Organizational Culture:  One Word Descriptions

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Texas called me the other day to talk about various human resources issues, with the conversation eventually settling on organizational culture. An interesting topic, from a very interesting leader.

Organizational culture is one of those topics that is frequently discussed, seldom clarified, and often misunderstood. Everyone thinks they know what it means, “for their organization” when in fact they don’t really know what it means.

For the purpose at hand, organizational culture is defined as a set of shared assumptions that guide what happens in organizations by defining appropriate behavior for various situations; it is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid.

Simply stated, organizational culture is “the way things are done around here.”

Knowing his bias for immediate action, I suggested that before the business owner goes out and tries to change or improve his company culture, that he begin the process by conducting a simplistic, non-rigorous, assessment of what current key employees think about the company culture. In elementary fashion, I recommended that the business owner meet with a cross-section of employees and ask them to anonymously describe the current organizational culture in one word on a piece of paper, and put it into a container in the office by a certain due date. After that date, the owner and his management team would review all of the one word descriptions as a group and decide on next steps.

While leaving the task open-ended to the business owner and his set of respondents, here is a sample list of common one word descriptions of organizational culture for your consideration:

  • Transparent
  • Toxic
  • Siloed
  • Motivating
  • Collaborative
  • Flexible
  • Fair
  • Casual
  • Engaging
  • Political
  • Complacent
  • Biased
  • Stressful
  • Respectful
  • Outdated
  • Progressive
  • Challenging
  • Adaptive
  • Nurturing
  • Rewarding
  • Empathetic
  • Accountable
  • Hostile
  • Fun
  • Focused
  • Elitist
  • Supportive
  • Micromanaging
  • Trusting
  • Innovative

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.