What is culture & why does it matter?

No matter how strong your strategic plan is, your organization will have trouble implementing it if your culture doesn’t support it. If your leaders and the people responsible for executing your strategic plan aren’t passionate about the change or aligned around one common destination for the future, you could have a difficult time moving forward with your objectives and priorities.

Fostering culture change also requires demonstrating the benefit of change to your people. Real change can take place when the value of change is greater than its pain. Change can be scary, so it’s important to keep two-way communication lines open early on in the strategic planning process.

Make sure that your team has the opportunity to ask questions and engage in the process in order to foster alignment early on. 


In this article we’ll share:


    What is culture? 

    Culture is an organic process that is a result of systems, rituals, stories values, and behaviors. Regardless of where you are or what you are doing, culture exists everywhere, including within your organization.

    In short, even if you can’t define your company culture, or don’t like the way things have evolved, there is a culture that is a result of “the way things are” in your organization.


    There is no such thing as a good culture or a bad culture - culture just is. Because it evolves independently, culture cannot be forced nor created. However, organizational leaders can foster cultural change to start to shape and reward the values and behaviors that they would like to see throughout their organization.


    A great time to do this is during a strategic planning session, through defining core values and behaviors that are conducive to strategy implementation and other key aspects of performance. 


    Why is culture an important part of strategy? 

    Famous management expert Peter Drucker once said “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”. He isn’t saying that strategy is less important, but that without a culture that supports alignment, accountability and communication, your organization’s strategy is at risk of falling apart.

    While culture has become somewhat of a buzz word in the modern workplace, when relating to strategy implementation, there’s more to it than having a workforce who enjoy their jobs.


    While developing a culture is an organic process that cannot be forced, there are ways that organizational leaders can influence positive culture change throughout their organization. It starts by defining the types of values and behaviors that will help your organization achieve its vision and mission, and ultimately, its strategic plan.


    Some common characteristics of a culture that is aligned with strategy implementation include: proactive communication, accountability and follow through, passion for continued learning and growth, and willingness to collaborate. Some of these will be similar across organizations, and some will be unique to each organization. 


    What are some characteristics and behaviors of a culture that are not conducive for strategy execution? 

    Sometimes a negative corporate culture that isn’t fit for strategy implementation is subtle. You may notice minor issues like communication silos, miscommunication, or misinterpretation of messages.

    People may be reactive with their communication and collaboration rather than proactive, and projects may be delayed or not meet your highest quality standards. 


    More noticeable culture issues in organizations may include people working towards their own goals, refusing to help others, pushing back on requests to implement new initiatives, or consistently resisting change. Burnout may be prevalent, decisions may take too long, and people may dislike coming to work because they don’t understand how their role contributes to the organization in a meaningful way. 


    What is the cost of a culture that you’re not focused on? 

    Some of the best laid out strategic plans are never implemented if culture is ignored. If your leaders develop a strategic plan and share it with your people without taking the time to share and reward the core values that will support strategy execution, your people will not be motivated to make any changes.

    At best, work will likely remain operational and status quo, with the strategic plan being forgotten over time.

    In more extreme situations, people will have a difficult time understanding how they can contribute to moving the organization forward, especially if others are resistant to change or rubbing against the grain. Furthermore, frustration, apathy or animosity can build up when leaders reward behaviors that contradict the values agreed upon.


    We are unhappy with our culture, values & behaviors. How can we address this?

    When identifying your organization’s core values and behaviors that align with your vision and mission, it’s important to clearly explain what it looks like to “live” these values.

    In other words, which behaviors demonstrate your organization’s core values? What type of behaviors oppose these core values? This will help your people understand what types of behaviors are acceptable and how they relate to strategy execution. 


    It’s not enough to simply define and share your organization’s desired values and behaviors to incite culture change. In order to bring about change leaders must:

    • Clearly communicate desired values and what it looks like to “live” these:

    Values are open to interpretation. It’s important that everyone in the organization understands what the values are, and what types of behaviors are expected of them. 


    • Regularly demonstrate desired values and behaviors

    If leaders are behaving contrary to the organization’s value system, it will be difficult to expect the rest of your people to adhere to your desired values and behaviors.


    • Reward desired behaviors (and don’t reward non-desirable behaviors)

    If people behave in a way that demonstrates your values, reward that behavior. On the other hand, if people demonstrate opposing behaviors, do not reward those.

    For example, if your organization values work-life balance, it’s important not to build your reward system on those who work after hours or over the weekend. These behaviors and rewards are contrary to the value, and your culture will reflect that. 


    While culture is a multifaceted amalgamation of systems, symbols, rituals and behaviors, this is one way that organizations can start to foster an organizational culture that supports strategy implementation. 


    Our culture is positive already - why should we take time to focus on it?

    There’s a difference between having a “good” culture, and having a culture that supports strategy implementation. While some characteristics may be the same, they won’t be identical. 


    For example, you might have an engaged team who works well together and feels supported by their leadership, but while they’re visionary, they’re not effective or accountable to getting projects finished. 


    By actively working on key elements of your culture throughout your organization, you have an opportunity to foster the types of values and behaviors that you want to see in your people, both in general, and as they relate to strategy execution. 

    Next Steps:

    If you have an upcoming strategy session, learn more about why fostering a culture for change is a critical part of the strategic planning process.


    If you’re interested in leading the strategic planning process yourself, our How to Create a Strategic Plan course will guide you through each step of the process:


    Or, book a call to find out more about working with a facilitator to guide your team through developing your vision, mission, and entire strategic plan: