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Organizational Values: The Key to Company Culture

In Company Culture — by Vinod Kumaar

flowers in field

“It’s not the fault of a flower if it does not bloom; it’s the environment which needs the fix.”

I think about that quote a lot when considering company culture. A toxic culture makes it impossible for people to do their best work, and a healthy culture makes it possible for people to thrive. Above anything else, culture is what makes people feel connected to their company. It’s not possible to build a company culture overnight. It’a also impossible to sustain the same culture over a period of time: Inevitably, new people will join the company, bringing with them new ideas and new practices.

What is in our control, however, is to establish non-negotiable values, and to measure each and every action against these values. And organizational values are the underpinning of company culture.

In Conway’s Game of Life, there are lots of interesting behavioral patterns that are self-sustaining and complex. But the guiding rules are very simple, and there are only four of them: 

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbors dies, as if caused by under-population.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbors lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbors dies, as if by overcrowding.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbors becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

The system is set up such that none of the above rules are violated. On each iteration, the rules are applied to all the cells. Repeatedly doing this for many iterations allows a behavior to emerges. 

You may be wondering what this has to do with values and culture.

Organizational values are the guiding rules that direct how we operate at work. If there are enough mechanisms in place to safeguard the values, as well as to intervene at the right time, then company culture will emerge, evolve or sustain, all the while reflecting the values of the organization. Company culture will change over time based on the people, but organizational values should remain constant.


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