The essence of corporate culture and why it means so much


The very term “culture” evokes a grand range of responses from Homo Sapiens, a species that has indeed come a long way in the past 70,000 years—give or take a few pandemics—since the cognitive revolution began.

The word itself is rooted in soil: according to Oxford University Press, culture is derived from the Latin “colere” that means to “tend, cultivate.”

As human societies grew from early agrarian groups to industrial and then information economies, they continued to cultivate and tend to the early seeds of knowledge—turning them into a breathtaking array of advancements. Fruits of science and technology, if I may dare say, are nothing but the result of continually tending to the fertile soil of human imagination.

And it is from the same fertile soil that organizations as well as ideas around “organizational culture” (more snazzily called “corporate culture”) sprouted forth. Once a mere sapling, corporate culture has now grown into an entire forest.

Today, management gurus, corporate bigwigs, and passionate employees constantly chatter about, fight over, or just dote on what constitutes a company’s culture and how it impacts business or personal success. The buzz is evident from extensive reviews on sites like Glassdoor and discussions on social platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Let’s hear some interesting voices both old and new:

“The responsibility of the executive is to create and maintain a sense of purpose and moral code for the organization; to establish systems of formal and informal communication; and to ensure the willingness of people to cooperate.” 

– Chester Barnard, Author of The Functions of the Executive

“Culture is the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.”

– Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng in Harvard Business Review

“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.”

– Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management

“Culture is the magic startup ingredient.”

– Colin Angle, Co-founder, iRobot

“A workplace culture definition starts with the spirit demonstrated by the business’s employees. It’s a feeling, a buzz felt when employees are committed and excited about their work and company. Culture arises from the beliefs and actions of managers and employees, and it shows up in the way people interact, complete work together, engage with customers, and show respect and gratitude for each other.”

– Louis Carter, Founder and CEO, Best Practice Institute

There’s a whole ocean of thoughts out there like these. But let me pick just one more that I can’t seem to resist, maybe for its sheer chutzpah:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

This one is attributed, somewhat inconclusively but abundantly, to management guru Peter Drucker.

The above is nothing but a slice of the huge body of literature that aims to capture the essence of what a company’s culture is and what it means to its various stakeholders, including employees, partners, customers, and the society at large. And of course, its impact on, ahem, strategy, among other dimensions that define a company’s success.

The point of dredging up all these viewpoints and of discussing organizational culture in these unprecedented weird times of Covid is that we at Freshworks are in the process of tweaking and refining our culture code. 

As one of the fastest-growing global startups in the B2B SaaS space, Freshworks is now a 3,000-plus-employee organization. So even as we ride the WFH imperative and continue to serve SMB, mid-market, and enterprise customers around the world, we thought of taking a deep dive into our own little pond of values and beliefs—and see, in even sharper focus, what keeps us refreshed to pursue our mission: to create customer engagement software that users love.

So do watch this space. We promise to be back soon with a candid CHAT on Culture@Freshworks.