I was asked recently, "HR people struggle with the concept of Culture at a company. How do you define it? As co-author of the book Dealing With People You Can't Stand, How To Bring Out The Best In People At Their Worst, (Brinkman & Kirschner, McGraw-Hill, 1994, 2003, 2011). I tend to view culture in an organization as the behaviors both good and bad that are considered acceptable and verboten.

For example, when I did programs for Chevron, they told me they have a term called the “Chevron Yes”. What that means is you are pleasant and agreeable on the surface but that doesn't mean you agree or follow through.

When I would do seminars as part of IBM's leadership series and talk about the Grenade tantrum, consistently half the IBM’ers in the room would say “I can imagine somebody doing the tantrum at work.” While the other half of the room would say, “Oh yes they do!” The difference was the half but couldn't imagine it were IBM’ers who were always at IBM. The half that said “Yes they do”, were IBM’ers who get sent to someone else's facility. As they discussed their corporate culture they realized grenade tantrum was not tolerated. However, they admitted that Tank (attack) and Know-it-all run free as protected species.

I once did a seminar for aerospace firm that was designing planes. They had a lot of engineers on the job who when at work must be in a mode of Get it Right / Perfection. The only problem with that is when in a perfectionist mode you can study things from now till the cows come home and never get it done. What the organization learned to do is you hire a very controlling manager to ride herd on those engineers and make sure the project also gets done. However, in their case it went too far because management by Tank attack was considered an acceptable leadership strategy and even promoted.

I did a program for a software company in the Seattle area (not the evil Empire). They realized they had hiring practices that effectively weeded out people who needed control or attention at work and pulled in people like to get along and get it right at work. This was a big “Aha” for them about their culture. On the upside “No wonder we're one big happy family and we’re very meticulous about our work.” (Get Along and Get it Right). But on the downside they realized, “No wonder it’s a major miracle to get a decision made in the company.” That’s because everyone was either waiting for consensus (Get along) or studying it in further detail (Get it right).

So I would does not I would define the culture of an organization as the behaviors both good and bad that are accepted and unaccepted.