One Size Does Not Fit All

June 16, 2023

When a CEO tells me that she or he wants their company’s culture to be just like Disney (or another organization recognized for its world-renowned work environment), I’ve learned to nod my head encouragingly and start asking leading questions to help clarify their vision. I instinctively know the CEO doesn’t want to copy Disney’s culture and create their own version of Mickey greeting guests who walk through their lobby: they are usually searching for a feeling that can be harder to pinpoint. What the CEO typically is reaching for is a higher-performing culture that reflects the best of the organization: One that is based on shared corporate values that are evident across all functions and departments from Boise to Berlin.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing and maintaining a standout company culture has become even more of a challenge, and 68% of executive teams are reevaluating their company’s culture to reflect the new normal of virtual and hybrid work, according to a recent Gartner report.

One of the biggest misconceptions about workplace cultures is that one cultural style will work for all organizations. In reality, what works for a flexible customer service-centric startup will fall flat for a tenured corporation that depends on meticulous planning and caution. In order to set our organization up for success, our approach must be as unique and nuanced as the company itself.

In this summary article by Fellow (study originally published by Harvard Business Review), the authors describe eight distinct styles of culture: Purpose, Caring, Order, Safety, Authority, Results, Enjoyment, and Learning. It reiterates that focusing on culture can help create lasting change and build organizations that thrive in even the most trying, uncharted times, and more importantly, shows that culture is not one size fits all. The report features renowned CEOs and highlights how each of these eight distinct styles are illustrated through their individual approach to culture in their own organizations.

We see an example of “Caring” through beloved Disney CEO, Bob Iger: “It is incredibly important to be open and accessible and treat people fairly and look them in the eye and tell them what is on your mind.”

And an example of purpose comes from John Mackey, the founder and former CEO of Whole Foods “Most of the greatest companies in the world also have great purpose…Having a deeper, more transcendent purpose is highly energizing for all stakeholders.”

When reflecting on your own organization, which culture style do you identify your company with, and which do you strive to be?

While some culture styles may be more prominent than others – it’s no secret that our cultures are as distinctive as our business models – and much like a sizing chart, one size does not fit all. That’s one reason why I am so excited about The Fellowship, during which myself and other company culture pioneers will work closely with leaders to define where their specific culture currently is, where it needs to go, and how they can create a tangible plan to develop the company culture they have always dreamed of.

Wherever you find yourself on your culture journey today, be encouraged that every company culture you admire was pioneered by someone just like you, who was willing to tackle new challenges, find what worked within their niche, and blaze a new trail. I hope you enjoyed learning from this fascinating study as much as I did!


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