• Joe Valentic

There is No Such Thing as Corporate Culture - Only Character or Ethos

It has become vogue for companies to speak of themselves to both outsiders and insiders in terms of their "corporate culture". It is often referenced in an attempt to differentiate itself from other companies, to attract and retain employees, as well as customers. Well according to author Keith McFarland, in his book, The BreakThrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers, there is no such things as corporate culture in breakthrough companies, only character. Corporate platitudes, slogans, and handbooks do not truly define a company, if there is a lack of character. Additionally, character cannot be formed by handbooks, HR programs or cool Facebook pages.

No, character can only be formed from the top. It is the character of the leadership translating into who is hired, who is retained, who is fired and into all corporate decisions. It then becomes the character of the employees - and by extension the character of the company. According to McFarland's research, a key driver in what makes companies achieve and sustain breakthrough performance is that they have an authentic character shared between leaders and employees. It becomes a bond that drives retention of employees, but also the core of exceptional performance that wins and retains customers.

We find a similar concept discussed in the book: First, Fast and Fearless, How to Lead Like a Navy Seal. In this book, the author, a retired Navy Seal Lt. Commander, talks about the "Ethos" of the seals and how this permeates everything they do. He says that "Having a strong ethos can transform organizations and change people's lives." The word Ethos has a very interesting etymology. It properly translates to the true nature or a disposition of a person, or in other words, the character of a person. Aristotle spoke of Ethos as being a powerful factor in persuasion. He explained that Ethos or person's character,".. may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses."

Ethos then, in the context of a business, speaks to how the character of leadership is received by the employees, and in turn, how the customers who interact with the employees see the company's character. Where there is a strong ethos among the leaders, it shapes the selection and formation of the team. As in the Seals, it becomes not only the basis for employee selection, but for how all decisions and actions of the company are made. It ultimately drives the commitment to achieving the mission. This is why you have Seals that are willing to put their lives on the line, not only for their mission, but for their team. Thus, like the Seals, a company with a strong ethos is a company with character that transcends platitudes and slogans, and turns employees into passionate fighters for their company vision and mission.

If you do not feel or know if your company has an Ethos - stop and find out today. Signs that your company may not have a real Ethos include, high turnover, poor reputation in the hiring market, poor customer services, poor quality, reduction in efficiency, or lack of accountability, to name just a few. Based on the research of Keith McFarland and others like Jim Collins in Good to Great, it is highly improbable that your business will achieve sustained breakthrough performance if you do not have true corporate Ethos.

If you need additional motivation beyond corporate performance, just imagine how much more enjoyable the work day would be if you worked with people who were really passionate about their company and their jobs. How much more fun would it be to think of your teams as a "band of brothers" like the Seals? Regardless of the ultimate success achieved by the business, if we achieved nothing more than making the journey more enjoyable and more fulfilling, it would be worth it to invest the time and energy to ensure you have a real corporate Ethos/character.

We Can Help

We are passionate about helping people and businesses to achieve their true potential - their real Ethos! We would love to help you assess your business and help align your vision, strategy and team Ethos. Please call Joe Valentic at 313-418-6629 to start a conversation today or email us at