Elements of Corporate Cultures

In “Culture by Default or by Design?” Edmonds and Glaser (2010) talk about the challenge of describing the culture of an organization. In the article, the authors maintain that the impact of your corporate culture can spell success or disaster for the organization.

The culture of your company is its personality, it’s “how things are done around here” (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010, p. 37). Culture can be the company’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors – both of the overall system itself and of the individual members who make up the organization.

Asking employees to describe their corporate culture is akin to asking a fish to describe what water is like. Neither the employee nor the fish can do it properly because they’re both immersed in it (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010). It’s even more challenging for new employees as they sometimes stumble onto and violate unwritten norms and rules embedded in the organization.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) assert that the function of the organizational culture is to serve both as an external and internal role to help the organization adapt. Under the external role, questions asked include, “What exactly needs to be accomplished and how do we do this?” For the internal role, the question is “How do members of the organization work together, get along, and work out conflicts?”

On the surface it may seem apparent, but it can take years to fully understand some corporate culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005). The reason is that corporate culture is highly complex and multi-layered, composed of an observable culture, the shared values, and common cultural assumptions. The observable culture is the “how we do things around here.” The shared values link employees of a company together. Finally, common cultural assumptions are those “truths” that will come up after analyzing the culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005).

Elements of Strong Corporate Cultures (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • A widely shared real understanding of what the firm stands for, often embodied in slogans
  • A concern for individuals over rules, policies, procedures, and adherence to job duties
  • A recognition of heroes whose actions illustrate the company’s shared philosophy and concerns
  • A belief in ritual and ceremony as important to members and to building a common identity
  • A well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations so that employees and managers understand what is expected of them
  • A belief that what employees and managers do is important and that it is important to share information and ideas


Edmonds, C. & Glaser, B. (2010). Culture by default or by design? Talent Management, 6(1), 36-39.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.