Why Culture Trumps Strategy

To fully understand why a business’s culture is more important than its strategy, we need to fully understand what the two are.

By: James Blair on

A strategy is (or, at least, should be) a plan, a series of inter-connected manoeuvres, with a goal and an outlined method of getting there. A well-defined strategy delivers a map for an organisation to follow - a route from its current place to aspired position. Ideally, it will be a clearly defined route, with carefully selected and clearly labelled stops en route. It may even consider likely or potential barriers to the journey and have some emergency detours mapped-out, just in case.

But no business is going to get very far on this journey without the right culture. The culture is the engine of the business, the energy from its people, if you like. It is the collective qualities and beliefs of the workforce, the shared behaviours, values and desire to proceed and succeed.

It has been said that a business’s culture is defined and propped-up by the following pillars:

Ideology – This is the “big picture” bit, the headline, what the business stands for and its identity.

Purpose – A business’s purpose is closely related to its ideology but is more specific in terms of what it is setting out to achieve. Like its ideology, this should be something that inspires its people to want to be there. We know that most businesses exist to make money, but making an employer a profit is not an inspiring purpose to most workers. Even if their remuneration reflects profit, this is unlikely to motivate anyone as effectively as a shared purpose and belief in an ideology.

Vision – This is the mental image of what the business wants to be. It needs to give clear focus and, therefore, leaders should be crystal clear about it. Frequent and inspiring communication about the vision, and about how everyone is contributing towards it, is of paramount importance.

Values – These align to the ideology and are essential to the culture of the business. As with the vision, these should be crystal clear to all at all times. Implied, unclear or unspoken values are open to interpretation or considered as optional or unimportant. This is a fatal error when it is your values that define some of the key behaviours.

Behaviours – Defining these delivers personal accountability to a workforce. They are an expectation for people’s output. Some may be obvious and “generic”, such as honesty, integrity, customer focus etc., but more innovative companies may include behaviours that refer to things like collaboration, productivity, motivation, creativity, mutual support etc.

What do all of these things have in common and what connects them?

The answer is simple: it’s effective communication. And in this context, effective means considered, continuous, meaningful and engaging. Employee recognition and appreciation play an important role in this communication package, and should be part of a company’s vision, values and behaviours. Motivation through feedback and appreciation is fuel for that engine that drives the business and energises that all-important shared desire to proceed and succeed.

Sadly, I’m sure many readers can relate to my own personal experiences with well-intentioned employers who had purposeful strategies and sound purpose, vision and values in place, only to drop the ball by not dedicating the time required to deploy consistent and meaningful comms or give employees the recognition and appreciation they deserve and require.