How to describe your company culture

A company’s mission, values, ethics, and environment all play into its culture

Your company’s culture is its personality. You might think about it this way: If your company were meeting someone for the first time, what impression would it give, and what would be the main things it would talk about?

Being able to describe company culture is important because it can influence how you make decisions about whom you hire and how you interact with other businesses and the general public. It’s also important because it will give you a touchstone to refer back to when you’re making crucial business decisions. Moreover, a shared organizational culture has become a major differentiator for enterprise companies in recent years.

As your company grows and evolves, your company culture will likely change with it. Even so, it’s important to have a sound sense of what you want your culture to be like from the start; this will help guide your vision as the company leader.

Common words used to describe a company culture

The following words are often used to positively describe a company culture:

  • Friendly: Shows that employees engage with one another in a positive way throughout the workday. 
  • Challenging: Indicates that employees are encouraged to explore the full potential of their skill sets, and that they’re likely to grow through the job experience.
  • Motivating: Implies that the company is inspiring, and employees will feel compelled to work hard.
  • Engaging: Suggests that employees will feel invested in their work because it speaks to their interests.
  • Nurturing: Conveys that the company is invested in employees’ growth and development. 
  • Collaborative: Signifies that employees and teams will work well together cross-functionally to accomplish their goals. 
  • Autonomous: Expresses that employees are trusted to have ownership over their work and that they have individual power to improve results.

These are just a few examples of words that companies use to describe their culture. While you may gravitate toward a few, be sure to come up with some other, less common terms that are specific to your company. This will help your company stand out from the rest. But before you get to picking adjectives, you’ll need to gain a better understanding of the elements that contribute to a company’s overall culture. 

Photograph by The We Company

How to describe your company culture

A company’s culture has several key elements. Consider the following when describing yours.

Mission

What does your company ultimately aim to accomplish? Do you want to bring innovation to the world, provide the best customer experience possible, or craft quality products that people can’t stop talking about? Your mission statement may be as short as a single sentence or as long as a paragraph or two, but it should be as succinct as possible.

Values and ethics

What do you believe in? The values and ethics that are dominant in your business will affect many aspects of everyday life in your workplace. Here are examples of the values that companies often prioritize:

Ethics might come into play when you’re deciding which values are the most important to your company. For example, every business wants to see tangible results in the monthly balance sheets. You need to consider how far you’re willing to go to see those results, however; if you cut corners with your products or services to save money, or you resort to underhanded techniques to beat out a competitor, your company’s integrity is likely to suffer.

Every policy you write for your company should relate back to the values you’ve set. Think of values and ethics as your destination, and your policies as different routes that will get you where you want to go.

Photograph by The We Company

Work environment

Google is famous for its main office complex, which is basically a playground for adults. With nap pods, massage rooms, and free gourmet meals, it’s a place most people only dream of working at. While you may have neither the desire nor the funds to imitate Google’s work environment, you should give serious thought to how people feel when they are in your office.

Décor can play a big role. A lack of decoration can seem stark and prison-like. White walls, cookie-cutter furniture, and fluorescent tube lighting can all make employees feel like they’re trapped. Consider adding elements to your office that promote a happy, energetic environment

Color psychology indicates that colors really can have an impact on mood, so research what different hues mean and incorporate them into the office. You can also pick out some artwork that will lighten the mood.

The overall configuration of your office should also be taken into account. For example, if teamwork is one of your most treasured values, you’re hurting yourself if your office is nothing but a series of cubicles that cut team members off from one another. You should consider switching to a space that easily enables collaboration. Also consider your company’s employee website, if it has one. It’s like a cyber-extension of your work environment. Does it do a good job of reflecting your new cultural values?

Interactions between team members

Company culture might be at its most obvious when you’re observing how your team members interact with one another. Is there a continual, open flow of ideas, or do your employees tend to ignore one another or engage in mean-spirited competition?

If you don’t like what you see, you may have to adjust your company’s culture guidelines to foster a better environment. Don’t just say what needs to be done—lead by example, and make opportunities for people to become more comfortable with one another. By embodying your ideal company culture and hosting social events for your team, you can create an atmosphere of innovation, communication, and trust.

Implementing culture at work

Once you’ve defined where your company culture is and where you want it to be, you can start crafting concrete policies and practices that are in line with your target culture.

Evangelize and measure your company culture

Think about how to describe company culture to your existing team members. Write down what you want the culture to be, and prepare a presentation that will help you get your message across. Meeting with your team is your opportunity to:

  • Get their perspective on the current company culture. They may be aware of issues that you haven’t even thought to address.
  • Gauge their reactions to the new culture that you’re trying to cultivate.
  • Gather their ideas on how to improve company culture.

You can also set concrete goals as they relate to your culture. Some things, like trust and openness, are practically impossible to measure. However, you can send out quarterly surveys to your employees to see how they think the culture is progressing.

Other goals are easier to measure. You might decide to remodel the office by the end of the year, start hosting a monthly social gathering for the team, or begin using new collaborative software to encourage team thinking.

Find the right people

More and more, businesses are putting increasing weight on soft skills versus hard skills. You might be able to train a person to use a certain computer program, but it’s much more difficult—or even impossible, perhaps—to get them to change their personality.

Therefore, when you’re looking for people to hire, always strive to get a good grasp of their personal values, and imagine how they would interact with other people on your team. You might even interview a person multiple times; invite other team members along for the interviews so they can offer their opinions on your candidate.

Photograph by The We Company

Shift the company mindset

Before you had a firm idea in mind about what you wanted your company culture to evolve into, you might have hired people who didn’t display the attributes you most want in your employees. You don’t necessarily have to let go of these talented people. You may be able to inspire positive changes in them by:

  • Enthusiastically promoting new policies and practices that aim to adjust the company culture. Remember, enthusiasm is contagious.
  • Making it clear that you’re willing to listen to feedback about changes from everyone, even people who were naysayers from the beginning.
  • Using concrete data to communicate just how important company culture is. A healthy culture can help with employee retention, productivity, reputation, and product quality. In fact, one study from Columbia University showed that the likelihood of turnover in companies with a good culture is less than 14 percent. In companies with a poor culture, that percentage goes up to nearly 50 percent.

Take your company culture beyond the office

Never forget that while most of the time your company’s culture focuses on what happens within your company, it can have a huge impact on how others see your business. For example, an employee who left because of a negative culture might spread the word about their poor experience on review sites.

More than that, though, a good culture can be a great tool for promoting your company. For example, if you give your employees paid time off to volunteer in the local community, word about your dedication to helping others will spread. You could even create a marketing campaign around the positive impact you’re making.

Describing your company’s culture can be a tricky thing, and changing that culture so that it benefits your business and your employees is even more of a challenge. A great culture starts with writing down what you want to achieve and ends with policies and practices that everyone on your team can get on board with.


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