The quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” attributed to famed business author, Peter Drucker, has been around for many years. The idea, that even the best business strategy can be derailed if the culture is not aligned or supportive, has been proven repeatedly in case studies.
Yet, despite this evidence, many leaders still brush off the phrase as a provocative notion or even worse, pure fiction. In today’s competitive landscape, however, the C-suite must take a serious look at corporate culture or suffer the consequences.
Culture is your friend
Culture is much more than an HR strategy intended to attract and retain the best talent. It’s more than an engagement strategy designed to improve productivity. While these motivations are still relevant and important, there is another driver at play. Culture can be leveraged for both top-line growth and sustainable competitive advantage.
Regardless of size or industry, companies are at risk of disruptors that can alter the competitive landscape and steal market share. Leaders are being forced to think about how to remain relevant while finding ways to differentiate their offerings. Corporate culture can, in fact, do both. It’s the way to create an extraordinary brand experience while fueling an engine that brings big ideas to the table.
Brand + culture
In order to capitalize on corporate culture, leaders need to lead their team on a culture journey. They need to uncover the elements of their culture that are truly magical and then use them to connect clients to their unique brand experience.
This can be addressed by answering two questions: What elements of your culture are your customers or clients willing to pay for and perhaps even pay a premium for? And what is it about your brand that your associates are most proud of and inspired to live every day? This is the sweet spot, where brand overlaps with culture. Leaders must define and articulate this intersection in order to protect and leverage it for sustainable, competitive advantage.
After reinforcing the magic, it is important for leaders to also identify opportunities for transformation that can meet the demands of their changing markets. For example, innovation is necessary for many companies to stave off nimble competitors. By establishing a clear baseline of the culture relative to this attribute and clearly defining a North Star of where the company is headed, leaders can create a strategic plan to help move the company toward its aspirational culture.
Then, actionable steps are designed and implemented to close the gap. To succeed, these strategies and plans must be authentic to the organization, paced in alignment with achievable goals and emotionally connected to their purpose, so that associates can truly live the brand.
Leaders who have an intentional focus on the internal and external impact of corporate culture can move their businesses further, faster. Then, culture isn’t just something that can get in the way of great strategy or “eat it for breakfast.” If it’s managed and nurtured, culture can be leveraged as THE strategy.
Rachel Friedman is the founder and CEO of TENFOLD, an award-winning strategy and creative firm that reveals and reflects the magic of brand and culture. For 25 years, Rachel’s professional career has been dedicated to helping clients align their business strategy with workplace design. She has a bachelor’s degree in design and an MBA in strategy.