Corporate culture is extremely important to the success of any venture, perhaps second behind persistence. It is the “invisible hand of management”. The test is if you can send the majority of the senior management team off on vacation and the company keeps making progress as planned.
Corporate culture is NOT what you say! It is not having Vision and Mission statements! It is what you do! It is how people act and interact. For example, Andy Grove instilled a very egalitarian culture at Intel in which anyone could challenge anyone else about anything! All cubicles were exactly the same – even Andy’s – the CEO. No corner office for him.
Corporate culture is the values of the company in action. Apple’s corporate culture highly values secrecy. You see if in action with all the card-keyed areas, off limits to even other Apple employees.
It’s all back to show don’t tell. The way the founders act and very importantly, re-act, especially to bad news, is critical. Everyone is watching you, trying to read the tea leaves. If you walk around looking downcast the company will start looking downcast too.
So your corporate culture will grow organically out of the values of the founders that translate into observable behaviors by others joining the company. But while it’s not just words, there is nothing wrong with the founders sitting down and agreeing what they value and how they want to translate those values into behavior, and sharing that document with the company. But it’s all in what you do, so if you say you value supporting the local community but have no program of donating to local causes that will say a lot about your corporate culture – and none of it good.
The best definition I’ve seen yet of corporate culture comes from the book Chaos Monkey’s summary list of Silicon Valley capitalism: “company culture is what goes without saying.”
So like it or not, you will have a company culture – the observable behaviors of founders, of execs, managers, staff, how they act towards each other- whether you like it or not. Company culture grows organically. Perhaps the most obvious emanation is in recruiting: the stronger and more attractive your company culture, the more likely it is you will attract job candidates who fit with that culture. And beyond IQ, talent, experience, expertise, like product/market fit, you need staff/company fit.
Corporate culture is like any other tool, you can use it to your advantage, try to ignore it, or even misuse it.Like all the thousands of decisions that will build your company culture over the years, the choice is up to you.