Office SpaceOn some level, we’re all already very aware of how important company culture is to a business’ operation, public perception, and branding. A few decades ago, the iconic “man in the gray flannel suit” summed up corporate America’s frightening homogeneity. In the 1990s, we learned to admire scruffy “nerds” like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who were turning the world on its head with computers. More recently, Silicon Valley and tech company culture has captured the national imagination thanks to inside looks at the headquarters of Google, Facebook, and others. Startup culture, as if you needed to be reminded, features and champions casual, open work spaces (think huge lofts and an army of young people toting laptops from station to station), independence, boldness, and hyperproductivity. In other words, while company culture may be hard to define, we certainly know it when we see. Drawing your own culture out of the background and into plain sight provides an excellent opportunity to figure out just what story your workplace is telling others about you. Here’s how to do it.

Revisit Your Mission Statement

Every business should have a mission statement. It’s an opportunity to articulate your function and ideals as a company–your reason for being. It also gives you a chance to differentiate yourself from your competition. Finally, the fact that it’s a public document (and should be displayed accordingly) means staff can be held accountable to upholding the ideas within it. When you’re trying to figure out what your company culture is saying about you, first thing you should do is re-read your mission statement. Is this document really a description of what you are and/or want to be as a company? If not, think about rewriting the mission statement in a way that will change the story you’re trying to tell as a business, both to clients and to employees.

The Company Work Space

As we mentioned above, the open, loft-style layouts you’ll find in a lot of tech companies speaks volumes about their open, free-flowing company culture. Collaboration and cross-pollination are vigorously encouraged there. How does your own physical work space as a company compare? Is your office a honeycomb of cubicles? If so, you’re telling a certain kind of story. Is it a factory-floor, governed by the time clock, humming with machines? Whatever your work space looks like, it can’t help but provide a window into your company culture. And once you’ve gazed through the window for a while, you can decide whether or not you really like the view.

Extracurricular Activities

Another good way to identify your company culture is to think about everything that goes on within or around your company that isn’t strictly related to work or productivity. Do your employees socialize together, inside and outside of work? Do you run and/or encourage continuing education programs for staff members? How about company social functions? What’s the attendance and atmosphere like when you schedule an outing for employees? Things like employee attitude and morale go a long way toward describing the story your company is telling itself and others. Staff are your frontline story corps; they bring your message out into the world. What story are they telling about you? Is it the one you want them telling?

Company culture is the collection of behaviors, procedures, and traditions that animate your workplace. In order to study it, you’ll want to put on your anthropologist’s hat and go native. Then, once you’ve really got a handle on the culture you thought you knew, you can improve it.

For more information and tips on company culture and workplace management, please visit Masiello.