November 8th, 2022

culture eats strategy for breakfast

Leaders often grapple to find more effective ways to compete and grow. Executing a winning strategy takes a unified team firing on all cylinders to deliver on the business goal through “shared beliefs, common behaviours and a collective goal”. In short, it takes culture. Specifically, it takes the right culture—one that fits your company and drives the outcomes you need. 

Culture has become one of the most important business topics for CEOs and senior leaders. Even before the pandemic, CEOs and HR leaders were coming to recognize that culture drives employee behaviour, innovation, customer service and business outcomes. Deloitte’s most recent Culture survey reports 90 percent of Canadian CEOs believe culture to be ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in the execution of their business strategy with 82 percent believing “culture is a potential competitive advantage.”  

Culture brings together the implicit and explicit reward systems that define how an organization works regardless of what an org chart, business strategy, or corporate mission statement may say. In practice culture can determine success or failure during times of change: coming out of COVID over 50 percent of companies surveyed said they are currently attempting to change their culture in response to shifting talent markets and increased competition. 

It’s for these reasons that we have landed on culture as a central theme of our OGU session on November 24th at the Ivey Academy.  

Peter Drucker, the famed management guru, was right when he wrote “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. If you don’t have culture right, you can’t dream of executing on your strategy, innovating, or even growing. Despite recognition of culture as a critical element to future success, companies continue to struggle; many organizations find it difficult to measure culture and even more difficult to manage. Only 28 percent of survey respondents believe they understand their company’s culture well, and a mere 19 percent believe they have the “right culture.” 

culture starts at the top

Although HR has a distinct and proactive role to play in driving cultural change, the challenge of culture should be owned at the highest level. Just as you, the CEO, are ultimately responsible for business strategy, you are also ultimately responsible for culture. 

CEOs must understand that their beliefs and actions are the primary drivers of the company’s culture and senior leaders must drive cultural change just as they do other cross-organization issues, reinforcing the behaviours necessary to support the business strategy.  

As operations grow and become more distributed, culture serves to bind people together, supporting communication and collaboration. When managed well, culture can drive execution and ensure business consistency across operations even as they extend around the world. While the CEO plays the role of establishing the culture, HR has an opportunity to assume the role of champion, monitor, and communicator of culture across, and even outside, the company. Once culture is clearly described, it defines who the company hires, who gets promoted, and what behaviours will be rewarded with compensation or promotion. 

Despite the never-ending headwinds and unwelcome surprises of today’s business climate, CEOs must champion a vision of success for their company that fits the realities of today while energizing their employees and stakeholders. For CEOs, that means they need to continually reshape and redefine expectations and the definition of success. Today CEOs are having to revisit many of the key levers that define their organization, such as talent, workplace, culture, and the impacts these have on growth expectations. CEOs who can master and propagate culture are not only managing their business, but also providing an element of stability and a path forward for their company.

Register for OGU Event – Executive Development Workshop

  • Date: Thursday, November 24th
  • Time: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • To put a value on this session, if you were taking part in this session privately, it would cost $3,000 – $5,000 per day, per participant.