Why Culture Should Be Your Top Priority

Pam Macdonald

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
- Peter Drucker -

Defining Strategy And Company Culture

If Peter Drucker, one of the greatest business thinkers of our time, would say that culture is more powerful than strategy, then business owners and consultants ought to sit up and take notice. Members of The NCP have certainly done that; their personal experience of leading teams and managing businesses has proven time and time again that the execution and implementation of strategy is the true key to success.If they can define and articulate a strategy and business plan, why is it that many businesses struggle to define and articulate their culture? It’s really not that hard when you consider that culture is the end result of the patterns of behaviour that are encouraged (or not discouraged) over a period of time. What that means is simple: understanding the way people behave within a business is the key to unlocking the drivers of culture. Unfortunately, we find it hard to accurately and effectively observe and assess our own behaviour. That is why good coaches and mentors are highly sought after. They can be a trusted and independent set of eyes; they can give us feedback on our behaviours and their consequences.Any business owner or leader wanting to transform their team’s business performance in 2016 and beyond needs to have both a clear strategy and a culture that is consistent with achieving those objectives.

How To Make Culture Your Top Priority

Here are your three key action points:

  1. Define the desired behaviours and ways of working that you desire in your business. Consider what would be noticed around the company, if the strategy was successfully implemented, and if the company was running in the way that you want/hope that it will run.
  2. Clarify the strategy and vision. And make sure that every person within the business knows that what and the why of the strategy. When people understand the purpose and the rationale, they find it easier to make decisions; they are able to take relevant action without needing constant supervision and guidance.
  3. Get the right people into the right roles within your business. This ensures that the required capabilities and styles are on hand to effectively execute and implement the strategy.

Getting The Sequence Right

On first read, these three elements may seem to be listed in the wrong order. However, if the culture and hallmark behaviours are not easy to define, then perhaps the strategy is not as clear as you thought it was! One of the benefits brought by the fresh independent set of eyes of a trusted advisor or consultant to your business, is the awareness of that gap.Once you have clarity on what success looks like, then it is time to revisit the strategy; it is time to ensure that the strategy is clear and linked. And then it is time to engage the people who will be able to behave in ways that support and enhance the delivery of the strategy.It seems on reflection that Drucker was saying that both strategy and culture need to exist in clarity for a business to be successful; and that if a choice needed to be made about where a greater emphasis should be placed, then culture is the tipping point.

Defining And Communicating The Ideal Behaviours

Another oft used phrase is that the behaviour you walk past (or ignore) becomes the standard you need to live by. In other words, what you accept is what you will get more and more. If you indicate a tolerance for a laissez-faire or relaxed approach to poor customer-service behaviours, then the culture will not place a high emphasis on customer service. As a consultant I can recall a client asking for support to improve the performance of a front-line customer service person who was just handing forms across the counter for customers to fill in. Good consultants will ask questions to clarify the desired outcome. In this instance the client needed some coaching before he was able to clearly state what behaviour he would prefer. Once he defined the desired behaviour, it became easy to inform and train the staff member who previously had lacked guidance and clarity on what good customer service involved.The trouble with assuming that staff know what you mean, is that this is based on staff having the same experiences, beliefs and values as you do. That is unlikely given that every human is unique. This can be especially unfair to expect a recent graduate to bring the same number and amount of business experience that we possess after a couple of decades of business experience.Yes culture eats strategy for breakfast. Yet together they create a balanced diet that will lead to greater business success and improved performance.

Pam Macdonald

Read more perspectives on how to Strengthen our businesses. We add new posts to our website every week on business topics as diverse as our contributors' interests are.

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