Thoughts About Corporate Culture, from Apple, and the Chef’s Practice of mise-en-place


Corporate culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community.
From Inc.

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Let’s talk about corporate culture. Alignment. Getting everyone on the same page.

First, many, many companies fail at this. Partly because there is no clearly defined culture within those companies. I guess their culture is to not have a clear corporate culture.

I remember a quote from a business book I’ve presented (my apology – I can’t recall which book) that went something like this: “every company has two cultures. The one they claim to have. And the one they actually practice. Only that second one reveals the true culture of a company.”

Second, to have an effective corporate culture, it has to be taught, and modeled, and constantly reinforced, and deeply, deeply instilled in everyone.

Contrast this...
Contrast this…

This morning, I read two items that talk about this. The first, a lesson from Apple, in two separate articles on Business Insider: Apple Has A Secretive School Where It Teaches Employees What Makes Apple Special, and Apple Uses An Ugly Google TV Remote To Teach Employees What Not To Do At Apple. Apple includes video from Steve Jobs, lessons from Apple’s past, and a great comparison/contrast between the Google TV and Apple TV Remote Controls.

with this -- the Apple TV Remote
with this — the Apple TV Remote

The simplicity of Apple design is in the very DNA of Apple. This is corporate culture!

The second item I actually heard, and then read, from NPR’s Morning Edition: For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef. It describes the culture of a well-run kitchen, based on mise-en-place:

The system that makes kitchens go is called mise-en-place, or, literally, “put in place.” It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.

Listen to this segment,  or read the transcript, and you will grasp that culture is imbedded in the very ways you organize and work, hour by hour, day in and day out.

Now, one more thought about corporate culture. I am becoming more than a little fascinated by “founding principles” — especially founding documents and speeches. These are absolutely essential in establishing and building corporate culture.

Founding documents and speeches, like founders themselves, linger long after the beginnings. The shadows of Steve Jobs, of Mary Kay Ash, of Walt Disney all still loom large over the companies they founded.

But, here are a couple of “dark” examples of this.

My reading has taken me to the Cornerstone Speech, delivered by Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America. There it is: racism in the very DNA of the Confederate States.

And, I’ve read most of the Charter of Hamas, which was established in 1988. It’s pretty tough to read this document and hope for a peaceful co-existence between the members of Hamas and the Jewish people.

These extreme examples remind us that how an entity begins can (does) shape what any entity becomes, from its founding, and for years and decades to come.

This may explain why changing a corporate culture is so difficult.

What is the culture of the place you work? Even if you work for yourself – what kind of work culture, and subsequent work habits, have you established?

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