Culture vs. Strategy

Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” The right strategy plays an important role in any company’s success. But, the right culture makes implementing that strategy easier and more sustainable.

Culture is nourished by hiring people who have the necessary education and skills, but who also who embody the organization’s core values and fit with the culture. Companies like Nordstrom, Zappos and Southwest Airlines are celebrated for the way their culture is integrated into their business model. Each company’s core values and culture inform hiring and firing decisions, drive employee empowerment, engagement and satisfaction, as well as company-wide innovation and growth.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh believes that if you get culture right, everything else will fall into place. He also warns against copying the Zappos culture. He says its about establishing your company’s own unique core values and living by their dictates every day.


Organizational Culture Standouts

When exploring core values of organizations known for their strong cultures, here are some standouts.

Living the Southwest Airlines way means having a Warrior Spirit, Servant’s Heart, and a Fun-LUVing Attitude. That cultural distinction led to employees volunteering for pay cuts during the recent recession.

Excellent customer service is the hallmark for Nordstrom, Zappos and Whole Foods. They empower employees to do what ever they must to make customers happy. Zappos call center reps have been known to spend hours on the phone with a single customer. Permission to do-what-it-takes leads to happy employees and a high percentage of repeat business.

Integrity is another core value that informs the cultures of Coca Cola, the Heart Association and World Wildlife Fund. Integrity bolsters trust — which matters to consumers and donors, and it creates an attractive work environment – particularly for millennials.


Establishing Culture in Existing Companies

Leaders in some of the world’s most talked about companies say paying close attention to culture is the key to their success. Certainly, culture is more easily established when a company is being birthed. In the beginning, the founders’ values and practices set the tone. For established organizations, the door to culture change can open under a number of circumstances.

Most obviously, when there is a change at the top. Newly installed leaders can establish core values and look for opportunities to positively reinforce them. With each new priority, project or program, using the core values to develop new ways to engage and empower existing staff can steer an organization’s existing culture in a new direction.

Culture, not strategy, moves people and departments. With a great strategy that’s aligned with cultural values and practices, you’re poised for success.