Written by Kevan McBeth, Founding Partner - Affective Consulting


Defining a corporate culture is a tough task to take on. No matter whether you are working in a 100 year old organization or a start-up, the statements that are created by stakeholders define your corporate identity- which is no small feat. Once you’ve created a series of beliefs and principles that all can live with, that's when the real fun starts – you now have to operationalize your cultural behaviours to ensure your company is consistently living them.

This can be the toughest part of the overall implementation of a corporate culture program. Getting everyone on the same page to agree on statements is one thing- getting them to live it and implement it into policy and process is entirely another. But here’s something to consider as you move into this next phase of implementation:

Corporate culture is like spaghetti sauce.

Spaghetti sauce comes in all different flavours to meet the needs of a variety of different tastes, but in the end – it’s still all spaghetti sauce, with generally the same main ingredients.

In any organization, there are also a variety of “flavours” of corporate culture. What works in one department or location (let’s say HR at corporate head office) is not going to translate exactly to another location and situation (like ops or front line sales). The trick with corporate culture is to allow for flexibility in the behaviours within your organization, so that they are translatable within different areas of your organization, but still relate to the overall guiding principles of your overall culture statements. The truth is that you don’t have one corporate culture, but a series of smaller departmental cultures.

When developing your cultural statements, guiding principles and behaviours, there is a fine line to be drawn between being specific enough in your statement to clearly define your expected outcome, and leaving statements and behaviours general enough to allow for individual department interpretation. In the end, it’s important to allow for some ambiguity, especially in the expected behavioural outcomes, to allow for each of the guiding principles to be operationalized. In short, you gotta make sure that there is still tomato sauce in the jar, but you can’t restrict others in deciding what tastes best for their teams.

For example, outstanding customer service could mean an external customer purchasing a product or service for front line Customer Service Agents, but for those working in Human Resources or IT, their customer experience may revolve around an internal customer that they are supporting. Behaviours like “when we make a mistake, we fix it and make it right.” May mean something completely different to those two groups when trying to operationalize them, but they are still staying consistent with the overall intent of your culture.

In some instances, the translation from department to department can look wildly different, or even emphasize one set of guiding principles over another, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Not all departments can have Customer Experience as their driving force behind their departmental culture – they just have to recognize it as a key ingredient in their version of spaghetti sauce.

Allowing different departments and areas the flexibility to play around with the overall recipe of your cultural sauce is something that will increase buy-in, build a greater sense of ownership and allow a wider level of understanding and recognition within your organization.