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Culture eats strategy for breakfast

business strategy business people

By Dr Zivit Inbar, director of Different Thinking and a senior executive in HR and several business disciplines.

“I keep getting shuffled from one person to another”.

“No one in your company seems to care”.

“The product I received and its functionality are very different than what is advertised on your site”.

Sound familiar? Those are only three out of the common complaints about e-commerce. Managers normally think that this is a customer service issue. But they are wrong. The core of the problem is culture. Yes, this fluffy concept is hindering your strategy. How? Culture is the system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that “glues” (integrates) people and dictates their behaviours.

In specific culture is:

  • How things are done in the organisation – how your team serves the clients, how they market the products and treat the shipment, how they collaborate with one another.
  • A strong influence on individual’s thinking and behaviours- it promotes what is “right” in the organisation and sanctions what is “wrong”. “Wrong behaviour” that is not sanctioned or is overlooked, receives legitimacy and becomes part of the culture. A misleading product description that is not handled immediately sends a message that for the sake of sales, misleading customers is the right way for the organisation. Bad customer care that isn’t being stopped immediately can create a norm of similar behaviour amongst the team. Not because they are bad people, but because they perceive that this is the right way of doing things in this organisation; we can cut the corners on quality and care.
  • A process of “sense-making” that helps employees interpret what’s going on in the organisation and provides the basis for alignment of purpose and actions.
  • A protective mechanism (like the immune system of the human body). As such, it sometimes can take the wrong direction and work against the company. This is why organisational changes need to start with culture; otherwise the culture might negate the change.
  • A dynamic concept- it changes throughout the organisational lifecycle. Management can and should proactively lead and shape the culture as the organisation evolves.
  • Influenced by the national culture it operates within. Hence, having employees in different countries and cultures, means you need to pay careful attention to ensure they follow the organisational culture and represent the company adequately.

You can formulate the most beautiful company and / or customer service strategies on paper, but their successful implementation depends on culture. If you don’t get the culture right, the implementation of your strategy will most likely fail.

In many organisations there is a huge gap between the actual culture and the value statements on the walls and the website. Employees and customers are the first to notice this gap. For top management and boards, unfortunately, this gap is often their blind spot.

Whether you are aware of your actual company’s culture or not, this “fluffy” concept really makes the difference between success and failure. It can support or hinder the implementation of new initiatives, the achievement of company goals and growth. Culture can be your competitive advantage or major risk.

What is the actual / real culture of your organisation? Does it support or eat your strategy for breakfast?

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