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Building a culture

Q: I have joined a new company that is trying to build a company culture. We are all talking about it but we really don't know what we are doing. What contributes to a company's culture? Can you really build a company culture?

A: Building a company culture happens every day. I define company culture as "the way a company gets stuff done." Experts might have a more formal definition like the values, assumptions and norms, both visible and invisible, which guide the organization's behavior. Some company culture is visible including celebrations, rituals, the company's decor and whether employees work in cubes, offices or both. Some of the invisible elements of a company's culture include values and beliefs.

Many organizational behavior experts believe that a company's culture is created and shaped by its leaders. The leaders within an organization are often role models for the behaviors and values within a culture.

Jon Carson, CEO of BiddingForGood in Cambridge, Massachusetts offers his insights on building a culture. "I think the stated core values are important. We have to all explicitly commit to these values. When we bring on new hires, this is critical. We all need to be reinforcing this commitment with our behavior every day. Discussing culture during the interview process is critical. A cultural mismatch can be a bad hire. The chemistry of the leadership sets the tone."

Carson hits on a critical topic within the world of culture: assimilating new hires into an organizational culture. As a company leader building a new company, it is important to provide candidates with a realistic picture of the culture. When hiring new employees, try to present a balanced perspective of the role and the company offering examples of both the positives and negatives. No job is perfect and most candidates understand that. You are also sending the message that your culture is a candid and transparent one. Presenting a straightforward representation of the opportunity will help eliminate the "cultural mismatch" hires which Carson mentions.

You are smart to think about company culture now. Establishing a positive work culture early on is often easier than shifting a culture years from now.

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