if you want to know the corporate culture of a company or business, simply take a look at their website (… even if a fabulous copywriter has written it).
Corporate Culture is basically how we do things around here (which is totally separate to what services we provide).
If a company’s culture is one of a ruthless robber baron, you can pretty much guarantee you will find clues in their website. If a company’s culture is warm, fuzzy and as disorganised as the second drawer in your kitchen – their website will scream it from the roof-tops.
How? Take my hand while we go on quick romp through the hidden world of psychology and human resources – to discover the clues organisations are leaving behind and discover what your website says about your company. (This is different to how you improve the trustworthiness of your website, which is more about technical and social trust, rather than the corporate culture of the organisation.)
Understanding Corporate Culture
One of the most influential writers about organisational culture is an academic by the name of Edgar Schein. Back in the 1980’s he created his model for making sense of organisation culture. His model is still considered one of the best out there – both from its simplicity but also its clarity.
Schein suggested that you can understand corporate culture by looking at three levels:
- Artefacts – These are the visible bits of a business and include everything from design, decoration, how people are dressed, corporate trophies, “in-language”, technology used. Outsiders can easily spot the artefacts, but may not understand why a work unit has an old army boot on display.
- Espoused Values & Beliefs – What a company says they value or believe in.
- Underlying assumptions – These are rarely articulated but are considered to be “unshakeable truths” by an organisation. These are the bits relating to what is assumed to be the right way for people to relate to others, appropriate leadership styles, how decisions are made, how power and resources are distributed … amongst other things. They may or may not match the espoused values and beliefs.
Look Ma … I Just Found An Artifact!
A corporate website is an artifact in the same way that bits of pottery left from a long-lost civilisation are artifacts. What your website says about your company are hidden in the artifacts.
A website tells the outsider if the business values being an early adopter or struggles with the whole technology thing. The colours and design chosen tell outsiders if the business values appearances, or if they are stuck in a 1970’s time warp.
The website words a business uses tell outsiders if the business is so trendy that they wouldn’t possibly understand, or if it is so stuffy and corporate that they should wear a pinstriped suit and stand to attention when the business talks with them.
Espoused values are drop-dead common on a website and in most cases are a total waste of 3 minutes of people’s lives in reading them – so we will leave talking about that bit (… and please feel free to consider leaving them out all together from your website).
What Your Website Says About Your Company: The Juicy Bits
The most interesting bits are how a website can shove a spotlight on the underlying cultural assumptions of an organisation. A website shows everyone how a business “really” believes things should be done, who holds the power and who gets the rewards.
Here’s a few ways that the dirty secrets can be hung out on display on a website.
What is Valued & Rewarded
The stories chosen to highlight successes or to be turned into case studies, show what is valued and rewarded in an organisation. Businesses have successes every day – but only a few stories get chosen as “good enough” for a website. Why were those ones chosen and not others? These stories show what is given status and rewarded.
What Services Are Considered Important
The products and services displayed on a website often has more to do with what the leader of an organisation pays attention to, values and measures, than what a client actually wants to know. I have seen sites where entire programs, products or services are not mentioned – simply because the CEO doesn’t personally value them.
Who Really Holds The Power
Who holds the reins of power in an organisation can often be seen on the About Us pages. Is the CEO worshipped as the “Big Man” in cargo cult like adoration? What order are the executives presented? How is their history told? How many words does each executive get? If the office admin is the real power-holder in the business, usually the website includes every single person in the organisation.
You can get clues on the leadership style from a website. Things to look for – is the website style and content traditional or charismatic? Is it reserved or engaging? Is the leadership chaotic and messy (the site will reflect this), or is it tightly controlled and everything linked back to a measurable outcome?
Appropriate Ways To Relate
What an organisation believes is an appropriate way to relate is easily seen in a website. Does the company believe in “just the facts – name, rank and serial number” only? Is interaction welcomed or blocked? Is information one way only? How open in terms of sharing information is the website? Is everything guarded so that competitors can’t steal the great ideas, or is there an over-sharing of information? How is social media managed or responded to (if at all)?
Conflict & Crisis Management
How an organisation deals with conflict and crisis can be seen through your website and online presence. How are public negative reviews dealt with? Are they ignored and swept under the carpet; flamed down; are threats of internal witch hunts made (we will find and punish the employee who did this); is there visible support from the executive for their staff; or is the issue calmly and thoroughly responded to without blame and judgement?
These are just tiny glimpses of what you can see from a website as to how a business really does things. So take a look at the websites around you with fresh eyes (or have us take a look at your website content for you) and see if you can work out what is really going on behind those closed doors.