Business magazines publish article after article discussing a company’s culture.  The articles often focus on perks, the color of the office walls, or the fact there is a ping pong table where the conference table used to be.

Who cares!  I don’t care that I get to play ping pong at work if I can’t trust the guy I just beat to be honest with me later.  A pig with lipstick on is still a pig. 

This Isn’t Culture

If ping pong and casual dress determine a company’s culture, then I need to look at a company’s character more than it’s culture.

I like ping pong.  I just want to play it with people who I trust to keep accurate score.

Buzzword:  Organizational Culture

Culture is another one of those buzzwords that people use without defining it.  When culture is mentioned we hear about things that supposedly make the job site a great place to work.  But the things mentioned rarely tell me anything more than what perks are available.

  • 4 day work week
  • Casual dress
  • On site day care
  • Offices without walls
  • Flexible hours
  • Adoption assistance
  • Creative incentive programs or profit sharing

People use these to describe what a great place somewhere is to work.  But they do not go far enough.  Unfortunately the culture of a company is now described more in terms of outward appearances than who that company is at its soul.

I worked for a company that had an incredible array of perks available to its employees.  Each year we were reminded of those offerings in order to point out what a great place it was to work.

But in reality, people were leaving for companies that offered less.  I realize now that it is not the things that people describe as culture that makes a great place to work. It is the organization’s character.

The Definition of Organizational Character

Organizational character is determined by how the collective group habitually operates.  What actions are habitually displayed within the team?  (Definition of Character)

Organizational character is the collective character of the people working at that organization.  The character of the whole is determined by the sum total of its parts.

If people consistently choose to do the right thing, or if they choose to only look out for themselves, that is the character of the whole.

No one is more responsible for determining the character of the organization than the leadership.

The leadership determines the values the company lives byI am not talking about the values a company professes.  I am talking about HOW the company actually operates.

I witnessed a company change for the worse as a result of a change in the upper level of management.  The values on the website never changed, but the character of the company did.  As a result, a company that had been a destination company for many, now has reputation for being a place people came from.

The new leadership began to operate in a way contrary to the company values.  Over time, this change trickled down into the frontline leadership.  As that happened, more and more quality people left a company that offered incredible perks, in order to work in smaller companies that had less to offer on the surface.

What these smaller companies did offer was character.  These companies not only had values they claimed, but they also lived by them. Living by the values they claimed began at the highest levels and was maintained by the front line leaders.

Does the company truly adhere to the values of integrity, courage, trust and respect for people?  Does the upper level of leadership hire front line leaders with the personal character to live by these values?

The Bottom Line:

Don’t get confused when you read an article about organizational culture and believe what matters is how people are allowed to dress or what perks are available.  These do little to determine whether it is a good place to work.

The character of a company is determined by the character of the leadership. If they have leaders of character at the top, the company will likely demonstrate the character of its leadership.

A company is truly only an organization of high character and thus a good place to work, if the people in charge live by values that create character.  That atmosphere can happen whether people are asked to wear suits and ties everyday or jeans and t-shirts. 

A pig with lipstick on is still a pig.  Who a company is at its soul, its organizational character, determines whether people want to work there not a ping pong table.


Is there a difference in your company between the values claimed and the values people live by?