Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast
Every successful CEO has their own ‘recipe’ for success; Executive Chairman of Alphabet Eric Schmidt credits opportunity and timing, Richard Branson advocates learning from your failures and moving on quickly, Mark Zuckerberg claims it is being able to take risks that leads to business success. But the thing I advocate to every budding entrepreneur has always been the same – prioritise your company culture and make your business somewhere people are happy to work; look after your staff, get them invested in your vision, and they will become the biggest weapon in your arsenal, because as Peter Drucker says, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.
The most obvious argument for creating a positive working environment is that you don’t want your staff to leave. This is certainly a big benefit of a good company culture - when you have a high employee turnover, replacing and retraining staff takes time, money and expertise and can suck the momentum out of a new business quickly. But even the most exciting companies will lose staff eventually as they move on for new opportunities, or decide to move away, and at this stage your company culture becomes one of your most important calling cards.
When replacing staff, especially in senior positions you are asking someone to leave their current place of work, and instead work for your company. In this instance, money only goes so far. My experience tells me that most employees would pass up a job opportunity that offered a lot of money if they felt they had to compromise on work-life balance or that they would be working in a negative environment. More experienced employees realise the importance of being able to separate their work life and personal life, and a job that offers flexible solutions will have a distinct edge over one that favours long hours or a culture of ‘presenteeism’. What’s more, the best talent will have a host of other companies knocking at their door, so to win the best staff, you need the best offer.
Culture Doesn't Cost
Many of the benefits open to staff cost your company very little; flexible working options should not reduce the workload or hours worked, but do give staff the chance to do the school run, or be at home for a plumber, something which could make their lives easier and ultimately make them more focused and positive when they are at work. Something as simple as offering training budgets gives your employees the chance to grow their expertise which will not only help their career progression, but also adds new facets to their work for you, and the cost-per-head works out relatively cheaply compared to replacing and retraining.
Mixing Culture and Values
Culture of course, relates not just to the benefits we provide to our staff, but also to the tone set by the company and what the core values are. Each company should define its own unique values based on the good behaviours they want from their staff. Understanding what the quintessential employee stands for allows you to make better hiring decisions and create a cohesive and effective workforce. It can also help you define where the business is going and what it is that you are all working towards. Defining your employee values should not mean that you always hire in the image of your best worker; a multitude of ways of thinking and a host of perspectives are key to having an adaptable, responsive business, but there should be certain positive attitudes that are threaded through the teams, tying even the most opposite-seeming staff together; be that a dedication to innovation, a commitment to producing their best work, or a collaborative approach to working. By understanding what it is that makes your company tick, you will be able to reward the right values and create a really positive working environment.
The most important reason for prioritising company culture, however, is recognising that your ideas and your passion are nothing without the right people to realise your vision. Having intelligent, innovative people in a business is what makes companies thrive and grow. If you can then make these people feel a part of the company’s success and invested in your vision for the business, then you build a company of entrepreneurs all striving to make the venture work, all sharing the success, and all as invested as you.
This is why it is essential that you never view your staff through the lens of a spread sheet, never reduce them to numbers or a financial commodity, but accept your accountability to your team and make sure you are willing to share your vision with those who will make it a reality. Luckily, this way of working not only increases the chances of your business being a success, but also makes for a really enjoyable workplace, where instead of people working for you, they work with you, to the same ends, and with the same passion.