Does Culture Eat Strategy for Breakfast?

Written by Martin Lucas

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

A famous phrase by the business guru Peter Drucker.

He was demonstrating that creating a culture that is meticulously planned and is about treating all employees well wins over a strategy based on financial incentives. Much like Nature vs Nurture, this is an age old debate and rolls as a dual problem statement:

Do we communicate with our employees and make them believe they are part of the change we bring to the world?

OR

Do we focus on financial rewards and accept that people will bring change because of money and the need to keep their jobs?

Of course culture and strategy can be very different things to different people and that is my purpose today, to explore the missing link that is rarely considered in this debate: Customers!

Here are some tips as we explore the power of Customer awareness:

  1. Happy begets happy

I wrote a book about individual happiness and the same practical reasoning is true inside a company; we think in packs, we believe in tribes, we act and follow what others present. There is a reason why people strongly dislike feeling like they’re just a number and it’s not because it makes them too happy. Happiness is contagious; if we believe in what we are doing it shines through in how we communicate, how we act and in everything we do.

The power sits in our subconscious mind as belief is about the individual; it may come from the company but it is step one of self-belief. When you have self -belief you feel a sense of purpose and you believe you matter in your job, you stop feeling like a number. Happiness wins!

  1. Culture is what you want it to be

I’ve already mentioned that ever-so-dangerous word ‘happy’! If you’re still with me then well done, you are accepting that culture goes beyond a fridge of drinks and a shelf of snacks (Facebook call it ‘the Facebook 10 pounds!’ - food is not a healthy solution to culture). Culture is about creating a circular method to communication; it all comes down to one question:

Would we gain from allowing all our employees to feel free to share their ideas to improve our company?

If your answer is yes then jump down the rabbit hole of communication. Humans are followers by nature; if your colleague shares, you will share, your team will share, your group will share. Sharing ideas is incredible! We get sucked into a world of assumption that the best ideas come from job titles, not people. IQ only has a 20 point variable for the majority of the population, one is not smarter simply because of their title.

Embracing a circular culture of freedom of thought and ideas will not reduce productivity, it actually runs the other way. The more we humans feel we matter, that our voice is worth sharing, then the more we give.

  1. You already know how to make this work

We are now building a head of steam around communication. The good news is you already know how to make your culture all you want it to be; you already use a number of strategies in your marketplace that work internally really well:

Press releases

Social Media

Content Marketing

Financial results

Investor Pitches

NPS

In all of these examples, when done well, the company considers the words they are using, they look for maximum impact, they create personas and consider what the viewer will feel for each of the respective activities.

It begs the question: if we do this for our external communication to maximise the impact then why do we not do the same for internal activity? We should! It’s the same methodology; you want your target audience of employees to buy into your message and understand they matter to you. Replicate the same thought and effort and you will win far more.

  1. People buy trust

If you use single-word company values then straight of out the gate you are losing. They don’t mean anything to customers or employees. Imagine you are a salesperson, technical support, checkout operator, financial controller, what does the word ‘Care’ mean to you in terms of your day-to-day behaviours? Nothing; it’s too subjective and lacking in substance for people to relate it meaningfully to their jobs and thus their behaviours.

A few years ago, based on my studies of behavioural sciences, we invented the 4 Pillars of Communication. It’s similar to values except it is comprised of four short behavioural statements. For example, if we aim to beat the competition by being more responsive, quicker to help customers, we are showing ‘care’ by:

We live to be quicker, better, more responsive and demonstrate this through how we act.

Now, ALL of those jobs I listed have an understanding of the ways we expect them to communicate, behave and treat their colleagues and customers. Having run 4 Pillars across many small, growth and enterprise businesses, it works simply because people work better when they have shared standards and instructions that make them feel included and less like a number.

  1. Everyone respects conviction

Culture is present in sole trader companies, startups, growth companies, medium- through to enterprise corporations. It’s about how we feel and how we treat others. You can win more by showing what you stand for and backing yourself and your employees to deliver it.

Respect is a huge part of our working lives as much as it is in our personal life. By showing conviction and delivering on what you promise you will engage your employees and your target market and win more.

Conclusion

I love Peter Drucker but he was not 100% accurate for today's world; as ever, time brings change and by combining culture and strategy (which is how I approached this), you win far more. The most common thread I see between culture and strategy is emotional intelligence. It’s one of our nine human intelligences; master it and you are mastering how to treat other people, irrespective of their role in relation to you. As Napoleon Hill said so eloquently generations ago, it’s less about the relationship between employee and employer and more about them teaming up and understanding how they serve their target market together.