What is company culture?

One of the best descriptions of company or organizational culture that I have come accross is:

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration; that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” - Adapted from Edgar Schein - Organisational Culture & Leadership


What does culture do?

“Culture determines how things are done in the company, through self-sustaining pattern of behaviour, in order to achieve its desired goal.”  - Adapted from Strategy + Business – 10 Principles of Organization Culture

It is culture that determines whether people can and will deliver peak performance or not.


How does culture determine how things are done in the company?

Before you can manage or re-design culture, you must understand what culture is, what content culture covers, and how to access culture.

 “Over-simplification of what culture is can be a dangerous thing because a general understanding of culture will not enable you to achieve the change goals you are planning to make.” - Adapted from Schein

 We can get a deeper understanding of culture by looking at how culture exists in three different layers, according to Schein:


  • Artefacts: Visible organisational structures and processes. What you see at the surface of the culture in the company are the external and visible manifestations of culture (what you see, hear and feel in the workplace).
  • Espoused Values: Strategies, goals, philosophies. But the core or essence of culture can’t be seen (invisible and difficult to discern) because they operate at largely unconscious levels.
  • Basic Underlying Assumptions: Unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings (the ultimate source of values and action).

These basic assumptions and values are key to understanding why culture does what it does. These basic assumptions and values form around deeper dimensions of human existence such as the nature of humans, human relationships and activity, reality and truth. What you don’t know about culture (at deep and invisible level) is where culture really matters.


If you want change to happen (anywhere) in the company, then you have to bother with company culture.

 Our individual and collective behaviour, ways of perceiving, thought patterns, and values determines the culture of the company (how things are done in the company). Soon you realize that the prevailing way of doing things in the company becomes stable and set in its ways.

 But all companies have to constantly change (adapt) in order to succeed and to stay relevant (and alive) in competitive business world. Simply put, this is the fundamental reality of how the world (and universe) is, down to every aspect of our lives.


Culture is deep. A company culture becomes what it want to become. So the prevailing culture inevitably becomes the primary source of resistance to change. This is why few companies go through change process and achieve the outcomes they want. We must understand and manage the deeper level of culture to ensure that our change initiatives can deliver the desired change outcomes in performance.


Therefore, if you want to bring any meaningful change into the company (how people do things in the company) you must also understand and be mindful of changing the company culture (mindset, values and behaviour) at the same time.


This applies to both company-wide change and process-level change in the company.


If you don’t get a hold of culture change and make it an enduring competitive asset, then the culture will inevitably “get you” and make all your change efforts very difficult in achieving its desired outcomes. Your company culture inevitably turns into a liability by eventual default.


You must bother about company culture to achieve your strategic goals through people in your organization.