Culture versus Strategy!

Let me begin with the statement of management guru Peter Drucker,

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”

Do you agree that culture is stronger than strategy, targets and roadmaps or not?

You might find concept of culture as vague. To be clear, company culture could be defined as shared values, attitudes and understandings of an organization. Fundamentally, I interpret culture as the chosen way of executing a work because there might be many ways of achieving the same results. However, defining the culture of an organization is not easy, it might be quite different from what it is written or announced. Surely culture is intangible but strongly felt in certain cases, here are some examples.

Culture mainly effects engagement of employees to the company. Not only financial benefits determine willing to work for a company. Expressing yourself openly (trust), being in a supportive and friendly environment (collaboration) and having self-development capabilities (initiative) constitute culture. Consider that you are in a job interview process with two different companies at the same time. The financial benefits and working conditions are already clearly expressed and nearly the same. What would you like to ask to current employees of these two companies? What would matter most for you? The hidden figures that effect your final decision might be about cultural factors.

Moreover, the reasons behind the willing to quit a job are probably related to cultural issues. As commonly said, people leave their leaders not companies. That’s why leaders are the real practitioners of the company culture, independent from what is written or announced as culture in big mottos. The leaders make you feel the culture in first contact by their responses, attitudes, approaches, especially in case of problems. Hence it could be summed up that when culture and strategy fit into each other, the behaviours of the leaders are consistent with both strategy and culture. Culture is the style you would like to implement the strategy.

To make more illustrative by which key words would you define a company’s culture? In a negative sense; being too much competitive (disrespect), intolerant to faults (accusing) or being hierarchic (feeling not free) might be highlighted elements of a company culture. Whereas in a positive sense, being transparent (integrity), rewarding success (appreciation) or letting diversity (inclusion) might be successful factors of culture. Culture is unique for a company and what/who is successful for a company’s culture might be as opposite for another one.

Professor Sumantra Ghoshal introduced a brilliant case to express “smell of place” which is hard to explain. He used the concept of smell referring to corporate environment and explained that:

The same individual behaves differently in two different contexts and it is the quality of management who create the right context around their people to improve their contribution to the company.”

“Changing the context allows companies to create Fontainebleau forest inside themselves.”

Let me ask the first question again. Do you agree that culture is stronger than strategy or not? Please share your comments.

Changing the context by Prof. Sumantra Ghoshal

being curious and looking beyond