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September 16, 2009
Culture in 1 Word
Filed under: Cultural Alignment,Organizational Culture,Start-ups — Mike Frommelt @ 3:23 pm

Greg Huang, editor of Xconomy Seattle (xconomy.com) had a great idea.  He decided to ask six Seattle area start-up CEOs to describe their corporate culture in one word.  Of course, he went on to write about the results of this experiment in Xconomy on 8/21/09.  He aptly titled the article Six Startup CEOs on Their Company Culture, Boiled Down to One Word. I happened to read the article at the time and found it slightly interesting that none of the six CEOs used the same word to describe their cultures.

Since then, both Robert Buderi of Xconomy Boston and Bruce Bigelow of Xconomy San Diego have picked up the ball and conducted similar experiments in their cities.  Again in each case, the CEOs were of startup organizations and again, none of the words used to describe their culture was a duplicate of any other.  In fact, of the 18 companies/CEOs interviewed, the same one word description was never duplicated.

I believe that these studies, although certainly scientific or conclusive, point out something very important about corporate culture.  I am a firm believer that every corporate culture is unique and different, as unique as the individuals that lead them and work in them.  Yet, even I am shocked that out of 18 start ups there was not even one duplicate in the group.  One would assume that these organizations have alot in common -being start-ups they are trying to grow rapidly, many are likely to be raising money to fund growth, and certainly all are working hard to get the most out of their probably scant resources.  Yet when asked to describe their cultures, they were all unique.  Descriptions ranged from “paranoid” to “focused” to “cool” and even “humble”.

In our practice here at KeyStone we have found that cultures, just like individuals, are extremely multi-dimensional.  Trying to group them into smaller categories is difficult and I believe it can actually can be dangerous.  For example trying to categorize all the companies in the Xconomy articles under the label “start-up culture” (a term I’ve heard numerous times) would be a big mistake. 

Others terms I hear frequently are “Public Company Culture”, “ESOP Culture” and “Family Company Culture”.   Although these types of companies may have some things in common regarding their cultures, lumping them together and making decisions (strategy, hiring, training, process) based upon them would be a crucial mistake.

Great articles – I hope Xconomy keeps these coming in their other cities, I would love to see the results! 

Mike Frommelt




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