No. 1 Word

On the way into work this morning, I heard a radio story about Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. That word? Culture.

The word is chosen based on total volume and percentage increase of searches online. They mentioned multiple uses—from the classroom, to pop culture to company culture—all contributing to the uptick in seeking out this word.

Culture is something I think about every day in my job, whether it’s how to foster healthy culture at SmallBox as we grow, or how to consult with our clients as they look to improve their own. From where I sit, I hear questions about culture all of the time. What is culture? What do we really mean? I’ve noticed some companies try to reduce culture to a picnic or other perks, hoping these things alone will create long-term cultural change. It’s so much more than that.

Merriam-Webster defines it this way:


noun \’kəl-chər\

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

This is the meaty part: “thinking, behaving.” Culture for companies is all about how we view the world, and the way our beliefs are brought to life. It’s how a group of people behave when they come together to form a greater sum.

I’ve come to think of core values as one of the best tools a business has for culture building. I don’t mean the kind that an executive went into a black box to write, then post on a fancy plaque. I mean values that were inherent in the business, the kind that people are reviewed on and given praise when they model them. Values can serve as an incredible lens for decision making, becoming a sort of moral compass for the organization. Will this help us be more collaborative? More ______? (Fill in the blank with your own company values).

I love that culture emerged as the word of the year. If it just gets a handful of executives at major companies to think about the work environment they’re creating, then that’s a big win. Year-round I conduct informational interviews with employee prospects, students, recent grads. My own experience is very in line with the increase detected my Merriam-Webster. People are clamoring for workplaces where they can be themselves, find meaning. The chorus has reached a fever pitch: “I just want to be in a place with a good culture.”

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Lucky Numbers. Time to get mathematical – and yes, you may use a calculator. Was there a significant number in your year? A birthday? A first? A personal record? A date now carved in the annals of time? A number that represents a streak, whether winning or losing, good or bad? A bellwether or a lagging indicator or just…three.”