(Blog Post) Culture v Strategy: Which eats which for breakfast?

This post was originally published as a guest blog on Your Planning Partner blog. The original post can be seen here

I was very flattered when Nick invited me to share some of my ideas on culture with his community. In particular, the topic being debated was “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” and whether that holds true (interestingly enough, I’ve also heard the version of the adage that states “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast…Every time” as if to leave no doubt in the passion behind the culture advocates). I’ve been lucky enough to study with some of the great thought leaders in the area of business culture, and certain themes have stuck in my mind and resonated with me over the years.

1. Unstable nations are really good at instability

When domestic issues arise in a country – economic, social, political etc - their history of dealing with instability ironically prepares them to handle the crisis better than an established and secure government. In business terms, this translates into the ability to tolerate risk and uncertainty. A company that has high tolerance of uncertainty in their DNA and culture can withstand the instability that is inherent in most fast growing companies, and stand a better chance of succeeding.

2. Autonomy

Working recently with a company that is generally thought of as having one of the smartest workforce, what impressed me the most about them was the degree of autonomy they were afforded, and the speed that it allowed them to work at. It led me to believe that smart people given the right degree of autonomy can accomplish objectives that more ‘managed’ smart people cannot. It’s a counter-intuitive and scary proposition to most entrepreneurs, who have trouble delegating responsibility. But again, with autonomy in a company’s DNA, they’re my bet to reach their goals.

3. Ownership

There’s been much written about employee ownership from a compensation perspective and there’s nothing I could possibly add to that interesting field. However, I have seen employees in cultures that foster a sense of ownership amongst their staff, deliver an ethic and a result that is much greater than the sum of its parts. There’s nothing like a common mission, a unifying goal or a motivating challenge to get your team to implement your strategy.

4. Flexibility

If tolerance for uncertainty is a company’s backbone, then flexibility is the company’s nervous system. It’s a cultural trait that allows a company to onboard tremendous amounts of (often contradictory) intelligence/guidance and makes fast, precise decisions. How does flexibility manifest itself in culture? Not in any one drastic policy such as remote working or radical work hours; more in an authentic, employee focused and empathetic way in which the company deals with the every day decisions. These decisions combine to create a safe environment where people can flourish.

5. Communication

Who has two thumbs and throws a cliché in the #5 hole? This guy!

As cliché as it is, communication is intrinsically linked to culture. Some of the ideas and the expertise needed to accomplish amazing things are already residing in the minds of your employees; I believe that leaderships job is to not only foster an environment that promotes communication but does so in a way that’s inclusive to the various personality types, learning styles and generational variance in your workplace (@jasondorsey points out that for the first time ever, there are 5 generations working together in the same workplace. And they don’t want to be communicated with in the same way!)

Clearly strategy and culture are both important aspects of a fast growth company. In a perfect world, entrepreneurs would consciously focus on building a great culture with the same passion that they exude on strategy. Then they’d step out of the way and watch magic happen.

Tip of the cap to @cameronherold, @johndehart, @pthean, @stevesisler, @markroberge and @jasondorsey for the inspiration. If you want to learn more about culture, these are some of the people to follow.

Need advice? Give him a call at https://clarity.fm/jeffgoldenberg