Is Corporate Culture Abstract?

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In a business organization, culture is synonymous with corporate or company culture. It refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. It is somewhat like ‘the operating system’ of the organization. It guides how employees think, act and feel. As such, corporate culture is an essential component in any business’s ultimate success or failure.

Culture as a Socially Learned Systems

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Despite the diversity of cultural perspectives, one thing is common with regard to culture: culture is a socially-learned system in society or social organization, not a natural and biologically-determined reality. Thus, if culture is a socially learned system, then it can be changed and unlearned. It’s not fixed and immutable as many thought it to be. In fact, with the current globalization age, corporate cultures in the world are changing so fast because of cultural diffusion brought about by the transnational operation of a business, merger, acquisition, outsourcing, and networking of companies or multinational corporations. The major issue, therefore, is not whether a culture can be changed or not, but whether the person or group who wants to change it, particularly a toxic culture, has sufficient resource, influence, and political will to effect the intended change. Take note that culture change in a business organization can originate from the top with business owners and top managers initiating the change, or from below with organized groups or workers initiating the change. In the case of a merger, the change can come from an outside force, especially if the mother company is much bigger than the acquired firm.

Corporate Culture as a Lived Experience

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Corporate culture is, therefore, a lived experience. It affects both the cognitive and material or behavioral aspects of people’s lives. It affects the workers’ social and economic life in the firm. If the firm, for instance, often delays the release of salaries due to bad management, the rank-and-file employees and their families would literally starve. Or if the firm does not provide skills training or career development for its employees and managers, the company’s productivity and brand can be affected. The point here is: Culture is not just an abstract reality, but, above all, a lived reality that affects all the members of a corporate community.

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As a lived experience, corporate culture is experiential. Its totality could not be described on paper since it is the entire way of life of a particular business organization. It can only be fully understood and felt by people if they are immersed in it, participating in its day-to-day activities for a considerable period of time. Once people become regular members of the company as employees or managers and actively interacting with people, structures, and rules, they would soon discover the firm’s basic cultural patterns.  Thus, people could not fully understand and appreciate the generosity of Google’s corporate culture to its employees and managers if they are not part of the internal culture of the company.

This internal view of the corporate life by insiders is what anthropologists call as the emic perspective (insider’s view). Job seekers who do not have any idea of the inner workings of the internal culture of the hiring company may soon be discouraged or shocked if they discover as new employees that the corporate image of their new employer as projected in the social or mass media is not what they actually live or experience inside the company. Thus, acquiring an internal knowledge of a corporate culture can only be understood if one is part of the corporate community. Nonmembers can only gain the etic (observer’s perspective) or external knowledge of the firm’s culture. Only insiders such as employees and managers can feel and understand the basic patterns of their corporate culture as they belong to the firm’s corporate structure.

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An outsider or visitor may discover partially some of the firm’s cultural traits from afar but could not discover and live its basic cultural patterns and inner dynamics. But for an insider, a corporate culture can become too familiar to him or her that he or she can label its corporate culture as “toxic”, “employee-friendly” or”damaged”. Of course, these terms do not totally capture the complex patterns of the company’s culture, but they provide people an overall image on how to describe the basic cultural orientation of the firm. They can become a useful guide for top managers in changing or reforming the corporate life of the firm as well as for recruiters in selecting applicants who can fit into the corporate culture of the hiring firm.


Corporate culture is, therefore, not purely an abstract thing, but a lived reality. It may appear as an abstract reality mentally at the onset. But when one participates in the firm’s daily life, corporate culture becomes a “real” thing that affects the mental and physical life of people inside and even outside the company. It becomes the basic mold that shapes the corporate lives of employees and managers as long as they remain members of the business organization. Corporate culture is therefore like ‘the operating system’ of the business organization that guides people and employees on how to think, act, and feel inside the company.

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