What Culture “Looks Like” and What It Means For Your Business Strategy

Culture is values in action. Corporate culture looks like the actions, words, thoughts, and other creations of its members. It’s how we do things around here. Culture is an unstoppable influence on an organization’s activities and results. It informs people how to behave in an organization thereby, affecting the organization’s overall strategy and ability to achieve the strategic vision.

Culture consists of “the shared values, ingrained attitudes, core beliefs, and company traditions that determine norms of behavior, accepted work practices, and styles of operating.”

Quote from Crafting and Executing Strategy by Thompson, A., Peteraf, M., Gamble, J., & Strickland III, A. J. (2018).

Successful Strategies Align With The “Right” People

Human resources staff are significantly involved with organizational culture and strategy because they screen interviewees and offer positions to applicants who seem as though they would fit in well with the overall culture. HR staff – and other employees – naturally observe managers at all levels and attempt to model their behaviors (Thompson et al., 2018).

The alignment of people and culture with strategy determine its success or failure. Corporate cultures that are conducive to achieving the strategic vision rally its people for the cause. Cultures consisting of people who commit to the vision become more productive workers, thus reinforcing the strategy.

Danone is an international corporation that boasts a “health-focused portfolio” supporting their strategic vision “to be a key player in the food revolution” (Danone, 2019, September 9).

Its website features its global prominence five industries:

  • Dairy
  • Plant-based foods
  • Early life nutrition
  • Medical nutrition
  • Water products

Danone claims to be committed to revolutionizing these food industries by leading with environmental stewardship, and demonstrates this commitment through its corporate culture. Danone’s staff produced a custom balanced scorecard relating to its environmental impact – the nature scorecard. This tool tracks Danone’s commitments to its values: climate change, water stewardship, circular economy (packaging and food waste), and regenerative agriculture.

Danone can measure its commitment to each value. One of its ambitions toward supporting the “circular economy,” for example, is to achieve “100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.” Danone demonstrates their ambition by increasing their use of sustainable packaging by about 1% every year.

All employees are ultimately connected to one another through a common purpose to succeed and fulfill the mission of the organization. This is the nature of healthy organizations.”

I Believe in the Value of Connectedness by Tom Spiglanin. 2014.

Disconnect Between Values And Strategy

Disconnected corporations say one thing and do another, acting in opposition to their marketing, similar to Nestle. In an attempt to improve their reputation after being associated with human rights abuses, Nestle conveys the idea that they value “integrity and respect” throughout its supply chain.

Nestle tracks, measures, and publishes value-based metrics on its website. For example in 2018, Nestle achieved its goal to deploy communication plans and practices to reinforce “tone at the top and speaking up” about human rights abuses in 100% of its markets (Nestle, 2019).

One way that Nestle is attempting to enforce compliance with this values-based goal is by using Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA) 6-certified audit of human rights. SMETA audits are “designed to help auditors conduct high-quality audits that encompass all aspects of responsible business practice, covering Sedex’s four pillars of Labour, Health and Safety, Environment and Business Ethics.”

Will Nestle successfully use SMETA to displace the toxic parts of its culture that allows child labor in parts of its supply chain?

If the disconnect persists between the culture promoted by corporate marketing and the real culture of its suppliers, Nestle will not succeed in its strategy to isolate from human rights abuses.

What Do Values Look Like In Action?

According to The Ethics Center, “ethics is the process of questioning, discovering, and defending our values, principles and purpose.” Therefore, an organization’s standard of ethics influences a company’s overall integrity in its values.

Values are represented as beliefs held by people within an organization. Values are expressed in cultural norms; the behaviors and attitudes expected of the group’s people.

Ideally, culture promotes ways of doing things that are aligned with its strategic activities.

Strongly ingrained values and ethical standards reduce the likelihood of lapses in ethical and socially approved that mar a company’s public image and put its financial performance and market standing at risk.”

Thompson et al., 2018

So what does a culture look like when fully integrated with shared values? What behaviors can you see?

Let’s test one of my personal values – Growth. To me, growth means continually striving for advancement. But do I actually live in alignment with my value? When looking, it’s easy to spot the difference between a person who says they value something and who acts in line with their value.

A few examples of what Growth looks like:

  • Encouraging honesty and direct communication
  • Seeking out and participating in professional development opportunities
  • Reading useful nonfiction and self-help books
  • Recommending books or other resources to others who want to develop a skill
  • Asking other people what skills they want to develop
  • Asking for feedback
  • Arranging 360 evaluations
  • Failing at something, then revisiting it over and over again until finally nailing it
  • Body language that “lights up” when talking about some recent discovery

What a lack of valuing Growth might look like:

  • Not accepting responsibility for own actions
  • Blaming other people
  • Withholding feedback or information
  • Projecting thoughts or emotions onto others
  • Making important decisions without input
  • Asserting that my opinion is the only correct opinion

What values do you live by? What does your culture look like? Share your values and experiences with culture in your company in the comments below!

References

Andrei, M. (2017, May 19). Why Nestle is one of the most hated companies in the world. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://www.zmescience.com/science/nestle-company-pollution-children/.

Danone. (2019). 2018 Nature Scorecard. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://www.danone.com/content/dam/danone-corp/danone-com/about-us-impact/policies-and-commitments/en/2019/2018 Danone Nature Scorecard.pdf.

Danone. (2019, September 9). Discover Danone’s business. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://www.danone.com/about-danone/at-a-glance/our-businesses.html.

McLennan, D., & Miles, J. (2018, March 21). A once unimaginable scenario: No more newspapers. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/03/21/newspapers/.

Nestle. (2017). Does Nestlé have child labour in its cocoa supply chain? Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://www.nestle.com/ask-nestle/human-rights/answers/nestle-child-labour-supply-chains.

Nestle. (2019). Our culture of integrity. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://www.nestle.com/csv/impact/respecting-human-rights/ethical-conduct.

Sedex. (2019). SMETA Audit. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://www.sedexglobal.com/smeta-audit/.

The Ethics Center. (2018, November 23). What is ethics? We have the answer. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://ethics.org.au/why-were-here/what-is-ethics/.

Thompson, A., Peteraf, M., Gamble, J., & Strickland III, A. J. (2018). Crafting and executing strategy (21st ed.). McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN: 978-1-259-73278-2

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