10 ways to make culture a primary focus and drive culture and strategy closer together.

Strategy and culture are inextricably intertwined. The saying goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Strategy is logical, tangible, formal. Culture is more amorphous, evidenced through values, purpose, and shared goals. Leaders rise through the ranks developing their strategic capabilities along the way, often unaware of their ability to affect the culture and use it as a strategic advantage. While strategy is self-evident, culture is mysterious.


A mistake some CEOs make is thinking that culture is a secondary priority. They avoid conversations in executive staff meetings about culture and focus on the quarterly objectives. 


Companies that focus on driving their culture and strategy together have an easier time aligning themselves internally to employees and externally to customers. Utilize the Culture Questionnaire to help assess the elements of your company’s culture.


Here are 10 ways to make culture a primary focus and drive culture and strategy closer together: 


  1. Start with your purpose


People know what you do. They may even know how you do it. But do they know why you do what you do? Your purpose helps define who you are. It is an important way to connect employees and customers to your reason for existing.


  1. Articulate your cultural values


Are your values written down and activated throughout the company? At Cisco Systems, in the 1990s, the values and annual objectives were distributed on cards that people attached to their security badges. At any time, a leader could stop an employee and ask them about the company’s strategic priorities or its values.


  1. Communicate


Articulate the behaviors that support the values and get rewarded within the culture. Promote the values through internal communication channels. Remember, values connect with people emotionally. Choose images or icons that evoke the right emotional response. Make sure everyone knows what the values mean for them personally.


  1. Tell stories


Executives can motivate and inspire their teams and reinforce the culture by sharing stories of how the company lives out its values. These can be examples from customers.


  1. Celebrate


Reinforce the culture by celebrating key milestones. Highlight culture warriors; people who emulate a specific value. Reward them with recognition and a small gesture of appreciation. Small celebrations acknowledge people’s hard work and boost morale.


  1. Engage employees; gather feedback


Every leader should be having a conversation with an employee every week about the culture. Ask for examples of where the culture is alive and where it is stagnant. Capture and track the feedback so that you can spot trends and react to positive and negative developments.


  1. Connect everyone to the big picture


Picture your corporate strategy on one side of a canyon. Your people are on the other side. Connect them to the strategy by showing them how the culture and the role they play will help us achieve the strategic plan. Employees who understand how their role supports the company’s success are more likely to stay engaged.


  1. Empower employees to live the values


Employees must understand that they can live the values without reproach, especially when doing so improves the health of the organization, its customers, or suppliers. Encourage employees to identify ways to challenge the status quo and look for ways where the culture isn’t being lived out entirely.


  1. Set goals that connect strategy and culture


Review the annual and quarterly objectives through the lenses of strategy and culture. Show how they support each other and make the organization more effective when pursued in concert with one another. Have each organizational leader align their objectives to the corporate strategy and the corporate culture/values.


  1. Define success from every perspective 


Make sure every senior leader can articulate what success looks like for their organization. They should be able to connect their organization strategically and show how they will execute that strategy by aligning to the culture. 


Utilize the Culture Questionnaire to help assess the elements of your company’s culture and, potentially, how to better that culture.


Remember, any company can copy your strategy, but nobody can replicate your culture. It is uniquely yours. 



Do you have the right corporate strategies to support your revenue growth goals? Here is an interactive tool that will help you understand if you have a chance at success. Take the Revenue Growth Diagnostic test and rate your Corporate Strategy against SBI’s emerging best practices to find out if:


• Your revenue goal is realistic
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