In the general discussion about ethics, governance and compliance, the concept of corporate culture often seems to be missing. Why is it that the underlying culture of a company can evade the discussion?
Unlike regulation, it is difficult to quantify a company’s culture. We can describe it, but it becomes difficult to break it down into measurable units. Compliance is often driven by rules, but culture is driven by mission, vision and values. Rules are somewhat easy to gauge, but measuring values is elusive. In a business environment where successes and failures are measured quarterly in dollar terms, it can seem easier to disregard company culture than to try to figure out how to measure it.
It would be a mistake however to dismiss culture just because we can’t count it. Companies like Apple have grown in leaps and bounds, due in a large part because of their culture. Just as a good culture can contribute to a company’s success, so a bad culture can contribute to its downfall. A toxic culture alienates its stakeholders, who in turn take an adversarial or even predatory position against the company. When employees, suppliers, and clients turn against a company or see it simply as a vehicle for personal success, the risks of the company failing increase dramatically.
Regardless of how difficult it can be for us to wrap our rational minds around a squishy subject like corporate culture, it is essential. A company’s success or failure can depend on it.