Culture Trumps Strategy

Every organization, from a small business to a large corporation, has a culture. The culture determines the spoken – and unspoken – expectations and rules of engagement for how employees will interact, relate, lead, communicate and solve problems together. When you visit a company, you can “feel” culture because it’s evident in people’s behavior, energy, and the physical environment itself. It guides daily decision-making about all business matters for good or bad, most especially when no one is looking.

Traditionally, leaders have ascended the ranks of their organizations based on their ability to achieve operational excellence, create growth, and deliver stockholder returns – not necessarily for their ability to positively contribute to the culture.

Recent news headlines about companies like Uber, United Airlines and Wells Fargo serve to underscore the importance of corporate culture and remind leaders that no level of growth and profitability can mask the damage caused by behaviors that are produced by a toxic culture. It is impossible to realize an organization’s full potential in the midst of dysfunction and actions that create unnecessary distractions, damage relationships, and erode trust.

Culture is slow to form, pervasive and slow to change. When it’s consciously designed and consistently cultivated it sticks and it’s the anabolic energy that makes it possible for an organization to generate extraordinary results. A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior (January 15, 2015) found that a positive corporate culture improves corporate profits and companies that succeed without a positive culture are more likely to see their future performance decline. The researchers also found that a company’s success is not enough to guarantee a positive culture, quite the opposite—. “We found that culture causes performance, not vice versa,” says Michael Gillespie, one of the researchers and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee. Fundamentally, a great strategy will never realize its full potential when executed in a dysfunctional environment. However, a great strategy fueled by a healthy organizational culture is a formula for sustainable success.

Culture-driven companies put people over profits. They hire great people (because their culture attracts great people), give them clear objectives, empower them, and give them the freedom to flourish. A healthy culture values differences in style, provides safety to innovate – and occasionally fail, encourages work-life balance, demonstrates respect and appreciation, offers forums to resolve conflict, and provides benefits and perks that are aligned with core values. Organizations that create this type of environment have higher levels of employee engagement and retention, and profits follow. As the saying goes, “Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers.”

Taking steps to ensure that a high-performance culture is present in your organization is crucial to staying competitive in today’s business climate. Everything – and I mean everything – works better and easier with a positive culture including your ability to recruit and retain top talent, plan strategically, execute, solve problems, grow market share and delight customers.

6 Steps to Cultivating a Positive Corporate Culture

  1. Start the conversation in the board room – or the highest level of the organization – and identify ways to systematically and regularly embed the conversation at all levels of the organization. Create an ongoing dialogue. A static plaque on the wall isn’t enough.
  2. Evaluate the current culture. Using an assessment tool, determine how the culture is viewed today and what behaviors and cultural attributes your team would like to see more or less of in the future.
  3. Start a movement, not a mandate. In addition to making cultural values visible in your workplace and part of an ongoing dialogue, demonstrate the ideas in action and use core values to guide daily decisions, priorities, and ways of interacting.
  4. Develop an improvement plan and use multiple approaches like training and coaching, as well as formal performance evaluations and informal recognitions to consistently execute and reinforce the plan.
  5. As cultural changes start to happen, leverage momentum by recognizing and celebrating small wins. Spotlight examples of behaviors that demonstrate the desired culture.
  6. Be courageous and boldly live out the values you want your company to represent. If leaders continue to tolerate behaviors that are not in alignment with the culture your organization is aspiring to, you will impede progress and worse yet be viewed as a leader with low integrity.

The most successful and impactful leaders cultivate and reinforce a conscious culture daily, not just when there’s an issue.  An intentionally designed culture yields better bottom line results while improving employee satisfaction and customer loyalty. It is the culture of the organization that creates the legacy of its leadership.

Grow with purpose…

Emily Rogers is an executive coach, business consultant and retreat facilitator. She strategically advises and supports organizations and individuals in growing and realizing their full potential in purposeful and balanced ways. You can connect with her at

By |2019-02-11T11:22:42-05:00November 16th, 2017|