Contemplating corporate cultureIn a recent attempt to repeal and replace The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), President Trump drew a lot of notice when he said “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Yes, health care is complicated. But as is often the case, when we decide to do a deep drill on a subject that we know only from the surface, it does become a bit complicated. To find a solution, those in charge must roll up their sleeves, get to work, and figure out a way to get it done.

One of the issues closer to home for small business owners is the contemplation of “corporate culture.” Ask a small business owner what they think about their company’s culture and the answer may be a brief “it’s good.”

Or is it? Like health care, they might find that they didn’t know it could be so complicated.

In March, along with Genesis Presidents Diane Stevenson and Patty Hilger, I attended a CEO forum in Palo Alto, California, sponsored by the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO). We were fortunate to hear three Stanford professors: Baba Shiv, Professor of Marketing, Jesper B. Sorensen, Professor of Organizational Behavior, and Sarah A. Soule, the Morgridge Professor of Organization Behavior and Senior Associate Dean of Economic Affairs.

The series opened with Professor Sorensen focusing on how to improve strategic thinking and decision-making. Professor Shiv gave a fascinating presentation on the emotional brain and its powerful role in shaping decisions and experiences. These lectures set up nicely for the final lecture by Professor Soule, which spoke to organizational design as a way to bring in design thinking. More specifically she addressed the importance of organizational culture—how to get an accurate assessment of a company’s current cultural profile and what people within the organization believe the “needed,” or future, culture should be.

Highlighting Organizational Culture

Following the lecture, she shared the academic research of Charles O’Reilly, Jennifer Chatman, and David Caldwell in a report entitled People and Organizational Culture: A Profile Comparison Approach To Assessing Person-Organization Fit. The report identified a set of 54 organizational culture profile items; from this report, Soule described eight dimensions of organizational culture that help define your current and “needed” cultures.

For many, certainly myself included, this seemed a bit overwhelming. The good news is that some tools exist for business owners to take a measure of culture while engaging the workforce for feedback. The tool Professor Soule recommended can be found on, and the short video on the website gives a good overview of how it works.

I found it fascinating, but I am not sure how well it would work for smaller organizations. However, for those who might be willing to make an investment in corporate culture identification and development, it is worth a look.

My reaction after the lecture was nobody knew organizational culture could be so complicated! But after reading the material and reviewing the tools provided on, perhaps it doesn’t have to be.