Culture in Business

Simply put, culture is what we value put in action. That is why we tend to be comfortable with the culture we know. Instinctively, we are drawn to what is similar to us. In fact, culture can be the homogeneous socially supportive superglue that binds people together. For example, remember back in 2006 when the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl? Well, everyone in a stone’s throw of the city wore their team colors of speed blue and white to support them and participate in the culture of being a Colts fan. Good times, right?

Culture can bind people together because you know what to expect when you see a certain thing or go a certain place. Likewise, there can be certain expectations for a workplace – you often either decide or are encouraged to fit within that organizational culture.

But research shows that if you’re in an environment that seeks innovation and more creativity – doing things the same way all the time isn’t the way to go. This will actually stifle improvement because employees may be afraid to share who they are or their ideas because they aren’t in line with everyone else’s.


In my team dynamics class for the undergraduate program at the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, we talk a lot about culture fit versus culture add. In other words, does this new hire “fit” with the culture (similar values, beliefs), or does this person “add” to the culture at this workplace or organization (what could they bring to the table to enhance the organization)? Every so often, I hear back from students, who call or write a year or two after graduation, saying, “Professor Westerhaus-Renfrow! I get it now!! Culture is everywhere -- and especially at work.”

Some company values are positive: Say, a cultural expectation to show up on time. Or the expectation that you’ll finish a certain task at a certain time. That’s important and adds to the overall mission or strategic goals of the company.


At the same time, diversity in the workplace can bring different expectations, beliefs, and values to the table. Individuals may be different in gender, race, age, sexual orientation, the list goes on. Their beliefs and values add a different perspective, and that can add innovation and creativity to the culture at work. Employers should consider how they can use those differences to add or enhance an organization’s mission, goals and objectives.


In your hiring process, take note of your own unconscious bias. You may have expectations or thoughts about what a hire *should be – but do a check of yourself. Stay open to cultural diversity in all ways. If that person fits the overall job description – what can they add to the culture?


Likewise, consider what you can add to companies. In my classes, we also go through a lot of exercises with students, learning about personal identity and social identity. We talk about going to a job interview or an internship interview and really paying attention to see – Will this be a good fit? Could you thrive here? Will you feel stuck?

When you’re looking for a job – Know who you are. Know your values, your beliefs, your expectations. Pay close attention to the organizational culture around you. Check to see if that company’s culture fits your needs or aspirations – Or if they’re open to inclusivity. Then make that decision – Is this the right fit for both me and the company? Look at the culture, and make sure it makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to go where culture fits. If an employer isn’t adaptable to various cultures, don’t be afraid to leave.


A diverse employee-base will not only bring lots of different skills, but also a lot of different ideas and ways of doing things. Thinking outside the box is what we strive for in business school. Make sure your company doesn’t get stuck in a rut of “same old, same old.” You’ll find it’s good for business – and that’s good for everyone.


Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow, Indiana University Kelley School of Business at IUPUI Undergraduate Program Faculty Chair and Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Law and Management


About the Kelley School of Business at the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

The Indiana University Kelley School of Business has been a leader in American business education since 1920. With more than 117,000 living alumni and an enrollment exceeding 12,000 students across two campuses and online, the Kelley School is among the premier business schools in the country. The Kelley School at IUPUI is home to a full-time undergraduate program and five graduate programs, including a graduate certificate for healthcare professionals, master’s programs in accounting and taxation, the Business of Medicine Physician MBA and the Evening MBA, which is ranked tenth in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more at kelley.iupui.edu.