Let’s Talk About Culture… and other things

You’ve heard it a million times by now, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” WRONG! Culture is simply a part of a a triangle for success. Culture, strategy and the team make up the three sides of this triangle. So, lets talk about culture and explore the entirety of this success triangle for you to measure and guide your organization with.


Culture is obviously important but how well do you understand what it is? Culture, simply put, is the average behavior of your organization. This means it is important for you to be cautious in what behaviors you allow to flourish.

If you allow and encourage good behaviors then you will have a good culture. If you allow bad behaviors to thrive you will have a bad culture. Or, as Larry Winget puts it, “Nip it in the bud!” The basic idea is what you allow to exist in your organization means that behavior is what you condone. What you condone over a long period of time becomes your culture.

Now, here is the kicker. What I just said trumps anything you will say to your team. What I mean by that is that no matter what you tell your team acceptable behavior is doesn’t matter as much as what you actually do to enforce it. If you tell your team you have a no gossip culture but you tolerate gossip then you actually have a gossip culture. If you tell your team punctuality is a part of your culture but you allow people to show up late then punctuality means nothing to your culture.

Guard and nourish your culture!


Culture, Team

Team is another side to the triangle. All the culture in the world won’t save you if you don’t have the right team to foster and promote it with you. This is why knowing the culture you want is important before you hire any team members or any new team members.

You see, this is a critical step a lot of organizations skip in their hiring process. They hire based on resumes or answers to the same interview questions hiring officials have been using for years. What you really need to look for in hiring is the right person. You can fill in minor competency gaps with on the job training for the right people.  One way to do that is ask a new question.

The flip-side is that it is much more difficult to train highly qualified people to fit into your organizational culture. All the qualifications don’t matter if they clash and disrupt your current environment in a negative way. Don’t tolerate bad behaviors that don’t fit for the sake of credentials.

Culture, Team and Strategy

Strategy completes the triangle. You need a strong culture, the team that can live in it and a strategy to guide the organization to success. But not just any strategy will do. The strategy has to match the other two sides.

Just like any other pyramid, if one side isn’t like the others the whole thing will collapse. When that happens you are left with nothing mess to clean up and a decision to make. Do you move on or try again? Tip: You should almost always try again.



Bringing it all together

Now that you know what the three components are, where do you start? My suggestion will be with strategy. While I do believe that culture is the foundation of an organization it is strategy that dictates how the other two sides are constructed. A popular example of  this is Zappos!You have probably heard their story a few times by now but I’m going to use them again anyway.

Zappos did not set out to be a shoe company that was great at customer service. They set out to be a great customer service company that sold shoes. But, what if they hadn’t known that in the beginning and stayed with wanting to be a show company that provided customer service? What could the difference have been? Let’s look at each scenario and how it could of played out versus how it did.

Shoe company that provides great customer service: The focus of this strategy is being a shoe company. Customer service is secondary. Yes, it is still the desired culture but it isn’t the primary strategical focus. The means when hiring an emphasis would likely be placed on knowledge of shoes versus customer service. This view could lead to a team with much heavier shoe expertise than customer service expertise which would make the desired culture more difficult to achieve. The sides of the triangle would not match and the organization would have spent a lot of time trying to even them out or, worse, collapsed in on itself.

Actually, there is one other possibility that may have been worse. They could have compromised and changed their strategy so they could just be happy being another shoe company. Which would have likely only prolonged a collapse. It is never a good idea to make an organization something it just wasn’t mean to be.

Customer service company that sells shoes: This strategy clearly embraces the desired culture of customer service first. As soon as hiring begins people are hired more for their customer service skills than shoe knowledge. As a result they ended up with a great team that bought into the culture and executed the strategy. The sides of the triangle were pretty even and fit together well and the organization is a success.

Now, sure, there are exceptions. Maybe with the first scenario they would have ended up with a team with “good enough” customer service and improved from there. Or, in the second scenario, they could have ended up with a team that didn’t know enough about shoes and had a lot of teaching to do there. The point is if you have the clearly defined strategy, clearly defined strategy and the team that buys into both you are much more likely to see success.


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