Does Culture Still Eat Strategy For Breakfast? If So, What’s the Recipe for Success?

May 21

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” was a quote articulated by Peter Drucker that later percolated into mainstream media thanks to Ford CEO Mark Fields. It implies that the determinants of a company’s long-term success revolve more around the culture they cultivate than the strategy they formulate. Whether that quote is true or not is a discussion for another day. However, the interpretation of that quote in some modern workplaces is somewhat misconstrued, potentially bordering on hollow. When outlining a company’s culture, the definition doesn’t – and shouldn’t – stop at colourful offices with foosball tables and a fully stocked snack bar. Culture is built from the ground up, and exemplified from the top down.

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To explain what culture truly is though, it is important to define it, regardless of the fact that it can mean different things to different people. At a base level though, it is the elements that make up the “personality” of a company. In the same way that we attribute certain traits to a person based on their personality, we can do the same with companies and their work environments. Companies that have remained successful over long periods of time and through various economic cycles have some recurring themes within these work environments:


#1 Good Employers Inspire Loyalty and Confidence

Employees that view work as a cycle of waking up, going into the office, coming back, rinse and repeat are far less likely to have a profound sense of loyalty to their employer. Loyalty can be stimulated in various ways though. A company that truly looks out for its employees’ well-being when in times of strife can be one way. Similarly, an organisation that provides a relentless sense of purpose can drive employees to take greater ownership of work, and want to contribute to the company’s betterment.


#2 Growth Opportunities

Compensation is undoubtedly important. However, it is the perfect example of a situation of diminishing marginal returns, where each incremental euro does not keep the employee happier in equal proportions. When employees feel stuck within their job wherein they are not challenged enough on a professional basis, they are likely to quit even if they are compensated well. To rectify this, clear advancement opportunities should be made visible, which then instils confidence in the employee. As Sir Richard Branson of Virgin put it, “Train them well enough, so they can leave. Treat them well enough, so they don’t want to”.


#3 No Internal Politics

Organisations characterised by unsupportive management, “pointed fingers”, non-meritorious promotions, and/or backbiting often see mass turnover, most profusely at the lower levels. In environments where employees do not feel secure in voicing their opinions, businesses become stagnant at best and wiped out at worst. In a similar vein, if employees feel that blame will be placed on them in disproportionate amounts, they are likely to “play it safe”, which once again stagnates growth. To build great cultures, employees must be allowed to express themselves and debate forward-thinking ideas without fear of admonishment or failure.


#4 Employees Watch out for Each Other

When employees are actively watching out for and helping each other, it creates a culture of collaboration and cohesion where the lines between family/friends and colleagues dissipate. This even has a further impact beyond the obvious benefits of teamwork on productivity. Engaged employees are more likely to spread positive word of mouth, which then attracts a pool of quality talent. After all, the greatest brand ambassadors for a company are its own employees.

With workforces becoming more mobile, modern employees are increasingly becoming more discerning when it comes to selecting their employer. It is therefore time for companies to look beyond just the tangible work environment, and propagate cultures based on organic qualities. So, pack up your table tennis table and tone down your colourful office spaces. Nurturing people from the inside out is the true recipe for company cultural success.

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