Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Harnessing the Power of Workplace Culture

Key Lessons from Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, Adam Grant, and Gilbert Enoka on Building Cohesive Culture and High-Performing Teams

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I remember the moment distinctly: my old boss kicked off a Monday all-hands meeting announcing his intention to install a large print in our agency boardroom that read, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” This quote, famously attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker, left me with mixed feelings of hesitation and disbelief. Here we were, a firm rooted deeply in brand and marketing strategy, and yet, here was this bold declaration seemingly undermining the essence of our work.

Fast forward nine years, I saw the quote again in some speaking notes from my sister-in-law, who had attended a presentation by Gilbert Enoka. Enoka, a renowned mental skills coach for the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, emphasises the importance of mindset in building high-performing teams. Reflecting on his insights, I considered the sentiment of that quote again and realised how my perspective had shifted.

The Power of Culture in Business

Why now, as a Brand Strategist of a firm that also specialises in developing Business, Brand, and Marketing Strategies, do I believe so fervently that culture indeed eats strategy for breakfast? The answer lies in the foundational role culture plays within any organisation. A strong culture fosters an environment of accountability, transparency, and collective buy-in. Without these elements, even the most meticulously crafted strategy can falter.

Defining Workplace Culture

Workplace culture is the shared values, beliefs, behaviours, and practices that characterise an organisation. It encompasses how employees interact with each other, the norms that guide their actions, and the overall atmosphere of the workplace. A positive culture can lead to increased employee engagement, higher retention rates, and a more productive work environment.

Consider the alternative: a company with a cutting-edge strategy but a toxic culture. Such a company might struggle with high staff turnover, increased costs to retain talent, and ultimately, limited business success. Clients and employees alike are drawn to companies that value their contributions and cultivate a positive workplace.

The Importance of Workplace Culture for Millennials and Gen Z

As the demographics of the workforce change, and Millennials (born 1981-1996) become the majority of employees, with Gen Z (born 1997-2012) accounting for up to 30% of the workforce by 2030, the emphasis on culture and creating purpose-driven workforces will only increase. (Source: Johns Hopkins University)

Deloitte Global’s 2024 Gen Z and Millennial Survey showed that the majority of Gen Zs (86%) and Millennials (89%) say having a sense of purpose is important to their overall job satisfaction and well-being. These generations are increasingly willing to reject assignments or employers who don’t align with their values. When employers take that feedback and respond positively, employee loyalty tends to be much higher.

Purpose is subjective, but for some, it comes down to working for an organisation that has a purpose beyond profit and is having a positive impact on society.

Insights From Thought Leaders on Building Cohesive Culture and High-Performing Teams

Simon Sinek: The Importance of ‘Why’

Simon Sinek, in his book “Start with Why,” emphasises the importance of having a clear purpose. Sinek argues that companies with a strong sense of ‘why’ inspire their employees and build a strong, cohesive culture. When everyone understands and believes in the company’s purpose, it creates a unified direction and a sense of belonging, which are critical for long-term success.

Seth Godin: Tribes and the Power of Connection

Seth Godin’s concept of “tribes” highlights the power of connected communities within organisations. Godin suggests that leaders should focus on creating and nurturing these tribes, as they are built on shared values and common goals. This sense of community fosters loyalty, innovation, and resilience, all of which are vital components of a high-performing team.

Adam Grant: The Role of Generosity

Adam Grant, in “Give and Take,” explores how fostering a culture of generosity and collaboration can lead to superior performance. Grant’s research shows that organisations where employees help each other and share knowledge freely tend to outperform those with more competitive or individualistic cultures. Generosity strengthens relationships and builds trust, which are essential for effective teamwork and long-term success.

Gilbert Enoka: The Power of Mindset

Gilbert Enoka, a renowned mental skills coach, emphasises the importance of mindset in building high-performing teams. Enoka’s work with the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team highlights how a strong, positive culture can drive performance. By focusing on mental skills and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, Enoka helps teams develop resilience, adaptability, and a winning mindset.

Practical Steps to Build a High-Performing Culture

Our own studio stands as a testament to these principles. We’ve built a culture that not only respects but celebrates our shared visions and individual contributions. This robust cultural framework supports us whenever strategic pivots or evolution is necessary. It’s the glue that holds everything together, ensuring that we move as a unified entity toward our objectives. I appreciate that it’s easier for us, with a smaller team, to sculpt and mould an inclusive and supportive culture. As teams grow and expand across borders, maintaining a connected culture becomes even more challenging.

I’ve written before about how to improve workplace culture with six simple questions. However, right now, here are some practical steps you can implement to build a high-performing culture in your organisation;

  1. Define Your Purpose: Clearly articulate your company’s ‘why’ and ensure it resonates with every team member. Use Simon Sinek’s approach to help individuals find their ‘why’ within the company context. Ask your best clients about the specific impact your product or service has had on their lives.
  2. Foster Connection: Create rituals and traditions within your organisation to nurture connection based on shared values and goals. For example, we enjoy the weekly ritual of sharing a lunch special together at the pub every Thursday.
  3. Encourage Generosity: Promote a culture of helping and knowledge-sharing to build trust and collaboration. Lead by example, share, and celebrate the work of your people often.
  4. Focus on Mindset: Invest in mental skills training and foster a culture of continuous improvement. Attending industry conferences and seeking external help from mentors and professionals are ways we develop as individuals and as a team.

So, What’s the Link Between Workplace Culture and Branding?

A positive culture is strong, compelling branding that enhances your business’s reputation. When people speak highly of your culture, they’re endorsing your business’s quality. A vibrant workplace culture attracts and retains top talent, boosts productivity, and fosters innovation, all of which enhance your brand’s image. Proud employees become brand ambassadors, sharing their positive experiences and strengthening your brand. Nurturing a positive culture is both a strategic move and a branding masterstroke, aligning internal and external messages to resonate with employees and customers alike.

It took me a decade to fully appreciate the depth of the concept that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Today, I see our firm’s culture as our greatest strategic asset. As we continue to grow and adapt, I am more convinced than ever that nurturing a positive culture is not just important but essential for sustained success.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  What active role do you play in shaping your company’s culture and what is the effect of that?

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