Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Strategy is often talked about in business schools, in fact it’s a primary focus.  Culture however, is less understood.  Culture involves a variety of contributing factors including a blend of attitudes, beliefs, mission, philosophy, and momentum that help to create and sustain a successful brand.  It represents the vision, norms, symbols, beliefs, behaviors, and traditions that are taught to new members of an organization.  Organizational culture affects the way people within an organization interact with one another and the people they serve.

Culture is key in an organization for long-term success. It is the most important thing in an organization and it applies at all levels, from the top of the organization all the way down.  Rules, regulations, and operating standards are important, of course, because you have to have systems in place to guide activities. But culture is the factor that stands above all others.

There are many factors that go into building an organizational culture.  Each successful company has a different combination of factors that makes their culture successful.  Here are a few that I think are particularly important.

1. Traditions

Traditions help make a company what it is.  They tell the world who they are as an organization.  One way for an organization to maintain and develop its organizational culture and ethos is to introduce and celebrate a variety of traditions.  Disney in particular has been a master of this concept by training all new employees on the traditions of the organization.  Strong traditions that are applied throughout an organization are one of the best ways to maintain a healthy organizational culture.

2. Mission

A burning mission can give laser focus to an organization.  The mission statement needs to be short and memorable. Most importantly, it needs to be a rallying cry for people throughout the organization.  One thing I’ve learned in running a business for almost thirty years is that “ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.”  Getting employees and clients excited about the mission is critical to organizational success.  If the average employee can’t recite your mission – it’s too long. 

3. Engagement

Collaboration encourages engagement.  Get all levels of an organization involved.  In BNI, the global referral network I founded almost 30 years ago, we have focused on getting a high level of engagement at all levels of the company.  This engagement includes a Franchise Advisory Board made up of key franchisees to address organizational challenges, a Founder’s Circle of stake holders to provide direct feedback to management about issues concerning the organization, a Board of Advisors made up exclusively of clients to ensure engagement regarding policies that effect the organization globally, an Executive Council made up of the largest seven master franchisees within the organization, as well as a number of other entities to help ensure full participation at all levels of the organization.  Engagement can be messy, but when done correctly, it encourages a collaborative culture.

4. Recognition

Many years ago, Ken Blanchard got it right in The One Minute Manager.  He said, “catch people doing something right” and recognize them publicly.  Praise in public and re-direct in private.  No truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to building a healthy organizational culture.   Recognize and celebrate successes.  As Blanchard says, if you can’t catch people doing something right – then catch them doing something ‘partially right’ and recognize that.

5. Education

Immerse and engage in a culture of learning.  The more a company can integrate ongoing learning into the organizational ethos, the more likely that company is to stay nimble and prepared for change.  Educating the organization regarding the culture of the company is particularly important to fuel and maintain a great culture.  A great strategy keeps you in the game, however, a great culture helps you win.  Especially important are the traditions and mission of the company. These things need to be part of the ongoing education of all new and existing employees.

Culture is a critical key to organizational success. It is one of the most important things in a company and it applies to all levels, from the top of the organization all the way down. The challenge with culture is that it is illusive.  The best and most scalable culture is one that is managed and maintained by the majority and not by a single policing body or by management alone.

Companies that dominate an industry for a long period of time do so because of a shared vision of organizational culture that is effectively implemented throughout the company.  That shared implementation of the vision is an important key to building a successful organizational culture.  If all the people in an organization row in the same direction in unison, that organization can dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.

Implementing a strong organizational strategy can be difficult however, implementing a healthy organizational culture is rare and in my opinion when all is said and done; culture, eats strategy for breakfast any day.

Do You Know Your Mission?

You may think you know why you’re in business, but perhaps it’s been years since you gave it serious thought. There’s no better time than now to re-examine why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my business mission? — Beyond simply making a living, what are my long-range professional goals? Do I wish to become the standard by which my competitors are judged? Is it my dream to help make the world a better place?
  • Where is my organization going? — Am I achieving my mission? Am I making plans to accomplish it? How can I change policies, procedures or personnel to improve my chances of achieving my mission?
  • What environment is my organization operating in? — What are the social, economic and technological trends that affect the way I do business and my progress toward my goals?
  • What are my core competencies? — What do I like to do? What is it that I do better than my competitors? Is my business mission compatible with my values and aptitudes?

I’ve seen too many business professionals and companies make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. Starting out with the fundamentally sound goal of finding a niche that will make them successful, they go astray by changing direction every time a customer or associate suggests a new product or service. The mission gets lost in a frantic scramble for business before the original idea ever gets a chance to pay off.

So, even if you think you know your mission, it will serve you well to pause periodically, analyze your business and, if necessary, refocus on your mission and philosophy.

A True Givers Gain Achievement

In 1998, my wife Elisabeth and I co-founded the BNI-Misner Foundation, a nonprofit program supporting charitable causes. We created the foundation because we truly believe in the philosophy of Givers Gain, on which we founded BNI, our worldwide business networking organization. Simply put, Givers Gain means that if you help others, others will want to help you in return (think “what goes around comes around”).

Now, thanks largely to the generosity and kindness of BNI members and directors around the world who also believe firmly in the Givers Gain philosophy, as of May 2010, the BNI Foundation has contributed more than $1 million to charities around the world since its inception 12 years ago.

The foundation has a focus on children’s educational programs but allows donor-directed contributions as well. Looking back on the significant contributions the foundation has been able to make, I am continually inspired by the willingness of BNI members worldwide to give of themselves to help others. They made it possible to donate more than $100,000 to the 9/11 relief effort, $72,000 to tsunami relief, more than $25,000 for Haiti earthquake relief and tens of thousands of dollars for Hurricane Katrina relief. The foundation has built preschools in India, built preschools and a library and put tin roofs on schools in Indonesia, bought school uniforms for students in Kenya and stocked a library in South Africa with books.

Why am I telling you all of this?  I’m sharing these things with you because I truly believe that the more people genuinely give to others, the more successful they will be themselves. I fully attribute the worldwide success of BNI and its members (read some of their stories here) to this very concept. When you give to someone else because you want them to succeed, everybody wins, and you’re setting yourself up for success because the more good you do for others, the more good others want to do for you.

Starting this week, make a continuous effort to conduct your networking efforts, your business and your life with the philosophy that Givers Gain. Help people because you can and because you want to, and you’ll be amazed by the things you can achieve for yourself as a result.

To find out more about the BNI-Misner Charitable Foundation, click here.

Become a fan of the BNI-Misner Charitable Foundation on Facebook by clicking here.

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