Strategy or Culture: What’s More Important for Your Business Success?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On February 7, 2012

Trying to run a business without a strategy—without a clear idea of who your customers are, without definite goals, and without a specific plan for achieving those goals—is a recipe for failure. But is honing your strategy the most important you can do to assure your business success? Not everyone thinks so!

Recently a very interesting article by Shawn Parr appeared, entitled, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch. Here’s Shawn’s opening statement: “Get on a Southwest flight to anywhere, buy shoes from, pants from Nordstrom, groceries from Whole Foods, anything from Costco, a Starbucks espresso, or a Double-Double from In N’ Out, and you’ll get a taste of these brands’ vibrant cultures.”

When you hear the names of those companies, you are immediately—and vividly— reminded of their culture (their names evoke an almost emotional response). But if you’re a businessperson, there is something else you’re reminded of: Success. These businesses aren’t just places people like to go. They are places people go to over and over. And these businesses are succeeding.

Culture, however, isn’t some nebulous, feel-good sentiment that your HR department tries to create with a few team-building exercises. It’s the character that your whole business exudes. It’s what your customers think of when they think of you. And it’s what they tell their friends and colleagues about you.

Sometimes businesses think that their customers evaluate them solely by their products or services. There is no denying that you need to strive for excellence in the products and services you put out. If you are fortunate enough to have a product that is truly unique, you might be able to survive on quality alone. The fact is, most of us offer things that other companies offer. We may think ours is uniquely positioned—but it’s unlikely that the customer really sees it that way.

Are the shoes from better than the ones you can find elsewhere? Are Nordstrom’s pants really that superior? Is a hamburger from In N’ Out actually that much better than the one from the burger joint down the street? And yet, there is something about the experience of dealing with these companies that keeps customers (lots of them!) coming back.

What is your culture? What comes to your customers’ minds when they think of you? And what are you doing about it?

Do you agree that, “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch”? Why or why not?