Culture cannot be created?

by Jun 8, 2016

In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the cover bore a provocative statement: “Culture cannot be created.” The author of this article contends that by placing your focus squarely on the business itself, the culture will organically follow. For many of us who have been passionate advocates for nurturing a positive and vibrant organizational culture, this assertion is not only surprising but also somewhat frustrating.

In this blog, we will delve into why HBR’s claim seems to fall short and discuss the importance of actively cultivating an inclusive and thriving company culture.

The Historical Perspective

First and foremost, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the Harvard Business Review has previously published numerous articles extolling the significance of culture within organizations. These articles have emphasized how culture affects everything from employee morale and productivity to overall business performance. Just last year, HBR published an article emphasizing that culture should be grassroots and peer-driven, with employees taking ownership of it for it to flourish.

This contradiction raises eyebrows. If culture cannot be created, as the recent article suggests, why have they previously championed the very practices they now seem to dismiss?


Culture Initiatives

So let’s ignore the most recent article, and ask ourselves what kind of culture initiative we can implement that feels grassroots and employee driven.

One hip idea that’s taking center stage is to create a video. All of your employees have smartphones, and most of them are no doubt comfortable taking a picture of themselves and creating videos. So ask your employees to choose one of your company’s core values, and create a 30-second video about how they are living it on a daily basis.

Collect the videos, edit them together in YouTube, and voilà, you’ve got a culture video to share with the world. Put it on YouTube and share it with potential new employees, clients, and more.

If you need inspiration, check out this example from Hard Rock Hotel, San Diego.

If you don’t want to do a video, try doing a PowerPoint version like this one on HubSpot’s website.

And if you’re thinking, “people don’t even know what the values are,” or worse, “people definitely aren’t living the values so we could never pull this off,” then… um… we should talk.



While the Harvard Business Review’s recent claim that culture cannot be created may have stirred debate, it’s essential to recognize that this assertion oversimplifies the intricate process of nurturing a vibrant workplace culture. Culture is not a byproduct of a well-run business; rather, it is a vital component that requires active cultivation, leadership commitment, and a focus on the well-being of employees.

To build a positive and inclusive culture, companies must invest in strategies that prioritize values, ethics, and the happiness of their workforce. Only through such deliberate efforts can organizations hope to create a culture that fosters productivity, innovation, and long-term success.

In the end, culture isn’t something that can be manufactured solely by focusing on business objectives. It is a dynamic force that necessitates intentionality, genuine care for employees, and an unwavering commitment to the principles that define an organization’s identity. Companies that prioritize these aspects are the ones most likely to thrive, not only in terms of financial success but also in creating an environment where employees can flourish and contribute their best efforts toward shared goals.

Are you ready to unlock the full potential of your organization by igniting a culture change from within? Our Experiential Culture Change Training is the catalyst you’ve been searching for.

Do you know how much money chronically bad behavior costs your company? Spoiler alert – it’s a LOT higher than you want it to be. Download our data and worksheet to see how it’s costing your organization and what you can do to fix it.


About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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