If you’ve ever studied management, chances are you’ve heard the quote often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Since Drucker died in 2005, hundreds, if not thousands of executives and leaders, have put their stake in the ground on one side (or the other) of this statement. However, I think it’s time we turned the table over on the “either-or” thinking and instead figure out how culture and strategy can work together.
After all, it’s all about creating business success, isn’t it? That definition is elusive because its reality depends on the perception of the person you ask. Talk to the CEO and he or she might point to growth or profit. Query a sales manager and she’ll zero in on how many of her deals closed this quarter. Chat with a call center associate and he may measure it by how many customer issues were resolved.
These different perspectives of what success is certainly aren’t wrong. In fact, I’d argue they’re absolutely essential ingredients of a culture of accountability and engagement.
Think about the teams you’ve worked on that have been successful. Every member of the group understood, clearly, what their role was and how they could add the most value to the larger entity. Armed with that understanding, they moved forward (while also trusting their cohorts to fulfill their roles), took appropriate risks and helped their team win. That focused, forward motion is accountability and engagement in action. It’s the behaviors associated with it – the how, if you will – that’s often summed up as “corporate culture.”
What lifts some cultures into a higher echelon is how employees feel about practicing those behaviors. At the end of the day, are they stressed or are they energized? Are they ready to call it a day or call it quits? Do they believe in their heart and their brain that the “workplace deal” they’ve made with their employer is a fair and equitable arrangement? The answers to those questions can be measured by organizational culture inventories and engagement surveys, and they certainly bleed through in how your organization interacts with individual customers and business partners.
Companies don’t simply sprout award-winning cultures. But they can build them with the right strategy.
Some of the most successful consumer companies today (think Zappos and Southwest Airlines) are known for the cultures. But, honestly, would we even talk about their cultures if their business strategies weren’t smart and competitive? Author Bob Frisch, who is a former Managing Partner at Accenture, said it well: “Businesses are economic, as well as human entities, and need to be built on a solid basis of sustainable competitive advantage.”
B2B companies in industries ranging from health care to finance need to ensure their cultures and their strategies work in concert just like their B2C counterparts. Some of the most successful seem to intuitively understand that strong and healthy cultures grease the wheels for getting results. It’s not a mercenary attitude, but rather an honest realization that taking care of employees initiates a cycle where employees take care of customers. I personally view it as investment for the long-term health of the organization.
And I think that’s exactly where culture and strategy can and should intersect. Purposefully putting programs in place to take care of employees is a strategy (and I think a good one). That type of strategy more often than not results in employees responding with behaviors that delight customers inside and outside the building.
The resulting behaviors are, you guessed it, the mysterious and often hard-to-put-your-finger-on thing called culture.
When they’re in sync, culture and strategy always will be the best predictors of business success. When people come and go, and the marketplace changes, as they inevitably will, strategy is needed to set a course and sustain it, and culture ensures your organization responds in the best way possible.
And when you intentionally focus on both, no one will eat your company for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Mike Cassling is chairman and CEO of CQuence Health Group, which was recognized with the number one ranking among Modern Healthcare’s 100 “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” for 2015.