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Why culture eats strategy for breakfast

25th Jul 2018
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I’m not really one for a quote, especially those so called motivational ones that people put on their office walls and somehow expect their teams to work better because of them. I’m pretty sure that’s not how motivation works.

There is one quote, however, that I do regularly use in presentations, it’s not motivational, it’s just a simple way to show the importance of culture in a business. There’s some debate whether Peter Drucker actually said these words but either way when it comes to customer experience “culture eats strategy for breakfast”

So why is culture so important? There are a number of reasons but the fundamental reason for me is that it is the culture of an organisation that elevates and sustains strategy.

An organisation may have the best strategic minds in the world, but if that strategy can’t be lived and breathed by people in the organisation it will wither and die very quickly.

You only need to look at those organisations that have sustained leading customer experience metrics to see that it is culture that dominates. First Direct may have started out with a stand out strategy of direct banking but every bank now does the same thing so why is First Direct still at the top of the customer experience leader boards? It’s all down to a culture focused on creating great customer experiences and prioritising customers over things like call times. Or Southwest Airlines who’s low cost model has been replicated the world over yet through their culture of customer attention, friendliness and fun they maintain some of the highest customer scores in the world.

Strategies are easily copied by competitors whilst a culture is something much harder to replicate as Lanham Napier, the former CEO of Rackspace Hosting, a global leading cloud provider, sums up: “Our culture and the awesome people we have, is what I am most proud of… I would say it’s impossible for our competitors to copy. They’d have to start over and build it from scratch.”

Even for digital businesses where there is little human contact with customers the culture inside the organisation is still paramount. Glassdoor carried out research into online travel agents (OTAs) and clearly correlated that those OTAs with higher Glassdoor ratings delivered the highest Net Promoter Score. These OTAs have little or no human interaction with customers yet their employee ratings still correlate to their customer ratings.

So, if you recognise that customer experience is vital in how you differentiate and create value, start thinking more about culture than you think about strategy. Start by defining the customer experience that will differentiate your brand and then relentlessly focus on creating the employee experience and culture required to deliver it. After all you wouldn’t leave something so important to chance, would you?

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