Culture as Community

Category: People Published on Nov 04 2015

Culture is a much maligned concept. In many companies it’s a dirty word; it’s just not talked about. After all, it’s soft and squishy. And it’s not easy to measure.


And yet, in those companies that get it right – magic happens. And that magic is called community.


Let’s look at the difference between team work and community.

In team work, team members work together for a common goal. They are usually motivated to do so by a reward of some type that may be tangible or intangible. When the project is complete, the team disbands and everyone goes off on their own until it’s time for the next project.


In community, there may or may not be formal teams. People work together and help each other because it’s the right thing to do, because they care about each other. The people they work with become their friends and family. So, when they are not working with each other regularly, they still check in now and then to see how they are doing. In fact, they are as likely to do something slightly naughty like pull a small prank as they are to be supportive. But it’s all good natured and in line with what the company stands for., Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, Disney. These companies prove that although it’s not easily measured, culture matters. Culture makes the difference between:

 - A good company and a great company

 - A job and an avocation or career

 - A place to earn money and a place to grow and excel.


Culture is the glue that unites the work force behind a common goal. Culture represents shared values, a common vision, and a mutual reason for going to work each day. The culture becomes the brand and the brand becomes the culture. And when culture becomes strong enough to become community, it becomes self-sustaining and will outlast the founder.


Culture is created by the intersection of the company’s mission, vision and values. It’s strengthened or weakened by the actions of everyone in the company. Actions that strengthen the culture include:

 - Hiring for values and attitude, training for skills

 - Rewarding behavior that is in alignment with the desired culture

 - Creating rewards and events that are congruent with who the company is

 - Lovingly inviting people to leave who don’t fit

 - Authentically empowering people to do their best


Culture does not become community overnight. It takes time, persistence, and consistency. While it’s not easily measured, it is worth spending money on and nurturing. Because when the culture becomes a community, you attract:

 - Qualified applicants who want to work for you

 - Customers who become raving fans

 - Communities that invite you in

 - And people who celebrate your successes and help when things don’t go as planned.


As a small business owner, you may be tempted to believe that all of this applies only to large companies. If so, you would be incorrect. Community starts at the beginning. The roots of the community at Southwest Airlines are found in their scrappy beginnings. They had to fight for many years just to survive. The values that were lived then are now imbued in the corporate culture and community.


So, what is your strategy for turning your culture into a community?