Why Strategy & Execution May Be King, But Culture Is King Kong

by Rick Gilmore – Against a business backdrop of confusion, flux and investigations into corporate scandals, a lot more fuss and noise is being made about the role and importance of company culture.

Whatever you are experiencing culturally the intention of this post is to generate some fresh insights on why many do believe culture “eats strategy for breakfast”.

Now, if you are directly involved in the business of building culture, you will have likely noticed not all work cultures are the same and cultural challenges come in many guises:
– Maybe you are in start – up or a green field phase, and you might be wondering, “how do we create an authentic, diverse and involved culture from the ground up ?”
– Or if you are in an established business that’s been around awhile, maybe some of you might be dealing with cultural legacy issues, or hitting up against a broken culture and pulling your hair out over “how to fix it?”
– Or maybe you are facing a culture that is too vanilla and you need to inject big dollops of vim, vigor and vitality to get more personality and energy into the cultural mix.

Plus if you who have been around a few workplaces, you almost certainly would have noticed some cultures can bring out the best in you, while others can bring out the worst.

No Road Is Long With Good Company

In line with these scenarios, there’s an old Turkish proverb I really like that goes something like “no road is long with good company.”

On the flip side of course, “any road can be very long with bad company.”

Since the nineteen eighties there has been a growing chorus of commentators advocating that the quality of your life is a direct reflection of the expectations and standards of your peer group. On song with the latest neuro social psychology many modern pundits caution us to choose our peers and mates wisely.

Yet this is not new wisdom is it. You can hark back to biblical times and also see tidings to “ Walk with the wise and become wise.”

But why is this critically important for the business bottom line?

Would it be fair to say we now live and work in an age of commoditisation?

Now that’s a fancy way of saying, we now live and work in a time where competitors have access to virtually the same resources as each other, and products, services, and pricing models can all seem the same. For many companies, every year it feels harder to stand out.

Yet, would it also be fair to say, culture is one area left standing that can’t be copied or commoditised?

Now if culture can’t be copied or commoditised, then isn’t building a strong resilient culture one serious way to-
– set up one organisation’s performance above another’s,
– drive differentiation,
– and create long term competitive edge and business success.

Likewise in contrast, isn’t the impact of a weak and wishy washy culture potentially lethal?

Here’s the facts of it.

In this era of disruption many research papers show that those companies with highly engaged cultures can be up to three times more productive and profitable than companies with disengaged cultures.

Yet the reality is apparently a whopping 70% of employees are disillusioned, disengaged and emotionally disconnected at work.

You may be more even more surprised to hear that 89% of employers think that their people leave for more money, when in fact only 12% actually do leave for more money.

As a result, no wonder many corporations are exponentially falling behind every year.

In other words company culture is an area that can directly affect your bottom line massively. But here’s the sad thing, few businesses understand how to consciously create culture that stands out and stays out.

What The GM and The Buddha can teach us

Now I remember a little while back I was giving a key note at a conference for a high profile Australian company in the construction sector.

The conference theme was Let’s Thrive and early on in the day there was banter around the old chestnut of: what matters most – strategy, execution or culture?

Then out of the blue came the moment that nailed it for everyone. One of the General Mangers stood up and to delighted applause declared “strategy and execution may be king, but culture is…King Kong.”

Now that wasn’t so long ago, yet if you were sitting with the Buddha 25 centuries back, you would have heard something similar. You would have heard Ananda the right hand monk of the Budhha ask him;

“What was the importance of culture, community or admirable friendships?”

And you would have heard The Buddha reply:

“… admirable friendship is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk (or anyone else) has admirable people as friends … (they) can be expected to develop and pursue the Noble Eightfold Path” ( which was Buddha’s step by step pathway).

What’s significant about this is that even in the secluded monastic and meditative forest monk traditions, Buddha was teaching the importance of:
– Being visible in right relationship,
– Being and keeping good company,
– Being served, serving others and holding each other to a higher standard.

These were foundation cultural mechanisms. They were senior principles to any powerful methods or techniques the renunciates were practicing to realise the ultimate goal of nibbana or nirvana.

Change Happens In Relationship

Here’s the simple truth of this. Change Happens In Relationship. We need the mirror of relationship to go to the next level. The real Secret Sauce of the Masters and switched on modern business leaders is the gift of Right Culture and Right Relationship itself.

Now, I’m guessing some of you might be thinking, developing a high performing culture may well be King Kong and the secret of business success. But ……um….er…..”What’s Next?” ……”How do we actually do that?”

So hold onto that query…because that is just what I’ll cover in my next post.

In closing, as a result of this post, ask yourself:
1. Does culture really trump strategy and execution?
2. How do you know a healthy workplace when you see it?
3. What do you think are the foundation pillars for building inclusion, ownership and right relationship?
4. What are your top three tips for reversing an inbred culture of resistance and reluctance?


Reprinted, with permission of the author, from www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-strategy-execution-may-king-culture-kong-rick-gilmore