What Is Your Corporate Culture?

Holiday traditions are among many things that help define culture. The tradition of serving grape salad for Thanksgiving in Minnesota is a big one, according to The New York Times  … though I’m not certain what this says about Minnesota culture. Lefse, maybe; but grapes?

Corporations have their own traditions, of course, and their own culture. Corporate culture is defined as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterize an institution or organization. These can be manifested in myriad ways, sometimes unintentionally, as the CEO and SVP of Uber have discovered.

Whatever the culture, countless studies – including many done by faculty researches at UST – have shown that a positive corporate culture well understood by management and staff can have a dramatic impact on corporate earnings and long-term success. Around this time of year, a retailer’s culture can be expressed by which side of the proverbial line in the sand they are on when it comes to Black Friday. For some, joining the frenzy of Black Friday and asking employees to work is the surest way of supporting employee success. For others, closing on Black Friday and giving employees time off is the surest way. Both are expressions of organizational culture and as long as the practice unites the company in a shared, collaborative endeavor from the CEO on down, both can create a positive atmosphere and long-term rewards.

At St. Thomas, the clearest evidence of our culture is our mission statement: to educate students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good. It unites faculty, staff and leadership in a collaborative effort and creates an environment in which our brand can thrive.

A less visible but equally vital manifestation of UST culture is a tradition established by former President Father Dennis Dease more than six years ago, and continued by current President Julie Sullivan. Between Dec. 24 and Jan. 4, the University of St. Thomas is closed. Not a little bit closed, but closed. What does this mean? It means 12 straight days of real vacation for most employees. Twelve straight days without those late night or early morning email checks; 12 straight days without having to say “just let me finish this one small thing…” before you head out for an afternoon of sledding; 12 straight days without feeling guilty that you might be letting a colleague down by not staying on top of your project; 12 straight days of vacation … paid.

This tradition does far more to underscore the university’s commitment to a happy and healthy workforce than almost any other benefit they could offer. As one employee wrote, “This gift allows me to enjoy the holiday season with my family in ways that I was never able to before – we’ve made so many extra memories during the additional days that I receive from UST. It is really the best gift I get every year!” Apart from the grape salad, of course.

Happy Thanksgiving!