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Culture eats strategy for breakfast

28th July 2018
four people watching on white MacBook on top of glass-top table

Does your business spend more time thinking about its strategy or its culture? I’m fairly sure that in most cases, the focus is on strategy. The culture of the company is often forgotten about when it’s one of the key building blocks for success.

But, as the great Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”  A strategy cannot be implemented successfully if the culture of the business is not appropriate.

Too often culture is articulated as part of a vision or mission statement, but not something that is at the heart of the business being lived and breathed by all on a daily basis.

More than anyone else in the business the CEO must be obsessed with their business’ culture, to ensure that it permeates the whole organisation. A customer-centric culture has to come from the top, however the bottom up can support this if all of an organisation’s people are empowered to do the right thing for the customer.

To achieve this, the culture of the business must play a part in hiring decisions and induction programmes.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of meeting Jack Mitchell. His family run a fantastic fashion retail business – Richards – a high-end fashion retailer in Greenwich, Connecticut, with stores across the US (including the Mitchells and Mario’s fascias). It’s the epitome of a truly customer-centric business with a business culture to match.

At Richards the staff – some of whom have been with them for decades – know most, if not all, of their customers by name. Jack is the son of the founder and has himself written a book about ‘hugging your customer’; a metaphor for being customer centric. This tells you all you need to know about the culture.

To have a business as customer focused as Jack’s you might find it more effective to adopt an approach of recruiting for attitude and training for skills. AO.com, the pureplay retailer of household appliances, has a focus on hiring people who are both humble and ambitious. Both are key components of its culture.

Big data, small data, whatever-you-want-to-call-it-data, we have more of it than we ever had before. However, data is not insight, and therefore we need to ensure we instil a culture of wanting to understand what the data is telling us, and the actions required to improve performance.

We need to measure KPIs that truly inform us of how our customers see us and our levels of service. It is that constant measuring of net promoter scores, sentiment analysis, ratings and reviews and other customer feedback measures that will inform us how our culture needs to have a customer-centric purpose to it and to everything we do as a business.

Most of us have worked for businesses that penalise failure, the antithesis of a test-and-learn culture or are rife with politics. Neither allows everyone in the business to pull in the same direction.

Wikipedia’s definition of organisational culture is that it encompasses values and behaviours that “contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation”.

Beware allowing values and behaviours that don’t support the increasing requirement to put the customer at the heart of everything you do.

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