This Is The Corporate Culture That High Performers Like Best (And It’s…


When executives think about creating a great corporate culture, they often envision creating a highly social corporate culture. They imagine a workplace with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and where the lines are blurred between professional and personal relationships. And many of the efforts behind these corporate culture visions want every employee to have a great friend at work, to ensure that everyone has someone who cares about them, and that everyone is happy in the environment there.

But here’s the shocker: that type of culture is not the one with the highest levels of employee engagement. And it’s not the corporate culture that your high performers like the best.

Before I tell you which culture your star employees prefer, you need to know the four primary types of corporate cultures. You can take the online test “What’s Your Organizational Culture?” to assess your organization.

Social Culture: Social organizations tend to have an inward focus and are highly collaborative. The work atmosphere is often relaxed and casual, and the line may be blurred between professional relationships and friendships. Workers are often given a lot of flexibility and freedom to do things their own way and to make their own choices. Employees in these environments can often say that they have a great friend at work and that there are people there who care about them personally. The bonds of trust are strong, as is the sense of team that encourages collaboration and flexibility.  

Hierarchical Culture: Hierarchical cultures are built on tradition and are supported by formal structure and a typically unwavering adherence to titular command. Employees are assigned well-defined roles that exist within clearly delineated departments. An outsider looking in could easily deduce who is in what role and at which level in the hierarchy. Employees value and compete with each other and with other departments for power. And as would be expected, leaders within Hierarchal cultures gravitate towards power, order and structure as they closely organize and monitor those below them.  

Dependable Culture: Dependable cultures are process-focused and work tends to be predictable on a day-to-day basis. This is a culture where following protocol to the letter is greatly respected and expected and change tends to be approached slowly and strategically. Dependable cultures have an environment that is highly collaborative; with employees welcoming each other’s input, feedback and ideas. There’s little explicit competition and lots of effort to avoid stepping on toes. 

Enterprising Culture: Enterprising cultures are a meritocracy where achievement and talent drive success and where internal contests of creativity and intelligence are very much in evidence. The best ideas win in an Enterprising culture, regardless of employee status or tenure. One of the features is the constant state of change in which employees not only work, but thrive. Leaders in an Enterprising culture tend to be driven by a sense of adventure and they value employee creativity. Leaders often excel at keeping the competition high to incent employee productivity and the creation of new ideas. 

So, which corporate culture do your high performers prefer? Based on research with the 20,000-plus who’ve taken the corporate culture test, we know that it’s not the Social culture; rather, it’s the Enterprising culture. In fact, employees at Enterprising cultures are about 10% more engaged than employees working in Social cultures.

I haven’t yet mentioned the Dependable and Hierarchical cultures, and there’s a reason for that. Overall, these two corporate cultures have significantly lower employee engagement. In fact, employee engagement in Hierarchical cultures is about 30% lower than in Enterprising cultures.

It seems counterintuitive that the more competitive and meritocratic cultures would have higher employee engagement than the ‘warm and fuzzy’ Social cultures. But when you think about the characteristics of your highest performers, it makes perfect sense.

Your best employees want to shine; regardless of their position in the corporate hierarchy, or their friend group, they want to have their insights recognized. And if there’s anything that high performers tend to hate, it’s to have mediocre ideas selected over the best ideas simply because the person with the mediocre idea is better politically connected. Or because it’s ‘someone’s turn’ to have their idea chosen, even if they consistently produce lousy ideas.

Why don’t more companies adopt Enterprising cultures? As you might imagine, it can be threatening to some leaders when certain employees keep pushing the envelope and pointing out better ways of working. 

There are processes and rituals in most companies that are, frankly, dumb when viewed in terms of effectiveness. These processes and rituals exist because some senior executive liked it, or it’s been done that way forever, or whatever. And in the minds of most high performers, those processes and rituals need culling. 

In an Enterprising culture, those anachronisms are as-good-as-gone. But in Social cultures, those processes endure for fear of causing hurt feelings. In Dependable cultures, those processes remain because they’re predictable. And in Hierarchical cultures, removing them risks affronting someone in power.

The question facing every organization is the extent to which they truly care about creating a corporate culture that caters to high performers. Saying that we believe “the best ideas win” sounds good, and it makes for a nice poster. But every executive needs to ask themselves, with brutal candor, when one of our high performers points out our inefficiencies, do we act? Or do we demur? Your answer will determine whether your culture really appeals to high performers.



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