Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

It doesn’t matter what part of the world you are in, when people come together in a group they create a culture – it is an unstoppable force and what makes traveling and being immersed in different cultures so magical.

In any workplace, a culture tends to be created by the people everyone from the CEO to the volunteers. A workplace culture can really help to advance the mission, or it can contribute to mission drift.

Director of Knowledge Creation at Propellus, Janet Rock, talks about how culture can make or break an organization and what an organization can do to be intentional about their culture.

“If your values aren’t being enacted, you can’t seem to make good hires or your talented people can’t seem to follow through on their work. All of these can be symptoms of your culture working against your organization,” says Rock.

An organization with a culture that doesn’t align with the values could see: internal conflict, people not performing to the best of their ability and a higher than average turnover rate; with staff leaving to go to other non-profits.

“People who work in our sector are passionate people who want to show up every day aligned with the organization’s mission and values and if they don’t show up that way, you probably have a culture problem,” says Rock.

“Many organizations are not intentional about their culture,” Rock explains. “You have a vision, a mission and values, but if your culture is not intentional it can work against all of those things.”

Identifying what your current culture is is the first step, deciding where it needs to shift and being intentional about bringing it there is the hardest step.

“There’s a lot of choose your own adventure in culture,” says Rock. “It boils down to your team and what kind of culture they need to do their work and advance the mission.  For some organizations that is a highly collaborative environment, and for others it is a place where people put their head down and do their work.”

Culture really revolves around the people in your organization. People come to an organization with their own set of values, values and culture are what feed each other. This makes the recruitment and hiring process even more important.

“Getting the right people on the bus, changing your recruitment practices, bringing awareness to people and giving them the tools to be successful for changing,” says Rock. “And by tools I mean process.”

Process and policy is where you can see a big shift in your culture, and in some cases, almost immediately.  For instance, if you want your organization to be more informal, you can change the dress code, or offer modified working arrangements.

On the road to shifting your culture, identifying where you would like to be is a step on that path.

“The process really needs to change based on where you want your organization to change,” says Rock. “If you want to be client focused, having something like a dashboard that indicates your performance is helpful.”

Rock adds that if you want be focused on your people, addressing HR policies and processes is where you want to be. If your organization should feel secure, adding policies is a good way to go. Lastly, if you want to be more innovative, then removing structure and barriers can show success.

“Having an intentional culture that is working with your mission and values is one of the best ways to keep your talent,” says Rock. “To me, culture is experience. It is the way you live at work, it is how you show up everyday and how you end up talking about your job at the end of the day to the people you care about.”


Interested in developing your organization’s culture? Propellus has a new workshop to help you identify your current culture, determine the type of culture needed in your organization to reach mission and vision, and give you the tools to help you get there. Sign up today: Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Creating Your Culture

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