Much has been written about corporate culture, and much more will. There are studies, dissertations, discussions and many examples out there of good and bad corporate culture. Still, what is ‘good’ to some is ‘bad’ to others and vice-versa. Which leaves the rest of us in a pickle and we ask “is corporate culture subjective, and based on shifting perceptions, alliances, moods, and market share?”

Corporate culture symbolises everything about an organization — a sort of DNA matrix that shapes its ‘soft cell’ to both internal and external audiences. It defines an entities approach to internal and external positioning on corporate social responsibility, environmental platforms, sponsorships, philanthropy, welfare, outreach to name a few. It is the other facet that makes one say “I want to work for them”.

Who is in charge of the ‘soft cell’ of corporate culture — Corporate Communications, Human Resources, Strategic Planning Unit? Everyone and it is top down. If the CEO of the organisation does not take ownership of this, then that signals to the troops that it is not of strategic importance. Ownership begins with talking the walk of “this who we are, this is our chosen business, this is how we do things, and we know that while the dynamics may change, the ethos of who we are does not”. Then, you walk the talk. And, size does not matter, because if you don’t envision a culture for your future enterprise, you’ve lost a significant part of the plot.

It very much defines how an entity reacts during a crisis. The Tata Group of India was a victim in the Bombay blasts. But, the Chairman went by their motto that customers and guest are their Number 1 priority. I’ll list just a few of the things that they did:

  • Relief and assistance to all those who were injured
  • Psychiatric treatment and counselling made available through Tata Institute of Social Sciences to anyone who needed it.
  • Employee outreach programme for 1,600 employees with counselling, food, water, sanitation and first aid. Every employees was assigned a mentor whose purpose was to provide any required help
  • The Chairman personally visited the families of 80 employees who, through injury or death, were affected by the tragedy

And the list goes on. What is laudable is that when the scope and budget was presented, only one significant question was asked — “is there anything more we can do”.

BP, on the other hand, have managed to, pardon the pun, go down the slippery slope. It began badly with all the wrong images, which then turned into negative messages and perception of the company. They may actually be doing some things right, but, is that making it through the babble? Yes, their crisis management should be reviewed. But, that is just a review of procedures. How will they deal with a systemic fault?

Corporate culture is a dynamic process that needs to be evaluated constantly against strategic direction, growth and business imperatives. It evolves over time, and can always point to its core values that were espoused and then practiced when there was only one employee.

The Boss says it all when he sang: (lyrics from “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen).

The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody’s out on the run tonight
but there’s no place left to hide.