Corporate Culture: Is it Really that Important?

By Dean Karrel | on LinkedIn


My job as a career and executive coach has enabled me to meet many interesting people. From marketers to accountants and from salespeople to lawyers the mix of backgrounds is very diverse.

During the course of my work, there have been a number of common factors and issues that have arisen more than a few times. It’s ranged from those looking for something more in a career and wanting to develop their skills faster to those needing a jolt of confidence as they have added new responsibilities or have started new jobs.

When the conversation shifts to the companies that they work for, the subjects of job satisfaction and corporate culture comes up. This has been a real eye opener for me since the stories cover the gamut from places that sound ideal to those that have made my head shake in disgust. Unfortunately, I have had to make the following statement more than a few times.

“If you’re not happy where you are and the culture is so unhealthy, then you need to look for something more fulfilling and rewarding sooner rather than later.”

We talk and read about corporate culture, but what is it? defines it as “the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature.”

My definition may be a bit simplistic, but I say culture ties right in with whether your company is enjoyable to go to work to each day, your peers are not just smart but fun to be with, senior management listens and knows how to lead, and there is a path (vision) of where you are all headed.

Based on my unscientific findings it doesn’t take an advanced degree to conclude that it’s more fun to work with people you like.

It’s also clear that some leaders and companies are a lot better at encouraging, motivating and empowering.

It is interesting that clients will say to me that in places noted for having a good culture colleagues are nice, authentic and outgoing while the weak companies were described with adjectives that included the words selfish, uncaring, and stressful.

There are many articles about companies with bad culture. Here’s a recent one from written by Liz Ryan, called the Ten Unmistakable Signs of a Toxic Culture. Give it glance and unfortunately you may find a few familiar situations.

I think two other factors are also very important that impact culture.

1. The direction and the, “Modeling the Way”, that does or does not start at the very top of the organization is so critical. Great leaders are the ones who recognize that culture is such an important factor in the success of a company.

2. Of course, achieving revenue and profitability targets does help a lot, but it’s not everything. People need to know they are a part of the overall mission. When they feel that they have some ownership, there are a lot more smiles around the office than with those companies where colleagues are unheard and considered to be, “head count”.

That leads to the companies that are consistently recognized for their cultures. Here is a recent post on written by Marguerite Ward The 25 Best Companies to Work For.  Companies like the Boston Consulting Group, Google, Facebook, and Clorox are listed. Often times we think it’s the start-up or tech company that are the ones that lead the way with great cultures. That’s not true and that is why I highlighted the Clorox Company that’s been around for over 100 years.

In the course of my career I have worked with three companies for an extended period of time. Each have had exceptional success, different corporate personalities, and had unique cultures. For me, during my times there, one was more, “established”, and maybe let some opportunities escape them. Another was very intense and had great financial results, but I sure wouldn’t say it was fun to be there every day.

The third one experienced amazing growth through the years and the team of leaders were visible, collaborative, and even stressed making it, “The Place to Be”.

I’d say that sends a real meaningful message, doesn’t it? It was conveyed from the senior levels and spread across the entire organization to create a very special environment.

Today, along with coaching, I also provide sales training which has enabled me to do some work with LinkedIn/ based in Carpinteria, California. (I have created a series of sales related courses that they offer) LinkedIn is also a company on that CNBC list of best companies I just referred to and I have seen the positive environment and mission driven culture in action first hand. It is very impressive and refreshing.

Interestingly, I wrote a note to my primary contact at LinkedIn following my first visit to Carpinteria last fall well before my first course was released and before I began posting articles on here. I told her,

“This really was such a fun week for me. Smart people to work with, fun people to have some laughs with, and a warm culture that was readily apparent. Oh, I’m sure there are things that go wrong or drive people crazy, but the smiles on everyone’s faces that I saw at 8:30 AM each day, can’t be faked.”

With each visit there, I experience the same positive feelings as I encounter those who have the combination of skills, intelligence, and focus but also possess a genuine enjoyment of their work and the people around them. That just doesn’t happen by accident. Culture can be embedded if you hire the right people, avoid at all costs those who can’t see the vision, and ensure everyone shares the objective of success and happiness as a team.

The CEO of LinkedIn is Jeff Weiner and it is clear that culture means a lot to him.

“I believe culture is the collective personality of an organization, and it’s not only who you are but who you aspire to be.”

There is an interview with Jeff that is available on LinkedIn Learning that includes a discussion of culture called, How Did You Put Culture in Place? His message is explained so clearly and his thoughtful approach to it shows the value he places in the team that works at LinkedIn and the mission they are all on. (If you don’t have access to LinkedIn Learning, watching this interview with Jeff is worth the investment in yourself for a monthly license. )

The lessons I’ve learned while working with and watching some of the LinkedIn team reinforces my belief in the importance of corporate culture, enjoying the time with your colleagues, being inspired by great leaders, and surrounding yourself with people who believe in those qualities, too. For me, corporate culture is at the very top of the list as it pertains to happiness and fulfillment in our business lives.

So, the title of this article was a question, “Corporate Culture, Is it Really Important?” You know what I think. What about you?


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