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

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?



Better Leadership through CrowdsourcingCrowdsourcing isn't just a tool for innovation and hiring anymore. According to a Fast Company article, crowdsourcing can provide an excellent roadmap for more effective leadership.

Leaders can get great answers by asking the right questions, and it’s a skill more leaders need, according to Stanford professor Tina Seeling in her book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity.

Social media has clearly opened the door for more collaboration across industries and sectors, but business leaders can turn to the crowdsourcing model to improve customer experiences and build better products and services.

As workplaces become more collaborative and the traditional hierarchies of organizational structures erode, businesses have to look outward - to their customers - to identify ways to improve and innovate. The wisdom of the crowd can drive great results for building better business insights when companies ask the right questions.

For many business leaders, knowing the right questions to ask isn’t always easy. Inviting customer criticism and feedback in the public space of social media seems counterintuitive.

The open business model that embraces collaboration and innovation internally and externally hasn’t been fully realized across all industries. Regardless, the notion business leaders have all the answers and are the knowledge centers of their organizations stifles business development and innovation.

So how can you become a better leader by asking the right questions?

Crowdsourcing: Four Ways to Better Leadership

Here are four ways leaders can be strategic in tapping their own organizations for wisdom and insights from Michael Papay:

All you have to do is ask.

If you needed to ask just one question today to move your business toward stronger results, what would it be?

How to Deal with the 'Bully' ClientBully clients think if they push their weight around, they’ll get what they want. Sometimes it works because small businesses don't know how to handle them. But, when you let a customer bully you, you’ve lost their respect and set yourself up for a relationship of further abuse.

“Unfair customers scream at airline, hospitality, and event personnel routinely,” says Baron Christopher Brown in an article on SmartBrief on Leadership. Bullies cross the line and bully your business model. “When their cash and time become desperate, some customers (clients, patrons, or members) can transact irrationally, even awfully.”

Bullying customers are dishonest and verbally abusive, but customers with high-expectations know what they want.

It’s important to know the difference because while bullies don’t pay well, high-expectations customers do. Plus, they are generally honest and civil.

“In my view, honest, courteous and well-paying customers are always right. Deceitful, manipulative fiscally bullying customers are always wrong,” says Brown.

So how do you deal with these bullies? Brown provides some advice.

Tips to Deal with Bully Clients

Confront Deficiencies

Brown suggests business owners confront four transactional deficiencies:

What may entice a bully is a combination of perceived weaknesses of a business and evadable transaction policies.

“In my experience, chaotic, sloppy, unprofitable organizations routinely exude evidence of multiple transactional deficiencies simultaneously,” says Brown.

Create a Strategy

Once you've identified the deficiencies and established you aren't a punching bag, create new transaction strategies and proficiencies. Make sure you have a transactional policy and guidelines in place. Also, put legal, accounting, and business strategies in place.

Realize your strengths and ask yourself why you do things a certain way. If it’s because it’s always been done that way, it’s time to reassess the task at hand. You need to have  concrete reasons for doing things a certain way. That  makes it easier to say no to customers who try to pressure you to change your business.

Communicate and Implement the Strategy

A strategy isn't any good, and won't be successful if it’s not communicated to those who will implement it: Your employees. Train your front-line employees to maintain the boundaries you set.

When a company stands up for itself as a team, bully clients either disappear or change their ways. Confrontation isn't fun, but when you stand up to bullies, you make sure your business stays on course. Don't let your plans get pushed around by people who don’t have your best interests in mind.

Have you had an ongoing bully client? How did you handle it?

Leadership Includes Saying NoFor some business leaders, prioritizing yourself can be a big challenge.

A lot of people have a hard time saying “no,” but that one word is very powerful. It’s one of the most useful skills leaders need to develop, especially when it comes to living a more productive and healthy life.

The value of their time is one of the hardest things for some leaders to learn, and safeguarding it means you have to say no and be constructively selfish.

Always trying to please others can get you into trouble because it takes your focus away from things that really need your immediate attention.

What Does “No” Do For Leaders?

“Saying no to unnecessary commitments can give you the time you need to recover and rejuvenate. Saying no to daily distractions can give you the space you need to focus on what is important to you. And saying no to temptation can help you stay on track and achieve your health goals,” said James Clear, contributor to the Buffer blog.

Mary Jo Asmus, contributor to Smart Blogs on Leadership, has some tips on how to say no in order to be more effective.

Take the time to get organized.  Asmus suggests setting aside thinking time to remind yourself what is most important for you to lead your organization. If there’s an area you need to focus on, that should be your priority. The other to-do’s on your list can be delegated or placed at the bottom of your list.

Know your “no.” Keep a list of things you have pending so you are aware of everything you need to get done. Then, Asmus suggests using whatever system you have at your disposal and log everything you’ve been asked to do or think you need to do, both in the short and long term. Then check your list regularly. Do your tasks match your organizational mission and values? What’s the urgency of the request? Is there a delegation or learning opportunity for someone on your team to be responsible for some of the items?

You’ll most likely find some things you don’t need to do and other items that can be delegated. You have to let go of some of the control because you can’t do it all on your own.

You’ll get push-back so develop a strategy to communicate your “no.” There will always be people on your team who think their item is urgent and needs your attention or who think if you’re gone, the world will fall apart. It won’t, they can handle it, but sometimes they just need a push. Be honest with them about your priorities and get them to think on their own. Ask them, “What do you think?” It’s a frustrating question, but it will get them to start thinking about their problem before they come to you for a solution.

Reassess your “no’s.” This is more of that thinking time mentioned earlier. “Regular thinking time is a requirement to be deliberate in working through your list to get to the ‘no’s,’” says Asmus.

Too often people are afraid of saying “no.” However, it’s better to say no than not respond, or say yes but not deliver.

Do you struggle with saying no? How do you cope with the problem?

Image credit: vlauria via Flickr

ProblemsSolving problems is what great leaders do best.

They understand the importance of minimizing the occurrence of problems, which in turn means confronting problems head-on before they run out of options.

“A leader must never view a problem as a distraction,” says business strategist Glenn Llopis, “but rather as a strategic enabler for continuous improvement and opportunities previously unseen.”

In an article for Forbes, Llopis outlines “the four most effective ways to solve problems.”

Solving Problems: Maintain Transparent Communications

Sometimes, Llopis notes, people involved in a problem prefer not to express themselves, “fearing they may threaten their job and/or expose their own or someone else’s wrong-doing.” But to effectively solve problems, everyone involved must feel comfortable expressing their candid opinions.

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