Corporate culture: 10 elements to help drive results

Recently in the press, there was a whole section dedicated to the most admired corporate cultures in Canada. It highlighted some very successful, vibrant companies, diverse in their business interests but with many themes in common. The lessons apply around the world.

The themes reinforced my belief that success in any enterprise relies on its ability to bring people together and extract from them their best work, not through rules, policies, processes and bottom line focus but by creating cultures that invite participation. It is from this softer, yet more difficult perspective that these companies drive results.

So, what does this “softer” perspective look like?  Well, as I read through the variety of articles on offer, I picked up 10 elements that figure prominently in the cultures of these highly successful organisations. Here they are:

Clarity of vision and values 

This, of course, comes up every time. Most companies have some kind of vision statement and a published set of organisational values. Not all actually use them as their guiding force.  And not all faithfully model the values they espouse. Creating clarity about what business you are in; where you see it going; and how you intend to get there is a critical ingredient in everything else you do.  That’s the philosophy Claude Mongeau, CEO of CN Rail, has embraced and it has proven to be highly effective.

Respect and civility

Eckler Ltd, an actuarial consulting firm, has a simple but powerful mantra: Treat people like adults.

This company has high expectations of its workforce. It holds itself and each other accountable for the commitments they make while limiting the number of rules and policies enforced. Operating from a platform of respect and civility seems like such a simple thing to do, yet its potential for making productive conversations easier is enormous.

Learning and growth

In highly successful companies learning, growth and development aren’t not just nice things to do thing. It forms part of the fabric of the organisation and as such, shouldn’t be the first thing to get cut from the budget when times get a little tight. Companies like Medavie Blue Cross see it as a critical part of ensuring a solid future for the company and everyone in it.

Service before selling

Arthur Mesher is the CEO of Descartes Systems, a software company in Ontario. When he first joined the firm, he noticed that people were not delivering on their commitments. Theirs was a “sales”culture that seemed to leave the customer out of the equation. 

Mesher recognised the limitations of the sales philosophy and the ineffective practices that went along with it. And so he went about shifting the focus away from sales numbers towards the achievement of customer satisfaction. The shift, while financially painful at first, now reflects the wisdom of the new maxim of service before selling, and the company posted 2012 results any organisation could be proud of.


Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s restaurants, once said: “None of us is as good as all of us.”

This has formed the basis for McDonald’s organisational culture, which continues to value and build on collaborative relationships with its employees, franchisees and suppliers.

Social responsibility

In today’s world, establishing roots in the community is an essential part of building a successful business. Those who participate through sponsorships and volunteerism build a rich environment that people want to be a part of.  Organisations such as McDonald’s, CIBC and Camp Oochigeas (a camp for children with cancer) are a testament to this.


When you treat people like adults, you also give them flexibility to find their own formula for delivering on their company commitments.  As Stuart Suls, CEO of automotive company Mr Lube, puts it: “ You only have one life. It’s up to employers to give people the space to balance things out.”

Simplicity of purpose

Being able to state your organisational purpose as simply as possible provides great clarity, especially in hard times. For instance, at the North York General Hospital, the CEO, Tim Rutledge, expresses his organisational purpose in a way everyone can understand. It goes something like: 
“To make people better; keep them safe; and give them timely access to care.” Everything else can flow from that.

Innovation and finding a place for failure

At cinema chain Cineplex Inc, CEO Ellis Jacob say: “I would rather you try something and fail, and learn from it, than never try at all.”

This is a tenet that so many have difficulty with because it can be costly. But, in today’s world an essential ingredient to success is risk – and sometimes failure. Taking a more positive perspective on failure is becoming increasingly important.

Diversity and inclusion

This is a common theme among many of the companies recognised as having corporate cultures to admire and emulate. There is, after all, great richness in the diverse talents, skills and experience people bring to work every day.  Organisations that make the best use of their available resources tend to challenge their own assumptions, suspend judgement and invite a wide variety of people to take an active part in their present and future.

There are other themes that exemplify workplaces with much-admired corporate cultures. But, if you are working to effect change in your own organisation this might be a place to start.  It couldn’t hurt.

That’s what I think, anyway.  What do you think?


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