What’s your organizational culture?

Organizational culture is a buzzword we often hear in start-ups and other progressive companies. However, many of us have a lot of questions when it comes to this term: What is the organizational culture definition? What are some types of organizational culture? And, most importantly, how can we create a good culture or change a bad culture in our organizations?

Organizational culture is the backbone of the products and services a company offers. It is the core belief system of a business and its employees, covering how they interact with each other, with their product and with the clientele. It ties into a company’s values and is the basis of their brand.

You’ve heard the phrase “Culture is king,” but what does it really mean? Your company produces an excellent product or service; that should be enough, shouldn’t it?

It’s not. Not by far. You might have a product that can revolutionize society as we know it, but without the right people behind it, that product will not go far. To gain a place in society – to make an impact – it’s critical to have the right backing and to create something larger than yourself.

Enter organizational culture. For those who want to know more about this vital business component, Tony Robbins explores what exactly organizational culture looks like to him and how to implement it in your own company.

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More than free lunches

If you do any sort of job advertisement browsing, you’ve seen references to organizational culture. “Great company culture,” the ads will say. “Ping-pong tournaments on Tuesdays, beer-thirty on Fridays, unlimited PTO.” Those things are a reflection of the company culture, but are not necessarily indicative of the culture itself.

So what is organizational culture? In short, it’s what a company stands for. What do you believe in your very bones? How far will you go to achieve that? What do you expect of yourself and your employees in order to get there? If you want to make an impact on the world and develop a raving fan base of customers, then you need to start by turning your employees into your most enthusiastic fans of all. A strong organizational culture isn’t just something that makes your employees happy to come to work every day; it’s also the powerful foundation your business needs to achieve explosive growth.


building organizational culture

Asking the right questions of yourself and your team

According to marketing expert Jay Abraham, critical thinking is key to evaluating and improving your organizational culture. Critical thinking, the mental process associated with accuracy, logic, depth, fairness, credibility and intellectual clarity, is necessary for asking the high-level questions needed for cultural change. He suggests a number of questions to ask yourself and your team that jumpstart the critical thinking process, such as:

  • Am I in the right business?
  • Am I working with the right people?
  • Am I striving to learn and grow every day?
  • Is there a better way to grow my business?
  • Is there a better market niche to go after?

When you ask these types of questions with your team, you show them respect and give them permission to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas about the business. 

Trust is at the heart of a good organizational culture. If your team knows you trust them to contribute and play a part in the direction the company takes, they will be happier at work and more confident in the future.

Thinking differently about organizational culture

The best company cultures are those that are created by leaders who think differently. Jay states that a business that is not constantly re-examined is a business not worth having. If you aren’t intensely curious about your organizational culture and how you can think outside the box to make it better, you’re doing yourself and your team a disservice. 

Thinking differently occurs when you expose yourself to others. Expand your resources via reading books, listening to podcasts and enrolling in leadership programs offered by Tony Robbins, Jay Abraham and other thought leaders. You should also look for stories about companies who have implemented successful organizational culture and leadership strategies, such as Microsoft, Warby Parker and Zappos.

How Zappos did it

how to develop organizational culture

When looking at types of organizational culture to model your business after, you can’t do any better than Zappos. We’re used to buying clothing – and almost everything else – online, but Zappos faced a formidable battle when it appeared on the scene in 1999. How were people supposed to buy shoes online? You couldn’t try them on, couldn’t see how they looked or felt on your feet.

Zappos got around that by delivering on the promise their organizational culture encouraged: They’re a service-based company, not a produce-based company. What matters to them is outstanding employee-customer interactions and employee willingness to go above and beyond for their customers. They also made the decision to embrace and drive change – fostering innovation within the culture itself – and cultivate a fun, familial spirit that didn’t mind if things got a little weird.

That sort of free-spirited organizational culture and leadership led to the secret that gained Zappos millions of raving fans: free shipping. Yes, you had to buy the shoes to see how they looked on you, but Zappos paid all shipping costs, as well as any return fees for the shoes that didn’t fit. Shoppers had no reason not to give the service a try; even if the shoes didn’t fit, they were saving the money they’d spend on gas to get to the store.

Zappos takes their promise of excellent service a step further. While most of their orders were completed online, Zappos found that most customers did call in at some point, and thus they trained their phone reps to provide customers with undivided attention. There were no scripts and no upselling; just an absolute willingness to help the customer out, whether they needed to find the perfect pair of shoes for an event or had just experienced a tragedy in the family (the rep in question sent flowers – now that’s real customer service).  This is one of the organizational culture examples that made headlines and turned a shoe business into an industry disruptor.


organizational culture of a company

how to build organizational culture

By focusing on going above and beyond and building the consumer connection the same way they built familial connections among staff, Zappos leveraged their company culture into a brand that’s still going strong today.

Building organizational culture that lasts

Now that we’ve looked at organizational culture with a thorough example, it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of creating your own organizational culture definition. Organizational culture and leadership are thoroughly intertwined because it’s the leadership that typically decides what the culture will be. Everything your business does is an extension of that culture, beginning with how you treat your employees and ending with how your customers describe their experiences to friends who might not otherwise look at your product or service.

building positive organizational culture


As a leader, one of your first duties – before you even start hiring – should be to decide what your company stands for and what values you want your employees as a group to believe in. These dots create a blueprint you can follow when writing company policies and making hiring decisions, as well as guide the direction of your innovation and customer service. If you’re able to decide which of the types of organizational culture you want your company to have before you even hire, you’re well ahead of the game. You can instill in your employees a deep sense of meaning and ensure that each person you add to the team has a passion for your mission. However, if you’re already years into your business and realize that you’ve never asked yourself, “What is organizational culture?”, you can still make a change.

How to create a change in culture

There are plenty of organizational culture examples that involve transforming a toxic culture into one that is fulfilling for everyone involved. Is it easy to change your company’s culture? Of course not, but it’s worth it. While employees tend to resist change, it’s your job as a leader to guide them through it. If you have good crisis leadership skills, you can help your team through even the toughest of transformations. Here’s a quick overview of an effective five-step process.

Create a strategic vision.

Once you have your organizational culture vision set, you can develop a Massive Action Plan to get your employees on board. Make sure your team sees the direction you’re going in and why. This will help them deal with any changes. 

Get your top management on board.

Organizational culture and leadership are inextricable from each other. For the culture change to take effect, you have to get your top management with the program so they can help guide the rest of the team.

Model the cultural changes.

If you and your management team are not displaying the values and behaviors you want the rest of the company to embrace, you can’t expect them to change. Make sure you communicate what you’re trying to teach, embrace open communication with your team and honor success and celebrate team or individual victories.



Make necessary organization modifications.

Your infrastructure needs to support the changes you want to make. Look at other organizational culture examples you want to emulate and see how they’ve structured policies, procedures, rules and systems to support their own culture.

Encourage loyalty.

When you see team members displaying healthy cultural behaviors, encourage and reward them. If you see those who can’t seem to help but cling to their toxic behaviors, give them extra training or let them go.

Part of being a successful business owner is creating a healthy, innovative organizational culture and knowing when a change needs to be made. Your organizational culture is your belief system and the backbone of everything you offer. When you create a strong one with values you believe in, your business is sure to grow.

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