How Not to Think About Organizational Culture

I’m a proponent of vibrant organizational cultures. I’ve seen how culture can help drive, or undermine, a company’s success. And I’ve learned how a culture can be transformed to achieve this.
Yet I don’t buy into the view that it’s all about culture. Here’s why:
Take a look back in time and you’ll see there’s a tendency to treat popular business concepts like the Holy Grail. “At last, we’ve found it!” From total quality management and reengineering, to the balanced scorecard and innovation, and, now, to culture. Each triggered a burst of activity. And unrealistic expectations. Unsurprisingly, some efforts succeeded, others didn’t. (After all, you can have outstanding product quality … and still fail. You can innovate countless new products … that no one buys.)
Don’t get me wrong. Culture is critically important. Yet think of it this way: Culture without performance is a country club. Performance without culture is a sweatshop. Culture and performance make for a kick-ass organization.
Culture doesn’t guarantee performance and results but it is a significant contributing factor. As are other significant contributing factors. Yes, you should have a vibrant organizational culture. And effective and efficient processes, and an intense customer focus, and an ongoing drive for innovation, and the myriad other things that contribute to the success of a business. Culture is a significant contributing factor but not the only contributing factor.
While I’m at it, let me clear up a popular misconception about culture. No, culture does not eat strategy for breakfast. Good strategy spotlights the kind of culture you should want to have (a collaborative culture, a fast-acting culture, a sales-driven culture, or whatever) and the kind of culture required to successfully execute your strategy.
At the end of the day, your strategy outlines what success looks like. And having the right culture is critical to success.
Make it happen.
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