Companies are complex systems. We create abstractions to simplify working within them. For example,

“Strategy” is an abstraction for the collective of short and long term decisions to win in a market. “Operations” is an abstraction for the sum of working norms in place towards some enterprise output.

And then there’s “Culture”, probably the most misunderstood.

Culture is an abstraction for the sum of all interactions between people in an organization. Often articulated as a set of “Values”, this encompasses everything from everyday decision making to creating a sense of belonging and psychological safety. The broadest definition of culture is all-encompassing, and that’s perhaps why it’s interpreted in so many ways across companies.

Yesterday I read a really good blog post by Casey Winters, CPO at Eventbrite, who wrote about cultural values. In it, he describes how cultural values are better described on a spectrum rather than on their own. For example, on the spectrum of speed vs. quality, Facebook encourages it’s employees to bias towards speed.

So much of culture is reflected in decision making, which in itself is an exercise in evaluating trade-offs. Cultural values should be clear about those trade-offs.