A New Model: How corporate culture should be defined and assessed

In a previous blog, I discussed the challenge of correctly differentiating corporate culture from corporate climate.  However, the challenge of accurately assessing the construct of culture is further complicated by differences in definition.  Experts in a range of industries have identified various models, all of which fail to provide an all-inclusive explanation of culture. 

It seems clear that the difficulty inherent in describing corporate culture lies in the need to honor the topic’s breadth while upholding a level of detail that maintains the construct’s significance.  Definitions that are too broad run the risk of missing the particular characteristics of culture, while examinations that are too narrow miss the larger picture.  For a review of recent definitions of corporate culture please see Table 1.         

Table 1: Definitions of Corporate Culture



“the totality of the learned and shared patterns of belief and behavior of a human group.”

(Aceves & King, 1978)

“learned behavior copied from one another.”

(Steadman, 1982)

“the way we do things around here.”

(Deal & Kennedy, 1982)

“means that total body of tradition borne by a society and transmitted from generation to generation.  It thus refers to the norms, values and standards by which the people act, and it includes the way distinctive in each society of ordering the world and making it intelligible.” 

(Murphy, 1986)

“the patterned behavior and mental constructs that individuals learn, are taught, and share within the context of the group to which they belong.”

(Whitten, & Hunter, 1987)

“a set of shared ideals, values, and standards of behavior; it is the common denominator that makes the actions of individuals intelligible to the group.”

(Haviland, 1993)

“in its most basic form is an understanding of ‘the way we do things around here.’  Culture is the powerful, yet ill-defined conceptual thinking within the organization that expresses organizational values, ideals, attitudes and beliefs.”

(Cunningham & Greso, 1994)

“consists of ‘learned systems of meaning, communicated by means of natural language and other symbol systems, having representational, directive, and affective functions, and capable of creating cultural entities and particular senses of reality.”’

(D’Andrade, 1996)

“the learned patterns of behavior and thought characteristic of a societal group.”

(Harris, 2004)

“We will restrict the term culture to an ideational system.  Cultures in this sense comprise systems of shared ideas, systems of concepts and rules and meanings that underlie and are expressed in the ways that humans live. Culture, so defined, refers to what humans learn, not what they do and make.”

(Kessing & Strathern, 1998)

“the set of learned behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, values, and ideals that are characteristic of a particular society or population.”

(Ember & Ember, 2001)

“All aspects of human adaptation, including technology, traditions, language, and social roles.  Culture is learned and transmitted from one generation to the next by nonbiological means.”

(Jurmain et al., 2000)

(As described in Coffey, 2006)

When reviewing the different conceptualizations of corporate culture, it is clear that commonalities exist throughout.  Specifically, the terms ‘thoughts,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘meaning,’ ‘values,’ ‘learning,’ and ‘behavior’ are repeatedly mentioned.  However, the definitions undoubtedly hold distinct differences.  Many focus on behavior and norms, while others center on personal ideals.  Each characterization describes an aspect of culture, but there is no single description that combines the critical components of each.

A Suggested Model of Corporate Culture

To fill this gap in the literature and accurately define culture, I suggest the construct be described as the sum of the Values, Meaning Systems and Behavioral Expectations that exist within a corporation. 

Suggested Model of Corporate Culture

A New Model for Corporate Culture

The value of the proposed model lies in integration of shared meaning systems, along with the more traditional domains of Behavior and Values.  To this author’s knowledge, the construct of Meaning Systems has never been considered part of a global model alongside values and behavioral expectations. 

The Meaning Systems category is intended to describe the underlying mental constructions that influence an employee’s perception of how events fit into their personal narrative.  Meaning systems are very challenging to assess.  However, the abstract construct is considered a central component of organizational culture.  The way an individual interprets their personal narrative has a significant role in their behaviors, affect and psychological well-being.

How would you define corporate culture?

David Colarossi, Ph.D. is an executive coach who has an exceptional ability to quickly assess and understand the crux of his clients' interpersonal challenges and their key opportunities for change and development. He has coached and consulted with organizations in a variety of industries (healthcare, transportation, construction, consulting, engineering, non-profit, and finance). David's coaching experience is augmented by a robust research and assessment background.   

Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

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  1. سپیدار کارتن's avatar
    سپیدار کارتن
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    It was great thanks

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