Corporate culture: Own it and just do it

A four-way fist bump celebrating good corporate culture in the recruitment and mining industries in

Whether you achieve your 2020 objectives will, to a large degree, be determined by your corporate culture.

Whether you achieve your 2020 objectives will, to a large degree, be determined by your corporate culture.

Corporate culture is not something simply written down. What you and your leaders do, has vastly more impact on corporate culture than what you write out.

I thought a lot about this as I recently re-read my wrap-up article for 2019 and reflected on the fact that on 20 January 2020, Mining People International (MPi) turned 25. (Back at the start I was a few days short of turning 34. Yes, go on, do the maths.)

Culture was also top-of-mind for me, as late in 2019 we had conducted a business-wide culture survey.

All of this reminded me that while the culture in organisations changes with the times and staff changes and so on, at its core, an organisation’s culture must always encourage behaviour that supports progress towards some core objectives. And I could see how many elements of our culture were supporting the achievement of our objectives, while others were acting as somewhat of a handbrake and holding us back.

This would also be the case with all recruitment companies and mining companies – in fact, any company.


Make time for reflection

For the past fifteen years or so (I can’t recall how long, to be honest) we have been publishing a small book entitled MPi - The Year That Was.

In it we include a short summary of the business year, called The Numbers. It includes things like the numbers of:

  • Sales calls made
  • Mine sites visited
  • Kilometres travelled
  • Assignments completed
  • Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn followers.

Information about the business year only occupies the first couple of pages. The rest of the book is dedicated to MPi team members – each of whom gets a page to write a short summary and share a few photos that represent their year. It is a wonderful way for people to express themselves and it is a revealing look inside our workmates’ personal lives.

Images and descriptions of family, friends, work life, home life, holiday destinations, new cars, homes, pets, weddings, grief or loss, sporting achievements — all bring to life a mosaic of simple human life and, most importantly, make it super clear the things that are important to people.

Some people write four words; some write a page. It doesn’t matter. Often the pictures do all the talking. Everyone gets a copy, of course.

Clearly, work is rarely the number one thing. But it is, also clearly, an important means to an end. For many, work also delivers meaning and a sense of self-worth.     

I tell you all this only to make the point that when you have a cupboard full of these books, you are privileged to occasionally look back over them and gain an insightful snapshot into how the culture of an organisation changes, sometimes without you even realising it.  


What is corporate culture and can you NOT have one?  

Whether you like it or not, you cannot not have a corporate culture. In the absence of structure or leadership, an organisation will grow its own culture – like either a beautiful flower or a terrible disease. That’s just the way it is.

Second, there is no right or wrong culture for you, other than overtly negative elements you clearly don’t want. It is fair to say, though, some elements of corporate culture fit certain types of businesses and industries better than others.

There is a lot written on this and I’m sure others will have different views, but it is clear there are broad cultural categories, which I have summarised into four different styles:

  • Family: a friendly and collaborative environment where loyalty and tradition are valued
  • Entrepreneurial: a lot of freedom to create, take risks, innovate and challenge   
  • Competitive: get down to work and get results. Dominate the market. Compete, even among co-workers
  • Structured: process and procedure are everything. Leaders monitor performance against tried and tested rules and guidelines.


Why bother?

All cultures promote some forms of behavior and inhibit others. There is plenty of evidence to suggest having a corporate culture that encourages the behaviours that better advance your objectives is smart business. But corporate culture cannot be simply defined by a set of rules in a handbook.  


Leaders are transmitters

Once you have determined what sort of culture you want for your organisation, it is important to think about how you might move towards it in the future.

The most important thing is to consider that actions will always speak much louder than words.

I reiterate: what you and your leaders do will have vastly more impact on your corporate culture than anything you write out. Leaders need to live and act it out. They need to do and say lots of little things to reflect the culture they want to create.

And your actions as a leader, will accelerate movement towards a certain way of being far more quickly than the actions of others. If your “living out actions” inspire 100 people to try 10% harder, then you have gained the equivalent of 10 full-time staff for free. Conversely, if your “living out actions” result in those same 100 people trying less, you have lost 10 people.   

As a leader, you are the most important leverage tool in your business.

You have to own it, and then just do it. It’s that simple.

Steve Heather

Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)

[email protected]