I’m often asked how to build a winning corporate culture. If I could answer this question in a simple and unambiguous way, I would hardly be sitting in a half-empty bus, on my way to work and an IKEA desk to write this blog.

There is no perfect answer to this question (at least not one that can be summarized in a blog post). Let me however attempt at a few answers and point out a few problems with this question.

The first challenge is the definition of a “winning corporate culture”. There is no corporate culture recipe in the world that would work in every single organization. Let me repeat this in a different way: there is no universally correct or wrong corporate culture. The “correctness” of a corporate culture is always related to why the company exists and what (and when) it wants to achieve it. A winning corporate culture is always unique and will therefore always need an individual recipe.

There are of course universal truths related to the human being and the biological, chemical, and psychological truths related to human behavior, and it’s always good to understand and consider them when building a corporate culture. This also creates the danger of generalizations and half-truths, but let’s get back to that later.

The second challenge is with the term build. Not because it’s impossible to build a corporate culture. Many claim that a culture cannot be designed and changed, and I claim that it can and should. In reality, building a culture means designing and managing a culture. This problem is two-folded. As we all know (we do know this, right?), each company has its own culture. It’s either consciously built and managed or it’s one that “just” happens. The second challenge is whether we dare to be honest about the true nature of our culture or whether we just repeat the adjectives and superlatives of our goal culture at the board meeting (the current hot BS hashtags would be #transparency, #agile, and #selfdirectedlearning), wishing they would turn to reality.

If you want to “build” a “winning” corporate culture, the first thing you need to do is to become painfully aware of the current state of your corporate culture. This will not happen at a management retreat where you think about which animal or car model your company would be. Nor will it happen with an online survey that will result in a self-explicatory spider’s web. Corporate culture is such a multifaceted issue with many hidden layers that to understand it fully, you will need a well-equipped toolkit and meetings between human beings (between the management and most importantly, the employees).

The crucial questions in understanding corporate culture are:

What (do you do)?

How (do you do it)?

And Why (do you do it)?

The final question needs to be repeated several times in the investigation. A corporate culture can never be summarized as an animal or in axes.

Once you understand the current state, you will need to clarify the optimum state of your corporate culture, meaning the kind of culture you want to build. Here, it’s crucial to check whether the business and strategic goals of the company are in line with the target culture. I have seen it happen regrettably often that corporate culture is lead as a nice-to-have exercise, separate from the real world.

Related to the previous challenge, we must also understand that changing your corporate culture will be painfully slow. Corporate culture cannot be changed by a committee decision or a note on the board meeting minutes. Neither have I ever seen or heard of an organization that has been able to say “well, our corporate culture is ready”. Corporate culture is experienced every single day.

The fundamental mission of a corporate culture is to create a desired employee experience (eX). A desired employee experience is obviously not created for itself, but instead it’s created to reach the desired customer experience (cX). To be able to build a corporate culture that produces the desired employee experience, we must genuinely understand what our employees deem as meaningful.

For a long time, to be better able to respond to the customers’ needs, customer-oriented organizations have been talking about and looking for customer understanding. It’s therefore confusing to notice that even though the war on talented people is getting harder each day, employee insight is not talked about at all. Corporate cultures are being built and managed with universal assumptions, at the same time wondering why employees are joining the competitor’s ranks or why our company is no longer interesting for the desired talents.

With employee insight I mean a genuine understanding of which factors matter for the employees in your organization, whether you look at work motivation or well-being. From the point of view of managing and corporate culture, you have to know the difference between whether your employees are motivated by money, learning new things, the opportunity to influence, or clear guidelines and processes. I don’t believe that the birth year or gender of your employee will tell us what they are motivated by. We are all individuals and want to be met as such. Please consider this when building your corporate culture.

To succeed in building a winning corporate culture for your own company, you have to know why your company exists and where you want to take it to. In addition, you must understand what matters to those employees you believe will carry your company to success. And as I’ve already said, you must genuinely understand the current state of your corporate culture and its relation to the desired target culture. This is the basis from where you can start building a revolutionary culture for your company.