Culture eats strategy for breakfast

The Talent Blog series is a collection of perspectives from 16 social leaders in 9 different countries. As part of the series, Vanessa Reis of Edge advises how to create the kind of workplace culture that will retain and inspire employees.

You may have a killer strategy, but the unfortunate truth is that your team's performance may sabotage it, meaning you won’t achieve the goals you need to grow your business.

When you have a desired outcome, you define business drivers that will outline your strategy, which will also determine processes, people and relationships needed, as well as the structures inside of the organisation.

All of that seems really practical, but there is a filter: culture. And no matter what you do or plan, it will always impact (positive or negatively) on your business results. 

But what defines business culture?

According to, corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.

In order words, the business’ culture influences directly on collaboration and interactivity. Team interactivity is determinant for a high performance and goals achievement, according to this article published by Harvard Business Review in 2012.

It states that is not what you communicate that matters, but how and with whom. Small changes in the interactivity of the team can result in 8% performance increase for the individual, and 20% increase for the worst team. 

And, undoubtedly, this reflects on leadership and its functions, like setting specific goals and then: delegate, follow-up, align expectation, do team reviews and compensate for goals’ achievement. 

And this is why we say culture eats strategy for breakfast. If you have an amazing strategy, but people are not collaborating and interacting to achieve this, it is highly unlikely that you will achieve your business goals. And most importantly, you will not know why, since it is implied and normally not measured. 

Our research found staff are often unhappy, unappreciated and frustrated about their jobs and the established culture

At Edge, we interviewed more than 100 professionals in Brazil, India, Colombia, Mexico, the UK and Kenya, who are ready to leave their workplaces because they see a complete disconnection between what the business aims to do in society and how they operate internally. 

Most social enterprises are focused on generating revenues and scale to grow, focusing on its purpose – improving people’s lives. But what we see in reality is that collaborators inside the business who drive this ultimate goal are often unhappy, unappreciated and frustrated about their jobs and the established culture.

As a result, most of them have lost faith in their leaders and the business goals they are supposed to achieve. 

So, if you want to achieve your goals and really improve people’s lives, start by taking a look inside of your own business. Build a culture that will enable high performance, people’s growth and development. In return, they will achieve goals faster and you will get a higher retention rate of your star team. 

Here's how you can do it:

1. Align expectations regularly.

Assure that you know your team’s goals and that they are aligned with your vision for the business. But most importantly, know that they are clear about what they have to deliver by when and with which standards. 

2.    Have people working on what they are naturally good at!

Working in flow assures at least 20% more productivity and innovation in the workplace. Some people have a natural talent for creating new strategies while others have this special touch when dealing with people. And they might be independent from the person’s profession or trained skills. You will have a higher employee satisfaction and productivity if you can combine both and make sure each one is definitely working where they can contribute most.

3.    Remind people of the business goals.

Most CEOs communicate the business goals in the beginning of the year and assume people will remember them. We recommend a general meeting once a quarter to assure people know where the business is going and how well they are doing as a team. It is really important they see the progress and where they need to work more on.

4.    Reward publicly and call attention privately.

Build confidence and assure that people are recognized for what they do best.

5.    Build a leadership pipeline

As your business grows, you will not have time to do this individually. Train people who you want to be leaders of your teams and make sure they know how to do this as well, using coaching skills and hands-on training. 

Start with these five steps and you will already notice differences in the interactivity between your co-workers.

You can also do a communications diagnostic to see where the bottlenecks are and get to know your team’s innate talents. If this interests you or you have any doubts about how to get your business culture aligned with the results you need, get in touch with us.

Each article in the Talent Blog series shares unique experiences on the issue of attracting, developing and retaining talent in our sector. With contributions from social entrepreneurs, social investors, accelerators, incubators and foundations, the series highlights common challenges and smart solutions around the issue.

The project is led by the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network (GSEN) (founded by UnLtd) and supported by BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. Find out more here.

Photo credit: Štefan Štefančík/Unsplash