Organizational culture and corporate culture are usually used interchangeably. Both refer to the collective values, outlooks and approaches within an organization. Obviously, the term corporate culture focuses on for-profit corporations, while organizational culture extends to all forms of organizations including small business, privately held companies and nonprofit organizations. However, the meaning is essentially the same. You may notice some variation in how cultures manifest in different settings.

Corporate Culture

Corporate cultures tend to emphasize ways of operating and functioning that lead to optimum profit. Different businesses and industries embody different cultural bents to meet strategies that work for them. For example, companies in industries like information technology and creative marketing often have cultures that emphasize employee freedom and creativity. This is because these industries compete for top talent and rely on employees' creativity and motivation to excel. Meanwhile, the banking industry tends toward more serious and structured cultures in part because financial institutions must keep strict controls and follow detailed protocols to comply with regulations, work in their customers' interests and safeguard financial assets.


Organizational cultures aren't always as profit motivated as the typical corporate culture. In privately held businesses, including small and medium-sized ones, cultures can center around the personality and values of owners and founders. Family-owned businesses, for example, may prefer to do business in a manner consistent with their traditions and conscience while knowingly forgoing potential profits. The cultures they build typically reflect this. Likewise, some company cultures include showing reverence and deference to a founder or owner which can prevent leaders and employees from speaking up about ideas that might create greater efficiency or profit.

Nonprofit Organizations

Although nonprofit organizations are technically corporations, their goals, motivations and interests usually differ from their for-profit counterparts. Nonprofit corporate cultures may emphasize personal and social values more than efficiency and profitability. Nonprofits often have people who work for less money and put in more hours than they might in a for-profit. A culture of personal dedication and passion based on beliefs may drive a nonprofit. Some nonprofit cultures are more relaxed than for-profit corporations because they are not bottom-line driven. Nonprofit employees may face less pressure and enjoy the fact that their work serves a social or charitable purpose.

Government Agencies

Government agencies are also organizations with cultures. Just like corporations, government agency cultures vary widely from highly bureaucratic, as you might associate with a department of motor vehicles, to very impassioned and forceful as many law enforcement agencies are. Because many government agencies are bureaucracies designed in part to promote stability and consistency of public programs and resources, their values of efficiency and urgency may be less than those of private corporations.