Why culture trumps strategy


I recently wrote a generous list of examples of good internal comms practices which started with strategy and went on to talk about culture. It got me thinking about how they’re linked and which one matters most!


Don’t get me wrong: I should start by stressing that both are important. A company’s strategy should be a plan, a series of inter-connected manoeuvres, with a defined goal and an outlined means of getting there. A well-defined strategy delivers a map for an organisation to follow - a route from its current place to its aspired position. Ideally, it will be a well-defined route, with carefully selected and clearly labelled stops en route. It may even consider and factor in likely or potential barriers to the journey, and have some emergency detours mapped out, just in case.


Your internal comms strategy is, of course, a part of your overall company strategy, and an incredibly important one at that!


But it’s my belief that no business is going to get very far on this journey without the right culture. You could consider your culture as the engine of the business. It’s the energy from its people, if you like. It’s the collective qualities and beliefs of the workforce, the shared values, behaviours, and desire to move forward and succeed.


It has been said that a business’s culture is defined and held up by the following five pillars:


Ideology – This is the “big picture”, the headline, what the business stands for and its identity.


Purpose – A business’s purpose is closely related to its ideology but is more specific in terms of what it is setting out to achieve. Like its ideology, this should be something that inspires its people to want to be there. We know that most businesses exist to make money, but just making profit for an employer is not an inspiring purpose to most workers. Even if their remuneration in some way reflects profit, this is unlikely to motivate anyone as effectively as a shared purpose and belief in an ideology. This is particularly true for Millennials and the Gen-Z brigade, who want to work for an organisation with a clear mission, or even a social role. They want to feel a higher sense of purpose towards the work they’re doing and are far more driven by the opportunity to contribute towards a larger, more worthy cause than they are by their paycheck.


Vision – This is the mental image of what the business wants to be. It needs to give clear focus to its people and, therefore, leaders need to be crystal clear about it. Frequent and inspiring communication about the vision, and about how everyone is contributing towards it, is of the utmost importance. If you’re not sure that you are doing this, then health-check your comms before it’s too late.


Values – These align with the ideology and are crucial to the culture of the business. As with the vision, these should be crystal clear to everyone, all of the time. Values that are implied, unclear or unspoken are open to (mis)interpretation or can be considered as optional or unimportant. This is a fatal error when it is your values that define your key behaviours.


Behaviours – Defining these delivers personal accountability to a workforce. They are an expectation for your people’s output. Some may be obvious and “generic”, such as honesty, integrity, customer focus etc., but more innovative companies may include behaviours that refer to things like collaboration, peer support, productivity, creativity, motivation, etc.


What do all of these things have in common and what connects them?


The answer is simple: it’s effective communication. And in this context, effective means meaningful, engaging and continuous. You cannot expect your people to take your journey with you, to buy into your vision and values or to adopt your values and behaviours if you don’t tell them about them, sell their importance, and keep them current, relevant and relatable.


Employee recognition and appreciation also play an important role in this communication package and should be part of a company’s vision, values and behaviours. Motivation through feedback and appreciation is fuel for that engine that drives the business. It energises that all-important shared desire to proceed and succeed.


Sadly, I’m sure many of you can relate to my own personal experiences with well-intentioned employers who had decently purposeful strategies and sound purpose, vision and values in place, but who missed the on-ramp by not deploying the consistent and meaningful comms required to keep their people on the same journey.

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