Choosing the Best Words to Describe Company Culture

July 29, 2020・7 mins read
Choosing the Best Words to Describe Company Culture

Words to describe company culture should be clear, positive, and actionable. That's when they can do the most good for individual employees and the company as a whole. Read this article to learn how to accurately define company culture so your business and its employees can thrive.

What is company culture?

The broad definition of company culture is an organization's shared values, attributes, and characteristics. This entails the practical, everyday interactions within the company, such as dress codes and email etiquette, and the higher-level attitudes and values that inform decision-making. Essentially, it's what makes the company tick – how its mission statement is put into action each day. Company culture impacts employee retention and overall performance. What is your company’s culture like? It can be a bit difficult to define.

“Culture, quite simply, is temporal,” according to Dr. Matthew J. Stollak, a professor of business and human resources at St. Norbert College in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “The real meaning of company culture is of its time and place. Those leaders and HR professionals who don’t take the time to reflect on their organizations and consider hypothetical constructs are missing out on an opportunity to improve the culture and, ultimately, the productivity of their companies.” Yes, your company’s culture is a product of your mission and values. But it’s defined by the way that those values are expressed through the words, actions, and attitudes of your employees.

Those leaders and hr professionals who don’t take the time to reflect on their organizations and consider hypothetical constructs are missing out on an opportunity to improve the culture and, ultimately, the productivity of their companies.Dr. Matthew J. Stollak

Different types of company cultures

Casual/formal: In a casual or relaxed work environment, employees are there to do their jobs and be themselves. Employees may have the freedom to dress as they please, interact casually, and drop the formalities of traditional business environments. In a more formal environment, you might see more employees who stick to the status quo. They would be more likely to fall into a more traditional organizational culture (i.e., working 9-5 in suits and addressing others with formal titles).

  • Team-based/autonomous:
    A team-based company emphasizes collaborative employee participation on all levels. With the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have adapted models to perform team-based work remotely with video technology and team-based software. In an autonomous, more-independent work culture, a company encourages independent decision-making. That fosters freedom and empowerment at work.
  • Flexible/traditional:
    The workplace isn't just the regular grind in a cubicle anymore. Far more employees work remotely with more flexibility built into their schedules. However, some professions are not as conducive to flexibility (for example, nursing or teaching).
  • Collaborative/hierarchical:
    In a collaborative workplace culture, the lines between employees' roles are blurred as employee engagement in the decision-making and creative processes are encouraged. This is especially helpful in smaller companies and startups. Employees often have to take on responsibilities in many different areas. In a hierarchical culture, the chain of command is clearly defined and adhered to. Each level has clearly defined responsibilities, and promotions usually are a matter of process.

How do you describe your company culture?

Here are our best tips for the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of describing great company culture.

DO use easy-to-understand, non-jargony language

Let’s start with a list of common positive words that HR professionals use to describe organizational culture.

  • Nurturing:
    Do you actively work toward helping your employees grow and advance in their careers? Then you can describe your organizational culture as nurturing.
  • Friendly:
    In a friendly organizational culture, employees engage in positive, enjoyable interactions throughout the day.
  • Autonomous:
    When managers empower employees to make decisions independently, they promote an autonomous culture. This can be very attractive to professionals who hate to be micromanaged.
  • Challenging:
    In a challenging company culture, employees feel encouraged to take on difficult tasks, enrich their skill sets, and perhaps even engage in greater risk taking.
  • Motivating:
    If you can describe your organizational culture as motivating, that means that your company inspires workers to feel good about their jobs and want to work hard.
  • Casual:
    Do you employ Millennials and Gen Zers? They might want to work in a place that feels relaxed. This means flexible work hours and a casual dress code. Many younger individuals also place a high value on mental health and a healthy work-life balance.
  • Inclusive:
    In recent years, many successful companies have achieved rewarding company value by providing support and accommodations to achieve a diverse workforce. With an inclusive culture, every team member is valued and set up to achieve success.

DO describe your company’s mission, vision, and values

Your company’s mission is your overarching goal, or purpose. It’s the reason your organization exists. Your vision is a statement of what you want your company to be at some point in the future. And your values are the core beliefs or ethical principles that guide your business decisions. Here are some common words for popular values that many companies choose for themselves:

  • Community
  • Teamwork
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Sustainability
  • Respect and fairness
  • Growth mindset
  • Passion
  • Positively shaping the future
  • Results oriented

DON’T forget about your employees

So far, we’ve talked about concrete steps you can take to write a description of your company’s culture. But remember, your culture isn’t only your mission, vision, and values. It’s defined by how your employees express those concepts in their day-to-day work. If you leave your employees’ behaviors and attitudes out of the equation, you’re not accurately describing your culture. Organizational culture is primarily the product of your people. Think of how employees interact, how they like to work, and the things that make them unique. Are they excited about your company’s mission? Do they even know what it is? Do they live your stated values? Answer these questions and you’ll have a much clearer picture of your company culture.

DON’T lie

If you’ve got a dysfunctional or outdated company culture, you might be tempted to simply rewrite it and move on. This is especially tempting when you’re hiring new talent in the middle of a culture shift. You want promising potential employees to think your company is a great place to work and has a positive company culture. When you have developed a great new set of values, you think “Why not use those great new words to describe company culture?” You want to communicate this new cultural description in your interviewing process.

Company culture doesn’t change overnight.

Here’s the problem. You don’t develop a strong company culture overnight. You’re working on a cultural shift, but you might not be there yet. If new hires accept a job thinking that the organizational culture and work environment will be collaborative, friendly, and nurturing, they will expect to see that immediately. If they instead walk into a toxic workplace with an overly competitive and isolated environment, they’ll know that you lied to them. What’s more, they will probably begin looking for work at a place with a more positive culture. It’s best to be upfront, with open communication, and describe your culture as it actually is. If the company is working on a cultural shift, say that. Let new hires know that you are hoping that they will be part of that shift. Then let them make an informed decision about working for you.

Words to describe company culture: the bottom line

When you describe your company culture, make sure it's clear and accurately reflects your vision, values, and mission. What sets your company apart from the others? What makes it a great place to work? Develop a strong set of words to tell that story, then put those words into action. You can nurture a rewarding company culture that's bound for success.

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