Culture vs. StrategyQuick. Without thinking - what is more important to your organization; strategy or culture? Does one trump the other?

In Forbes Magazine, Mike Myatt continues the interesting debate about strategy vs. culture. I've been watching for quite some time as experts argue both sides of the case.

What happens if you put culture ahead of strategy? Or vice versa? I’ve been thinking about that.

Culture is the personality of your brand – it’s how your employees behave, the language they speak; it defines the environment in which they operate. Culture drives human behavior and in this day and age where we are being asked to humanize our organizations daily, thanks mostly to the onset of social media, culture is critical.

Shawn Parr is one of the proponents of culture over strategy Fast Company, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch. He argues culture is important for

  • Employee engagement
  • Alignment
  • Motivation
  • Focus
  • Brand burnishing

Having a great culture is of utmost value to a brand, you’ll get no argument from me. It defines your brand and your human interaction. When your employees enjoy working for you, it shows and people want to do business with people they enjoy working with.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Company A can send out witty emails and clever messages such as this one: When a server outage caused downtime for one online merchant, they sent an email out to their database apologizing for the inconvenience and explaining the situation. They closed the message by offering in return, these “cute images of kittens.”

The message of course was shared and spread across social networks. Your audience will forgive something like this and enjoy the humor in the apology. Stuff happens. It's forgive-able and they took the opportunity when it arose, and got some extra attention. But if it happens continually, for example, you have a strategy problem. And you’ll lose customers. No amount of kitten videos is going to save you that.

Culture vs. Strategy

Now, I don’t think one trumps the other, however, Mr Parr makes some compelling arguments about culture I think we can all take to heart.

  1. Culture isn’t just the soft stuff. It’s not just free cafeterias, nap rooms, and humorous pop-up boxes and emails. It’s a clear set of values that guides the way you operate.
  2. Passion leads to effective operations. When employees want to work for you, strike that, when they are passionate about working for you, they become engaged and perform well. You get better performance from your employees because they are engaged, have empowerment, and feel involved.
  3. It breeds innovation. A good culture empowers employee to take a certain level of calculated risk knowing the repercussions won’t be severe and the rewards great.

Of course, these things aren’t enough for sustainable success. A good product at the right price is what makes the wheels turn. And then again, you can’t do that without the strong cultural involvement from your organization. So one thing does not trump the other.

What is your opinion?