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Why “Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast” Misses the Point of a Truly Healthy Work Culture

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Famed management consultant and writer Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The crux of this sweeping statement is based on the idea that culture trumps strategy in building a successful organization. While I agree that culture helps to empower employees and set a solid foundation for success, culture isn’t simply set and forgotten.

Culture is a living, breathing organism within an organization that demands constant evolution as the tone of an organization shifts throughout its lifecycle. What really eats strategy for breakfast are a company’s values — the values inform how a culture iterates over time.

Related: Why Core Values Are So Important and How to Implement Them

How do you maintain a culture? You don’t.

Every organization has a culture, whether that culture is deemed as good and productive or bad and counterproductive. Culture requires intention: an objective to continually refine based on data and staff feedback.

However, no matter the size, every organization must establish core values from which the company culture can be derived. These values represent the pillars propping up culture; these values represent how an organization operates internally and how clients and partners work externally.

My company operates with the following core values: trust, learning, inclusion, commitment to excellence, growth mindset and celebrating success. As my company has grown from just one employee in 2010 (myself) to over 200 in 2022, the culture at the center of my growing business changed drastically from year to year and from day to day even.

Related: Why it’s Important to Build a Good Work Culture

Each hiring milestone brought on new challenges inherent to scaling up at a continuous clip. Every quarter started new conversations based around accommodating an exponentially growing staff and the unique needs of each team member.

A common question we hear in interviews is, “We heard Cloud for Good has a great culture; how are you planning on maintaining it?” The answer? “We don’t.”

We had “a great culture” when we had only ten employees, and we have “a great culture” with 200 employees, but it is not the same culture, which is fine. The culture evolved as I ensured these needs were met, but my company’s core values and overall tone have always stayed the same.

The importance of organizations holding onto the values that drive decision-making cannot be overstated. Company culture is a byproduct of who we hire, who we don’t hire, who we work with, who we don’t work with, which industries we serve, don’t serve, etc.

Related: How to Lead With Your Values, Regardless of Industry

The culture of remote work

A great example of the need to evolve culture is the move to remote work and why so many companies struggle to retain top talent in a post-pandemic world. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics quit levels and rates data, the voluntary quit rate of modern employees is up 25% from pre-pandemic levels.

When employers were forced to transition to remote work in 2020, many companies assumed that remote meant operating the same way just from home. These employers believed that the culture did not need to change and would apply to their workforce regardless of location. They were wrong.

According to a global study conducted by McKinsey & Company, two out of five employees report they are thinking about leaving their current job in the next three to six months. Modern workers are leaving positions to pursue other opportunities in different industries, starting their own businesses or stepping away from employment to care for family members or their own mental health.

Unfortunately, they are making the same mistake again, with CEOs such as Elon Musk demanding employees return to the office without realizing the work culture has evolved. The pandemic has led to a dramatic shift in how modern workers evaluate what they want from a job and the values they seek in a potential employer.

Related: Defining Your Company’s Values Will Transform Your Company

Consider your impact

Aside from supporting themselves and their loved ones, a central motivation of working people is to do something that genuinely makes a difference. Salesforce Chairman & Co-CEO Marc Benioff believes “the business of business is to make the world a better place.” I can’t help but agree. It is possible to find a position within a company that attracts talent through salary, benefits, etc. while retaining that talent through aligned values and a true sense of purpose.

Take, for example, the Pledge 1% movement, which originates from the basic idea of harnessing the power of a company’s resources and giving it back to society. When companies shine a light on trust, sustainability and on treating people correctly, the company’s values shine brightest, thus attracting the type of value-aligned talent that will be retained long-term.

When you have a strong foundation of values, your culture can evolve without breaking your model. To be truly prepared to eat the competition for breakfast, company core values must be strong enough to withstand the turning tides of the culture at large.

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