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From Purpose to Practice: The Role of Culture in Business Success

Whether you are aware of it or not, every company has a certain culture. The only question is whether it is a strong and healthy culture. Because a company culture, in addition to good leadership, largely determines productivity, creativity, and the ability to innovate for a company.


What is a culture, how do you build a culture and how do you monitor a company culture? These are questions that if asked at all, often lie with an HR department. Later in this blog, it will become clear to you that this may not be the appropriate department. In fact, a strong and healthy company culture usually comes from a company's purpose and vision. Jointly shaped by traditions, the company's history, and shared values, a corporate culture determines which new employees the company will attract or reject.


What exactly is company culture?

A "culture" can be defined as the collection of behaviors and ways of thinking that protect a group from outside dangers. Bedouins in the Sahara, for example, handle water very differently than an average apartment dweller in New York. Scarcity makes Bedouins very frugal with their water supply. In India, people place water or milk at a temple, while in predominantly Catholic Italy you see virtually none. Even this custom came from an outside threat.


Temples in India long ago suffered from rats. Since animals could not be killed, something clever had to be found. They decided to attract cats and you do that with a bowl of milk and some goodies. By now the rats and also the cats have disappeared, but the offerings that have now become a tradition remain.


Similarly, you see people in India walking with a stick and an umbrella. This used to be prescribed in the ancient Vedas. Even though some people think so, it is not that this was required from religious belief. The parasol was in fact a very practical protection against the bright sun and the stick was to chase away wild animals. Again, an outside threat, in other words.


This is also how it works with company cultures. They arise in response to that which may endanger the company or its employees.


Why is a strong and healthy company culture important?

A very strong and healthy company culture is important in a practical sense because it provides guidelines for how things work. They are like the unwritten rules of what you should and should not do and what is expected of employees. This concerns practical matters such as clothing, working hours, manners, and other agreements that simplify cooperation and unify the face of the outside world.


On the other hand, culture is important because it gives a sense of belonging. People naturally want to belong to a group, and a strong and healthy culture can contribute to this if nothing else. The company culture of Zappos, for example, is very different from that of IBM or Apple.