Company Culture Leadership

Here’s why a great company culture eats strategy for breakfast

great company culture

The difference between actively promoting a great company culture at your place of business and hoping one will develop all by itself can be a bit like heading to a rugby game at Loftus or Newlands with a tight-knit, organised crew, or winging it and hooking up with a few randoms in the parking lot.

Sure, an impromptu boot party has the potential to be a whole lot of fun (if the weather holds, everyone plays nice and the ice doesn’t run out); but if you rock up with your own gazebo, a dedicated braai master, plenty of camping chairs and a fully-charged Bluetooth speaker with all your pre-game tunes queued up, your chances of hang-out success are far better. 

The point?

Corporate culture is something you need to work on if you want it to support your business strategy, instead of curtailing it.

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The saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ was first coined by American management consultant and writer Peter Drucker, and made even more famous by Mark Fields, former chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company. What they meant was not that strategy is inferior to culture, so much as that a lack of focus on the former can seriously hamper the success of the latter. 

At a time when statistics tell us that a mere 9% of the South African workforce is actively engaged and that of the 91% who were disengaged, 45% were actively disengaged (i.e. very negative about their job environment and likely to spread the negativity to co-workers), it would seem that company culture should rank very high on every South African executive's must-attend-to list. However, currently, 33% of South African employees feel that a positive employee experience is not a priority at their company. Major eeeeek. 

In 2020, the CEOs, HR directors and MDs of companies that are getting ready to go the distance (and will be here in 10, 20, 30 years time to look back on their success), are all about that culture life.

This includes businesses like Microsoft, Vodacom and Accenture, that scooped up the top three places among the Certified Top Employers of South Africa respectively in 2020, as decided by the Top Employers Institute. These rankings were based on factors such as talent strategy, workforce planning, on-boarding, learning and development, compensation and benefits, and (you guessed it!) culture. 

One of the most powerful and effective models a business can use to define and change its company culture is one developed by two UK academics Johnson and Scholes. This model is called the 'cultural web'.

According to this model, the cultural web is woven by six distinct elements, namely symbols, rituals and routines, power structures, organisational structure, controls, and stories


  1. Symbols refer to organisational semiotics that include logos and overall branding, the look of the offices, dress codes (formal/informal), etc. 
  2. Rituals and routines speak to behaviour and rules that signal importance - i.,e., what's supposed to happen in a given situation and what type of response is valued by management. These patterns of systematic behaviour that are seen as normal (e.g., being supportive to colleagues, answering emails within 24h in a positive space; or bullying and underlying sexism in a negative space). 
  3. Power structures include pockets of real, sanctified power (e.g. the CEO or board of directors), as well as influence over decisions, operations, and company direction (e.g. unions). It can also include social power. 
  4. Organisational structure includes the formal organisational structure, as well as relationships that dictate whose contributions are most valued. 
  5. Controls are the internal systems that relate to finance, performance quality, recognition and reward, remuneration, etc. It sets and maintains the standards for quality within the business. 
  6. Stories and myths are the past events that pertain to the company that people tell each other inside and outside of the organisation. This can refer to both successes and failures and often feature particular heroes and heroines, or villains. 

When you bear all these aspects in mind on a daily basis, and use regular feedback from your team to correct your company’s internal trajectory on the fly, facilitating the growth and development of a positive company culture is 100% achievable.

In the end, it only makes sense to ensure that your corporate culture benefits your team members and boosts company performance by increasing your bottom line and supporting your overall strategy in the long run. 

The most important thing to remember is that even organisations that don't actively create the culture they want will end up having one anyway. It will be a very disorganised amalgamation of their workforce's thoughts and experiences that span the game from where someone sits to how they were greeted the first time they came for an interview.

When you leave these details to chance, it's out of your control. When you make the choice to build and refine a culture that is aligned with specific strategic objectives you can ensure that your culture matches your strategy.

This, in turn, allows a business to attract and retain top talent, promote company values and reinforces those values by means of consistent action. In short - a powerful vortex of awesome. 

Keep your eye on the blog in the coming weeks and months for more expert insight into employee communication, organisational culture, management style, rewards and recognition, and more.

In the meantime, if you would like to reimagine the way your business implements employee recognition why not download our eBook to help you build a successful employee recognition program from scratch. Simply click the button below to get your copy 👇

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