Walk into any company and you can tell the culture of that company in about 10 minutes--sometimes even in 10 seconds. For instance, if you walked into the headquarters of surf ware manufacturer Quiksilver in Huntington Beach, California, in a suit and tie, you'd be very out of place. Likewise, if you walked into electronics manufacturer Toshiba in Irvine, California, with spiked hair and a skateboard under your arm, you'd feel like you didn't belong.

Whether you realize it or not, your company has a culture based on its core values. So did you design the culture with passion and purpose--or did it occur by default? Can you even describe what your company culture is? Or are you too close to the trees to see the forest? If you can't describe it immediately, let's take a look at few areas that'll help you identify your company's culture--and make positive changes for the better.

Good News and Bad News
As the leader of your business, what type of corporate culture have you set up when it comes to receiving news that's less than positive? Many business owners have a fit and blow their lids when they hear any bad news. But what kind of signal does that send to your employee? Knowing that the boss is unlikely to be kind means employees most likely won't say anything for fear of getting their heads chopped off. So that leaves just one thing to do: Tell the boss what he or she wants to hear. If this is you, you're never going to hear the truth from your employees--only what they think you want to hear. So you're most likely never going to hear anything negative until you've got a full-blown crisis on your hands.

What about the good news? As the company leader, do you take credit for the good ideas--even if they weren't your ideas? Do you have the attitude that "It's their job, and I expect it to be done well" without giving them credit for working hard and excelling? What type of recognition programs do you have set up to reward or acknowledge a job well done? The answers are in the questions.

Helpful Hints: As the leader of your company, it's important to avoid outbursts and blow-ups. Your goal is to provide a place of centeredness, be clear about your expectations, have trust and faith, and create a future vision for the company. A humble leader who gives credit where credit is due will have very loyal employees.

Meetings
Company meetings have a culture of their own, too. How effective are yours? Have you ever heard anyone at your company say, "That was a horrible meeting. What a waste of my time!"? Unfortunately ineffective, wasteful meetings have become a norm in many companies. If you'd like to turn things around, you can.

Helpful Hints:

  • Be sure you have an agenda and stick to it.
  • Limit the number of items on the agenda to just two or three.
  • Start on time and end on time.
  • Make sure the decision makers are in attendance, or reschedule the meeting.
  • Each item covered in the meeting should either be resolved during the meeting or have an action step and follow-up person assigned to it.
  • Each action step should include the standard "Who, What, When, Where, and By What Date" information.

The Pulse of Company Culture
If departments are working against each other with a "we vs. them" attitude, the heartbeat of the company will be rapid and dysfunctional because employees are operating from a basis of fear. That creates a very unhealthy corporate culture.

Helpful Hints:
It's usually pretty easy to spot the untitled leaders in your company--those are the people that your other employees are listening to. If you can get these unofficial leaders on board with your plans and goals, you'll start to defuse the "we vs. them" culture.

Remember, corporate culture begins at the top and ends at the top. When you want changes to be made, you'll have to be the one to get the ball rolling. A healthy company culture is one in which the following process exists: The business owner makes a decision, then delegates responsibility for that decision and watches to see how well it's carried out. If it's not working well, the business owner will revise their plan and try something new. A dysfunctional leader, on the other hand, will defend the decision to the death just because he or she made that decision and "That's the rule!"

A corporate culture often happens by default instead of design. But companies that purposefully set up their culture are far more successful than companies that have a culture that exists by default. If your company's culture is not quite what you'd dreamed it would be, you have the ability to change it. It's never too late to create your own success.

Patty Vogan is owner of Victory Coaching, an executive coaching company for business and personal success, and a chairman for the largest CEO organization in the world, TEC International. She has more than 15 years of experience in leadership management, team building, marketing and entrepreneurship, and is the author of two books. Her latest book,Waking Up in Tonga, will be available in December 2006.