their purpose – but corporate culture starts with a story that inspires through action.

Your authentic story – overcoming challenges in a way that’s clear, real, and measurable – is the key to creating (and transforming) your corporate culture.

Photo of the Dark Lord Vader By kennymatic. Creative commons license, some rights reserved.
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