Here’s a question for open discussion and debate: What are the six key components of a great corporate culture?

I raise the question in this way because there’s a widely-cited article from Harvard Business Review that purports to offer the six components of a great corporate culture. That’s a pretty audacious claim to make, given the diversity of corporations and the complexity of what culture really is. I think the Harvard article is generally pretty insightful, and I think the points it makes are worth considering—and debating.

With that said, I’ll offer my own two caveats. My first point is that there is no sure formula for a great company culture. All companies are different, and by the way, all companies are going to define successful culture in different ways. Saying that these are the six components, no exceptions, is reductionist.

The second thing I’ll say: While culture can be defined in many different ways, I will say that you are going to have a difficult time spreading and cultivating your culture if you don’t have relationships at the center. Relationships are everything, even (especially?) in the corporate world.

The Six Components (According to Harvard)

So with all that said—these are the six components singled out by Harvard.

  1. Vision. This is sort of a nebulous term, but the Harvard Business Review article suggests that a great culture starts with a formal statement of mission, or vision. A few simple phrases provide a company with its sense of purpose moving forward. I agree that vision can be important, but make no mistake about it: Your company does have a culture of some kind, whether you happen to have a mission statement or not.
  2. Values. Values are similar to vision, but instead of a brief written statement, values might come in the form of a clearly-articulated set of guidelines—behaviors and mindsets that dovetail with the vision. I’ll say the same thing as I said before: Your company definitely has values, whether you’ve written them down or not. A good question to ask yourself, though, is this: Are the values you’ve written down authentic? Are they really what the company values?
  3. Practices. “Of course, values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices,” the article says. Fair enough. You may say that you value people—so how’s your customer service? How are your employer/employee relations? Would the people you interact with day in and day out agree that your business is people-oriented?
  4. People. Speaking of which! The article suggests that a culture cannot be developed or spread without people who are passionate about it. That’s so true. In many ways, then, culture is formed during the hiring process. Make sure you’re recruiting people whose attitudes are in line with your culture.
  5. Narrative. “Any organization has a unique history — a unique story,” the article says. “And the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation.” That’s true enough: Understanding your company’s roots—how it got from there to here—can help you in shaping your culture, no question.
  6. Place. Your place—both the building and your geographic locale—impact your culture, the article notes. I believe that to be true, but would also argue that companies can surmount obstacles of place if they have the right emphasis on relationships.

That’s what I think. What do you think? Agree or disagree with any of these components? Leave me a comment and let me know. Remember, too, that you have a culture—corporate and personal—whether you realize it or not.