Is Culture What Remains When One Has Forgotten Everything?
In defense of institutionalizing corporate cultures.
I regularly mention on Superception my belief that culture is the first asset of any company. It turns out that FORTUNE has recently highlighted on their website the emergence of dedicated culture functions in some large U.S. corporations.
Edouard Herriot famously said that culture is what remains when one has forgotten everything. Applied to a different meaning of the word culture, this quote is still relevant in the business world. The culture of a company, in fact, is what is left to its employees when they have forgotten everything else: Their skills, the projects to which they contribute, their KPIs… Regardless of skills, projects and KPIs, culture is the substrate of human relationships within a company. Therefore, it influences its entire business.
A corporate culture is crucial: It provides a code for collective life. This code is very different from one company to another. It is also often silent because few companies take the care and time to define their own culture, to make it live and evolve over time, and to communicate it to their employees. Still, the understanding of a company’s culture is often what makes the difference between failure and success for its individual employees and therefore for the company as a whole.
That’s why I consider the creation of a Chief Culture Officer position in some large U.S. companies as a very important initiative. Such a function should in my view ensure that all corporate decisions – from recruitment to strategic choices – are coherent with the company’s culture and that the latter is evolving when necessary.
As any human group, every company has a culture. But not all companies are aware that they do have a culture. And those companies that don’t take care of their culture will at the end of the day really forget everything, including how to make money.