Can we really manage corporate culture?

The concept of corporate culture is well known in the HR community, where people are aware of its strong impact on productivity and on the effectiveness of both the company and the employees. A number of studies have traced company success back to attributes of corporate culture. Although there are no coherent findings as to which attributes contribute to a company’s success the most, it becomes obvious that values and principles promoted by a corporate community define behaviors, expectations and aspirations of the individual in the organization.
It is interesting that corporate culture has just relatively recently become a subject of interest to managers, though it exists in every company from the moment it is set up. Whether we are aware or not of which values and principles the key group of employees is promoting, those principles define what is considered appropriate in the behavior of all individuals. Actually, it is interesting that there are always promoters of corporate culture who by their own action, which does not necessarily need to be fully conscious promotion of certain guiding principles, set standards for the whole community of employees. Of course, top management’s role is crucial because power is concentrated at the top of the pyramid, but the impact of individuals who have informal power in the community is equally strong.
That is why it is important for the HR function to start to manage corporate culture – first to identify who the current promoters of the existing culture are, which values are currently in place and what is the impact of those values on the company’s goals and activities. Without scanning the current situation and defining the desired direction for the development of corporate culture and values, one cannot start to manage the culture. A significant proportion of managers still believe that it is not possible to manage something so fluid and intangible. However, the HR community is proving that it is possible to transform a company’s guiding principles in a controlled and systematic way, and in line with the identity that the company is building both externally and internally. That indicates that top management primarily needs to deal with the company identity, not only in terms of results and market positioning, but also in the way the company does business, in terms of the mission it follows and how it presents itself in the broader community and to the internal employees’ community. Defining the identity of a company is as important as defining an individual’s identity, and the same questions are relevant: who am I, what is the purpose of my existence, what do I believe in, what has value to me and, of course, what do I intend to do in order to fulfil my purpose and to realize my identity?
It turns out that defining a company’s vision and mission cannot be done superficially and just because a company needs to have a mission – identity needs to be built to be alive. In order to make the identity alive, the first prerequisite is that employees be involved in its creation and, above all, they need to fully accept the identity. Of course, the HR function aligned with the top management is responsible for employees’ engagement and it needs to create mechanisms to connect personal identities with the company identity. This job requires top HR experts who are familiar with tools and mechanisms that can reach every individual in a non-invasive way that is easy to follow and seems to come naturally. When individual identities connect with the company identity through the use of different tools, projects and key promoters’ groups, one can say that the scene is set for management of corporate culture. Of course, all HR functions need to be coherent while building the culture; for example, the recruitment function needs personal values and beliefs of candidates to be defined which are compatible with values that the company promotes, the talent management function needs to have on their key list for talent identification defined criteria related not only to good performance indicators, but also, in the domain of identifying high potential, it needs to recognize individuals who are role models of the corporate culture the company wants to promote. HR alone without serious involvement of the top management cannot manage corporate culture, so I would say that dedication of those key individuals is fundamental to starting corporate culture transformation projects in an organization. Of course, as there is a story behind every human, so has every company its unique story that requires tailor-made projects to transform and manage the culture, and that defines the core values and keeps the promoted principles and identities alive.

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