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Why Leaders Need to Make Corporate Culture the Centre of Corporate Strategy

Traditionally, corporate culture was seen as a supporting player in the world of business. Important, sure – maybe even be a key contributor in hiring and retaining talent – but not part of the engine that was driving organizational performance. As our understanding of the role culture plays has evolved, so too has the importance we place on it around the leadership table. But despite the evolving role of culture in boardroom discussions, far too many leaders are still treating culture as a supporting player when it comes to strategy. It can be a costly mistake.

Leaders who take the time to truly understand their culture, to curate it, and make the effort to implement a “culture at the centre strategy” approach to their business (I call us culturepreneurs) have found a recipe for turning that which makes their organization unique into a driver of exponential results – from hiring to retention, and from economic success to social impact.

Culturepreneurs know that putting culture at the centre of strategy not only allows how you do things to drive why you do things, it also opens up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to your people and your performance.

This is the future of high-performance leaders and teams—a future where we put culture at the centre of the system… But it’s important to understand from the start that when we treat culture as a system, that culture (the values and behaviours that define who we are as an organization) can drive higher levels of innovation, performance, and success.

Those of us who recall the pre-internet days know what it was like to have to actively search for information about the world and to live in a smaller, less-connected bubble—buying newspapers from outside your community, coveting that set of encyclopedias your parents bought in the 1960s (or ’70s or ’80s), thumbing through issues of National Geographic at the local library.

Over the last twenty or twenty-five years, we’ve seen incredible change in the way we access and process information, in the way we raise our children, and in how we interact with the world around us. We rely on smartphones, Zoom calls, and the internet. We work in an era of high collaboration, instant feedback, gender-neutral pronouns, #MeToo,  Black Lives Matter—the list goes on.

For many of our team members, unprecedented adaptability and agility are native to the way they work. The speed at which they hop and jump until they find something that connects to their passion and their purpose is incredible, especially for those of us who have had to develop adaptability as a skill over the course of our careers. It’s not that our younger colleagues are flaky or anxious or lack grit—it’s that they were raised in a world of constant change and so change comes naturally to them. That’s a big factor in how we approach work and it’s making corporate culture more important than ever.

As leaders, our challenge is to grow and sustain a culture that reflects our organization and what’s happening in the world—as well as how it’s happening. For many of us, that may mean adjusting our definitions of work, performance, and success to accommodate ideas like shared passion, individual purpose, and diversity. For most of us, it’s going to mean taking time to reflect on our own skills as leaders and to develop new expertise in soft skills that will help us better lead teams that think in ways that don’t always come naturally to us.

As leaders, we need to put culture at the centre of how we do things… That doesn’t mean putting culture before performance or placing less importance on the bottom line; it means understanding what drives you and your team, understanding what connects those passions to the organization’s purpose, and placing that at the centre of everything you do to drive performance and success.

The takeaway: The marriage of culture and strategy has been a long time coming

  • Today, people understand and accept that culture drives performance, and they are starting to recognize that culture needs to be central to (versus supportive of) business strategy and its support systems.
  • Every organization has a culture; high-performance organizations realize they can affect, change, and even create their ideal culture.
  • When culture becomes a deliberate goal—as opposed to a natural evolution—developing a business system around culture and curating the culture you want is possible.
  • When you treat culture as a system, it can drive higher levels of innovation, performance, and success. The challenge is to grow and sustain a culture that reflects your organization and also what’s happening in the world.
  • We need to put culture at the centre of how we do things to drive performance and success; we also need to understand how to adapt and change to reflect this new approach.

Excerpted from The Culturepreneur: How High Performance Leaders Craft Culture as Competitive Advantage (Page Two, 2021) by Marty Parker.