Core culture: the engine that powers iconic companies

three people working together in a company with great core culture

What does your company really believe?

What are your intrinsic, deep down, backs-against-the-wall, fundamentally-held values?

Core culture is made up of those; it’s the fuel that drives your company down the road to success and pushes it through rough terrain.

Understanding and making core culture work involves looking within. Just as you can look within as a person, you can do it as an organization too.

It might sound a little woo-woo, but it's actually a crucial way of understanding what drives your company. Making tactical surface-level decisions will keep you busy during everyday work, but if they're not aligned with your core culture, they won't help you achieve your goals.

So let's go deep underground, right down into the engine room of your organization, and figure out what your core culture really is.

Table of contents
What is core culture?
Company success starts with core culture
Identifying the values that make up your core culture
Employees must understand core culture and how it applies to them
Core culture can be fun, too

What is core culture?

Core culture is essentially the soul of the company. The stuff right at the beating heart of the organization; the values and beliefs that really make it a unique entity.

It's one half of what you'd call 'organizational culture' - something broadly understood to mean the collective behavior of a group and the beliefs behind their actions.

The other half of this is 'observable culture'. Observable culture is that which faces outwards to the world; it's more of a communication channel that's made up of branding, visual design, product lines, mission statements and office design.

There can be some crossover; during a hiring interview, for example, you might talk about how your team behaves in accordance to your core cultural values . They're not a secret, but core culture is defined through behavior more than statements.

Core culture is an inward-facing concept, then, and it starts working for you under a bit of careful examination. 

How is core culture different to company culture?

There are some overlaps, but it's important to understand the distinction.

When we talk about 'company culture', it generally refers to what we defined as 'organizational culture' above - an all-encompassing idea involving vision, behavior, and outward communication.

Company culture can consist of more tangible assets - sure, it might manifest through open collaboration and honest discussion, but office beer fridges and ping-pong tables also contribute to it.

Core culture has deeper roots, being more strategic, ideological and intrinsic to the organization.

Company success starts with core culture

Ray Dalio, investor and author of Principles: Life & Work, built Bridgewater Associates into one of the world's most successful hedge funds. He believes strongly in the power of building culture by choosing the right people with the right values. The core culture of Bridgewater is distinct and understandable:

"Great cultures bring problems and disagreements to the surface and solve them well, and they love imagining and building great things that haven't been built before. Doing that sustains their evolution. In our case, we do that by having an idea meritocracy that strives for meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical truth and radical transparency."

Dalio rates building Bridgewater's core culture as even more instrumental in its success than its skill in economics and investing. This has led to it managing over $150b in assets and becoming a case study in corporate culture around the world.

Core culture drives positive outcomes for companies in different ways, depending on what values it's made up of.

There's a good example in HBR's 'Leader's Guide to Corporate Culture'. A US retailer held stellar customer service as one of its core values. A single rule provided the framework for cultivating this value: 'do right by the customer'.

Employees were given a certain amount of autonomy in their decision-making, and were encouraged to understand the customer's perspective by engaging them and going beyond their expectations. The specifics of each interaction weren't important in most circumstances. But after utilizing this creed for a number of customer queries, it soon percolated into the subconscious of each employee. Customer delight was a core culture concept for the company.

The results: "a variety of positive outcomes for the company, including robust growth and international expansion, numerous customer service awards, and frequent appearances on lists of the best companies to work for."

While a good portion of core culture is conceptual, it shouldn't be ignored as something that comes around organically. It does need to be talked about to be of use. Let's have a look at how you can really identify the building blocks of your organization's core culture. That way, you can make sure you're headed in the right direction.

Identifying the values that make up your core culture

One of the most important parts of this process is avoiding lapsing into buzzwords. Or if a business buzzword is crucial to your business identity, you can't just lean on it. You have to explore it, understand it, and communicate why it's important.

Let's take 'creativity' as an example. It's a concept adjacent to 'innovation' - pretty much every company in every market needs to innovate and create stuff, because the world doesn't stand still. What works now won't work the same in five or ten years, no matter if you build iPhone apps or plumbing systems.

So you can't just say 'our company is creative' and hope every employee acts creatively. You have to dig deeper.

  • How are you creative?
  • Why are you creative?
  • What does creativity mean in your context? Is it designing new widgets every three years, or is it completely disrupting the way modern logistics chains operate?

Is your creativity based on visual design, industrial efficiency, organizational make-up, research methodology, multi-disciplinary experimentation, or marketing to inflate customer demand and brand strength?

There are so many ways to define creativity and innovation, you simply have to define what it means to you or you'll never have a strong enough foothold to become a truly creative organization.

Once you've identified answers to these, you're better equipped to make creativity a part of your corporate ethos. You'll be able to take these values and use them to build processes, train new hires, identify opportunities, and so on.

This applies to any value you aspire to hold as a company: customer-centric, disruptive, reliable, honest, simple, great value, acting with integrity. Each one needs a deep understanding by the owners, the board, the management, and the employees. Otherwise it's just another clichéd ad slogan.

Employees must understand core culture and how it applies to them

The people that execute your strategic instructions are the ones that move the needle. If they're acting with your core culture in mind, they're going to have a sense of direction and competence that makes them better at their jobs. So how do they get it in mind in the first place?

There are two ways that core culture makes its way into the heads of your team members. The first is direct: being informed of it. This comes through training, documentation and conversation. It keeps cultural practices top of mind and reminds them of how things should work in day-to-day working life.

The second is through observation. This means they see what's going on, understand it, and begin to mimic that behavior.

Observation, over time, creates operating frameworks within the subconscious of your employees, meaning they behave automatically in accordance with your core culture.

So if they see you standing up for someone who's being belittled in a meeting, that might remind them to act virtuously on someone else's behalf on another occasion. But seeing things like this happen again and again over time, from multiple different people, causes an exposure effect. It cements in their mind that acting altruistically in the face of injustice is the 'default' mode of operation in this organization.

Core culture itself is this 'subconscious' of the company; built through repeated actions over time that become automatic. Individual interventions have less impact on core culture than repeated behavior over time, so it's important to choose the right people and get them on board.

Core culture can be fun, too

It's tempting to think that most business concepts apply to established corporates. But core culture is something every business owner should understand; from tiny startups to disruptive pioneers, to worldwide conglomerates and mom-and-pop retail operations.

You don't need to make it an academic exercise. If you're a fun, informal company that prides itself on doing things differently - that's your core culture. Identify it, explore what it means to you and why it's important to your success, and make sure everyone in the company knows about it.

Embedding a sense of energy and vibrance to your organization (if that's what's important to you) needs to be done as early as possible by those at the top. The bigger you get, the harder it becomes to change course.

Core culture is made up of purpose - the reason why your company exists - and principles - the philosophies that guide you; or "how we do things round here". If those are hardwired into your company's subconscious, your company will know where it wants to go and how to get there. The people you hire and the work you do will start to reflect these values. And they can be as colorful and fun as you want them to be. 

Schedule a free demo to learn how you can measure, map and improve your company’s core culture with F4S.

Become an amazing place to work with our core culture coaching.

Our programs were designed by world-renowned coaches. Sessions only take 5-15 minutes. Get started for free with your personalized program now.

My coaching Plan:

Our expert coaches have designed hyper-effective programs that will help 

you improve your core culture and become an amazing place to work.

Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to let you know which program to start with (and if there are any you should skip)!

Your recommended programs include:

Show more programs
Hide

My Coaching Plan:

Our expert coaches have designed hyper-effective programs that will help you improve your mental health, wellbeing, productivity, leadership and more.

Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to let you know which program to start with (and if there are any you should skip)!

Your recommended programs include:

Show more programs
Hide
A group of people representing team building

Team Building

Take your teaming to the next level in this high impact 9-week team coaching program with Coach Marlee. Discover and optimize complementary strengths and unique talents with your team, reach decisions together quickly, enjoy team cohesion, high energy and motivation as a bonded team.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
a person with a magnifying glass and sirkel representing attention to detail

Attention to Detail

Impress yourself and others with your attention to detail! Develop a genuine appreciation, energy and stamina for detailed thinking to execute your vision, measure performance in yourself and others while also accelerating your ability to learn and change.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
illustration of a person wearing a crown representing personal power

Personal Power

In this high impact eight week program Coach Marlee will help you increase your comfort and confidence to be in positions of influence and leadership, navigate organizational politics and also help you develop greater confidence to compete and influence at the top of your industry or field.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
illustration of a person with floating icons around representing multiplying your impact

Multiply Your Impact

Multiply your impact by embracing the experience and genius within others. During this eight week program Coach Marlee will help you to develop a genuine appreciation for experimentation and data and a willingness to empower the opinions, feedback and insights within your team and others in your life.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
illustration of a person thinking of a problem having a gut feeling about the answer

Trust Your Gut Feel

Explore, strengthen and stand by what you believe in at work and in life. Trust in your ‘gut feel’ and point of view is especially helpful for influencing, starting your own business, having your personal needs met and for living an authentic and meaningful life.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
illustration of a person looking on things with a wider persepective representing big picture thinking

Big Picture Thinker

Inspire yourself and others to see the bigger picture! Increase your comfort and use of abstract and strategic thinking to gain a broader perspective in work and life. Big picture thinking is key in communication, leadership, businesses, selling, marketing, and situations where you need to get the gist of things quickly.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
illustration of a woman sitting down and reflecting representing reflection and patience

Reflection & Patience

Develop ‘step back’ mastery for increased self-awareness and developing mindsets and tools for constant improvement. Reflection and patience is core to consolidating learning, development, strategic thinking, recharging and living an authentic and meaningful life.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
illustration of a person empowered for a fast start

Start Fast

Close the gap between your great ideas and starting them. Energy and drive for starting is key for inventing new things, starting businesses, selling, marketing, socializing or in situations where you need to think on your feet.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
illustration of a person cheering with hands in the air representing EQ increase

Increase EQ

Explore, develop or strengthen your emotional intelligence (EQ). Awareness of your and others’ emotions is at the heart of influencing, ‘reading people’, impactful communication, deep relating and authentic connection at work and in life.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week
Person with a dart aiming at a target representing Goal Catching

Goal Catcher

Inspire yourself and others to see and achieve grand visions and goals. A focus on goals is especially helpful for inspirational leaders, starting your own business, impactful communication, or for achieving awesome outcomes at work and in life.

icon of time
5 - 15 minutes
 per session
icon of a calendar
2 sessions per week

Testimonials

Conrad
This is some text inside of a div block.

"This program has helped me to be less impulsive and really think before acting"

Carmel
This is some text inside of a div block.

“This coaching program has helped me improve the way I connect, relate and communicate - deepening my relationships with others and also with myself”

Show more testimonials
Hide
Yaron
This is some text inside of a div block.

“Marlee helped me discover skills in myself and about others on how to work together as a team!”

Rolf
This is some text inside of a div block.

“I really struggled with the idea and concept of my own power and it was getting in the way of my work, my relationships and my happiness. This program with Marlee has helped me understand why, develop a deeper relationship with my own power and as a result, I'm feeling more confident and competent as ever!”

Raza
This is some text inside of a div block.

“As an engineer, I never thought about doing a retro with my family. This has been cool.”

Chris
This is some text inside of a div block.

"Marlee really helped me to understand how to cue in on body language and tone when speaking with others, in order to connect on a deeper level"

Jack
This is some text inside of a div block.

"I have learned how to communicate better using every tool I have in myself, especially in learning how to use my tone of voice"

Carrie
This is some text inside of a div block.

"Wow this program has totally changed my relationship to goals! Thanks so much Marlee, I miss you already"

Related Articles

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare."

Name Surname

Position, Company name

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare."

Name Surname

Position, Company name

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare."

Name Surname

Position, Company name

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare."

Name Surname

Position, Company name

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare."

Name Surname

Position, Company name

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare."

Name Surname

Position, Company name

Head that contains a heart with line beating line.

Hack your wellbeing, productivity and goals

. . . with personal (or team) coaching!

Programs are created by expert coaches & delivered by our incredible A.I. Coach Marlee. Sessions only take 5-15 minutes and are 100% personalized to fit your unique traits and goals.
Sign-up for free
^ Click to chat with your AI coach!
v  CLOSE