Is your focus on strategy neglecting your culture?

Is your focus on strategy neglecting your culture?
Brian Clark

WorkPlan Learning provides some insight into how important culture in to your business and tips on how to build a health culture.


Strategy is what many business owners and leaders focus on. Strategy is perceived as the engine that drives growth and competitive advantage for a business, regardless of its size. Aligned with strategy is purpose, and the two combined are what is often communicated to employees with the hope it inspires them to engage and execute. However, strategy and purpose fail to provide a bridge that connects with the employee and customer experience.

A Business Needs Culture

The employee and ultimately the customer experience is derived from culture. Culture is expressed in how people behave, both internally and externally, towards the business. A strong culture will include the beliefs and principles that are relied on for decision making, both long and short term. Strategy does nothing to influence behavioural norms to the depth that culture does.

Many of us are familiar with mission, vision, and values. A few years ago, it was quite common for me to work with businesses wishing to develop their mission, vision and values and embed these into their organisation in the hope they would create and support a strong culture.  Whilst many leadership teams came up with some well-crafted missions, inspiring visions and reflective values, many  had no luck seeing these translated into an improved culture. They are merely words unless there is an active execution plan to embed them into the business.

How Culture Impacts Businesses

Consider two recent examples of how culture has impacted well known businesses. First is Uber, that experienced a brand damaging disclosure of what its culture was like in 2017. A blog post by a former engineer provided explosive details on a culture that was claimed to include sexual harassment among other serious issues. The CEO of Uber resigned because of the backlash over the allegations of toxic culture and the lack of response from Uber’s HR and company leadership.

In an article published on May 23, 2022 by CNBC, Morgan Smith provides a list of companies with the best corporate culture. The list was developed from research conducted by Comparably. At the top of the list is Microsoft, led by Satya Nadella, CEO.

Microsoft has not always enjoyed this position. Under the previous CEO, Microsoft was reportedly had a very bad company culture. It suffered from in-fighting at the executive ranks, a ruthless focus on performance and lower levels of transparency in communications.

Microsoft’s performance has improved under Satya Nadella in several measures including revenue, profit, innovation, and brand perception. Nadella has achieved these amazing results with the combination of a strong global strategy supported by a healthy culture.

How to Build a Healthy Culture

Here are some of the many ways you can work to build a healthy culture in your business.

  • Model the behaviours you want to observe in your culture. There are few things more damaging to culture than a leader who does not ‘walk the talk.’ If you have a team of managers, they must be trained and coached in how to be role models of your culture.
  • Explore how you can improve business systems and processes to encourage behaviours that align with your culture.
    • Are there processes that can be automated to free up time to focus on more value adding activities?
    • Is there a creative way to add messages to your customers when sending invoices to reflect your internal culture?
    • Do your employees have a positive experience in performance reviews or are they negative or considered a waste of time?
  • Do you recognise people for their behaviours and contributions to the business? Do you recognise people whose contributions may be less observable than sales results, for example?
  • Do you offer events and activities to enable people to build strong interpersonal relationships in your business? A healthy culture with trustful relationships is a great contributor to psychological safety.

As a business leader, a well-crafted strategy supported by strong execution is essential to grow and thrive in any competitive environment. However, strategy without a strong culture will never achieve the results that are possible when your people are engaged, supported by strong relationships, and empowered to express their best selves in the conduct of their work.

ALSO READ: 6 ways to harvest a positive culture with a remote workforce

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