This is What Company Culture Actually Means

Forget everything you think you know about company culture, this is what it really means

What is company culture? We have inside access to countless companies who call us in to help them manage change, and that’s given us a unique and expert insight into what company culture actually is.

Here’s the ultimate definition of company culture, how to describe it and why company culture is so important. Plus: An exercise to help you measure your company culture.


There are loads of different definitions for company culture online – most of them quite vague. Some call it the “personality of a company,” others say it’s “how people interact and work together” or “our behaviour at work and the meanings we attach to that behaviour”.

Now, none of those is wrong per se, they just don’t say much – there’s little practical info you can gain from them. So, grab a pen, we’re going to give you a much clearer description of company culture:

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Company culture is the things we do in our companies without having to think about them or exerting any extra effort – they just happen naturally as part of our company’s being.

Write that down, because it’s probably the most important bit of info on company culture you’ll ever receive: It’s the things that happen naturally in our companies, without us having to think about it. And to fully understand it, maybe we need a few examples:


If something goes wrong in your company – a project flops or something was not done etc. – and everyone starts automatically shifting blame while management hunts for who’s heads must roll, that’s your company culture. No one needs to think about it, they just react naturally.

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As bad as it gets: Cultures of blame and deflection are extremely common in companies today.

The opposite is also true. If something bad happens and everyone pulls together to try and figure it out, with no fear of reprimand, and without anyone having to tell them to do it, that’s your company culture. 

Do you see? Company culture is not a “thing” you can decide on and change at will, it’s your people’s automatic responses to stimuli. There’s litter on the ground: at one company most employees will bend to pick it up, at another no one does – because of the company culture.

It’s your people’s natural response to when the phone is ringing, when there’s someone at reception, when it’s tea time. So, if you want to know what your company culture is, just stop and watch what people do.


Of course, you can. In fact, it’s management’s duty to craft the ideal company culture (see below about the “why you should invest in it”). Now, it’s not easy. Ever tried convincing an entire company to suddenly start picking up litter or answering the phone for someone else? It can be … painful.

Why? Because, as you can tell from the examples, it’s complicated. It’s about perceptions and behaviours. We’re all very different people. And you know how hard it is to truly cause change in just one person’s life – to lose weight, give up smoking or replace a habit. Now, multiply that by however many employees you have.

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Company culture transcends the differences between people.

Fortunately, changing company culture is what we specialise in here at LifeXchange Solutions. We literally get up in the morning just to be able to use the latest neuroscience (see neuromanagement), behavioural psychology (see the human development cycle) and neurolinguistic programming (see how to do the impossible in the backwards brain bike) to show businesses how to manage change – see all our business solutions.

And we’re so incredibly passionate about company culture because it is probably one of the most important investments you’ll ever make in your business.



Robert Half & Associates, one of the biggest human resource consultancies in the world, recently found that 91% of new hires are willing to quit their new job within the first month, 93% are willing to quit within the probation period, and as much as 28% actually end up quitting within the first 90 days of starting their job.

Why? Company culture. Most respondents to the studies said you can immediately tell what a company is like – 47% say after the first meeting, but most say you need a day or so. That’s how apparent and influential your company culture is. 

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Company culture is extremely important to almost every employee.

And, eventually, your company culture starts impacting your organisation’s ability to perform. Just see what CEO Margaret Heffernan says in her TED Talk about the power of people, culture and social capital:

See 7 more reasons why company culture is important.

There’s also a very insightful new way of looking at your company specifically in the SA context. So much so that we say it’s absolutely crucial to invest in your company culture in South Africa.

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Here’s a simple tool to help you measure and understand company culture.

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One thing about culture, it happens automatically. Whenever people are together for a certain amount of time, a culture starts developing among them. Whether you influence it or not. It happens. And it’s in everyone’s best interest for management to help ensure it develops in the right direction.

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A positive company culture might be the most important people-based investments your company ever makes.

If you don’t take control by developing the company culture you want, the people in your company will do it for you – the performers, the underperformers, the ones that stay, the ones that go – they’ll dictate how your company “behaves” and how others see you. And then there’s no telling which way it’ll go in the long run – or how it will affect your image and performance in time.

Does that sound like something you should leave up to chance?

Chat to us about using organisational development to create a positive company culture.

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