The Strategist's Guide to Defining Company Culture / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

If your strategy isn't gaining traction, the fault could lie in your poor company culture. Here are 5 ways to establish and nurture...

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You've developed a clear strategy, vetted it with experts, received external market validation and carefully communicated it throughout your organization. Yet the strategy isn't gaining traction. You reevaluate, refine and adjust the strategy, communicating it again and again only to see the same poor results. The reality is your strategy may not be the issue. It may be your culture. Here are 5 tips for defining and nurturing culture in your company.

1. What is Culture?

Simply put, business culture is defined by a set of truths that your company believes in and runs on (Tweet this!). These truths serve as a set of organizing principles that help guide your strategy, execution and decision making. They serve as a system to help people in your organization make decisions, set priorities, deal with conflict and hire new people. The first step in establishing these fundamental truths is to articulate what culture means in your company. Culture is not a series of slogans, nor is it a list of processes. It is not a new logo. It is a company Constitution that defines your business, your company beliefs and your strategy. When people get confused, tired, frustrated and overwhelmed, as we all do at times, having a set of cultural truths to fall back on will guide them.

2. Who are You?

The second step in defining and nurturing culture is defining who you are as a company. To do this you must answer 3 key questions.

  • What is our market truth? What market(s) do we serve and why do we serve them?
  • What is our brand truth? What does our brand stand for and what is our brand promise?
  • What is our mission? Beyond the obvious goal of  making money, what is our company's mission?

These are not simple questions to answer especially for businesses already well-established. Within more mature businesses, there may be a series of micro-cultures lacking cohesive overarching truths to bridge them together. Defining a true culture that's reflective of your company to serve as a guiding organic system isn't going to happen in one quick brain storming session. Answering these 3 questions, however, is the start.

3. Who Knows?

In defining and nurturing culture, the wisdom of the crowd reigns supreme (Tweet this!). Business management needs to lead the process, but defining and owning a cultural identity is by definition, a team sport. You need to involve groups of people in your company by gathering input from all departments and listening carefully to what your employees tell you. Engagement surveys, town halls, culture committees, and small group brain storming sessions are all processes that help in defining an accurate, honest and sustainable culture. Study other companies. GoogleHubSpot and Zappos all publish the guiding principles that define their cultures. Ask your customers. Don't be afraid to share your process with your customers and get their input and reactions.

Related:5 Steps to Building High Quality Digital Talent

4. Don't be Afraid to be Laughed At

Talking about, let alone defining and communicating, a company culture can feel awkward for some business executives. Some people feel it's a "squishy science" and something better left to HR or to the occasional initiative recommended by a consultant. The reality is in knowledge work, which is all business today, defining your culture and a clear set of guiding principles is a core competency you must have (Tweet this!). You need to socialize this concept and be unafraid of those who might snicker. They will come to see the value of your newly defined culture or the culture will naturally reject them.

5. Culture Needs to be Nurtured

Once you've defined your culture, make sure that the guiding principles that shape it are well understood, reviewed and revisited regularly. Post your truths around your office. Post them online. Make them a part of meetings, discussions and your recruitment and hiring process. Once a quarter, do a culture check-in. Are your truths still accurate? Has anything changed? Is your company operating based on these principles? Do you see direct links between your cultural truths, your strategy and your execution? Do your newer employees understand the culture as well as your longer term people do? Do they embrace it? Has the focus and passion about your culture grown stale and do you need to revitalize it?

Related:12 Ways to Foster a More Entrepreneurial Culture

At we have redefined our culture over the last year. We have thought long and hard about our market truth, brand truth and mission, engaging literally everyone in the company in the process. Let us know how you're defining and nurturing culture in your company and we will share the best suggestions with the community.

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