Business Success is All About Building a Meaningful Workplace Culture

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Sixth in a series

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”Albert Einstein

A business’ fate is determined in large part by its culture. A business culture is the reality created by how people act, react, and interact with each other based on their attitudes, beliefs, and ambitions.

The most damaging business cultures are those in which aggression, neglect, and punishment leave employees feeling they have no reason to commit their energies and skills, share their ideas, or help the company advance.

Wanted: a culture that unites and connects employees

A culture built principally around rewards for individual or group performance pits individuals and teams against each other, often in ways that create class systems, in-fighting, and divisive loyalties. The winners in such cultures find meaning in their rewards. The rest are left wondering what the point is for them and their employer.

A passive, benign, and inert business culture leaves the business subject to the aggregate confusion that results when each individual employee’s quirks, tendencies, and potentially questionable morality and ethics are accommodated.

The most beneficial business cultures are those that unite employees around an ambition, make them feel emotionally connected, and surround them with people who share their ambition, feelings, and behavior.

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4 factors in transforming your culture

By consistently and intentionally conveying a meaningful ambition and evoking a set of unique and positive emotions, businesses can transform the meaningful outcome of every aspect of the work experience:

  • The physical environment – the aesthetics and functionality of the workplace;
  • The policies and procedures – the actual rules of the company as well as the way in which employees experience them;
  • The attitudes and behavior of fellow employees – the feelings evoked when dealing with superiors, peers, and reports;
  • The moment of contact – the nature of company/employee and employee/outside world interactions.

A Meaningful Workplace culture is based on the way employees experience these factors – what meaning is conveyed and how they are left feeling.

Did you miss the first five parts of this series? Read Being Meaningful: It’s the Key to Better Engaging Your EmployeesGetting Employees to Respond PositivelyWhy Workplaces Aren’t Meaningful Now, The Meaningful Workplace: It Takes New Ways of Thinking, and Acting, and Using Values to Build Engagement and a Meaningful Workplace.

This series is excerpted from a white paper titled The Meaningful Workplace that was first published at Emotive Brand.

Jerry Holtaway is Director of Meaningful Insights at Emotive Brand. Prior to Emotive Brand, and for the past 30 years, he has served as a creative and brand strategist for a number of world-class brands including American Express, IBM, Lego, Ballard Spahr, Hanson Bridgett, Symantec, Zynga, VMware, and Nokia. Contact him at


3 Comments on “Business Success is All About Building a Meaningful Workplace Culture

  1. Jerry – I think you have the tail wagging the horse.  Cultures built around corporate ambitions are not sustainable, since many of the factors surrounding those ambitions can change.  Sustainable cultures are built around principles, which transcend the organization and survive regardless of change.  Under close inspection this business of ambitions or emotions as the focal point of culture development is a mirage, and cannot stand the test of time.

    1. We don’t equate “ambition” with business strategy. We define ambition as the company’s reason for being, its reason why and its purpose beyond profit. These are far higher level ideas and ideals than you suggest and not subject to change. Once a company identifies such a purpose (most have not!), we suggest a very strong, meaningful and enduring culture can be built around it. It is not a mirage, and we believe our approach makes more sense in today’s world than struggling to make a business strategy and a corporate culture dance side-by-side to different music.

      1. We may be in violent agreement; the nomenclature is troubling but the desired end result appears the same.  Where I still think you’re in error is trying to finesse the business strategy in culture development.  My experience has been that in those cultures we are advocating, strategy is developed in the context of the Vision/Mission/Values.  I don’t believe you can, not should, separate culture and strategy.  

        One thing we definitely agree on is that most companies have not identified their  ‘higher’ purpose, and are stuck in what will become an antiquated business model.  

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