Culture Eats Everything!

Culture Eats Everything!

When an organisation fails or fizzles out after initial success, we are quick to blame the wrong strategy or not adapting to technology as the root cause for failure.

I am reminded of Peter Drucker’s quote, who once said ‘Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast’. The quote lays emphasis on the importance of building the right culture in the organisation. We have numerous forums, conferences and webinars wherein there are discussions on Strategy and Technology and how these can be game-changers to build a very successful business enterprise, and I second that completely. I agree that it takes an immense amount of hard work, backed with the right strategy and adapting to technology, to succeed. But, is building a successful enterprise the ultimate goal? Does success ensure sustainability?


The answer to both these questions is a BIG ‘NO’. While strategy and technology can help you build a successful organisation in the short term, it is not enough to build a sustainable enterprise.


I am positive that all of us have a nagging question in our minds - what has kept organisations like TATA, Aditya Birla and Mahindra to continue to grow and sustain the brand over so many decades? The secret to their ‘sustainability’ is an unrelenting focus on building the right ‘Culture’.


We have seen many organisations achieve great heights of success, reaching the top and falling down faster. Organisations with great business ideas have fizzled out after a great start. Why do these companies fail? Can we blame it on strategy and technology?


Let me explain this with help of an iceberg:



When an organisation fails or fizzles out after initial success, we are quick to blame the wrong strategy or not adapting to technology as the root cause for failure. But, is that really the reason why the organisation failed?


The question is what was stopping the organisation from changing their strategy on the go and not adapting to new technology? And here comes the answer – it was the culture that was stopping them!


As you know, we can only see 10% of the iceberg and the remaining 90% is invisible as it is beyond our line of sight. If we have to put this in an organisational context, we see that ‘strategy’ and technology’ are enablers for success and are also quick to assume the reasons for failure, which is 10% of the iceberg. But as we go deeper and explore, we realise that it is the culture i.e. the remaining 90% which is invisible and the root cause as to why the organisation failed or fizzled out after being successful for a few years.


What does it take to build the right culture? While I am no expert at this, I believe these are the FOUR building blocks for building and inculcating the right culture!


Inculcating Organisational Values


Every organisation has a set of core values, but in most organisations, they remain as a set of fancy words and not something that is reflected deep in the behaviour of everyone in the organisation with no exceptions. As we know, culture is the sum of behaviours and if the organisational values are not reflected in the way people behave, it is a sign of weak culture. For building the right culture, it is important to choose the right values that will help in building a sustainable enterprise and ensure they are understood and inculcated by one and all, irrespective of their level or position of power in the organisation.


Encouraging diversity and inclusion


Diversity and inclusion are the key building blocks for orchestrating the right culture. It is not just about diversity and inclusion in your hiring or career progression strategy, but also diversity and inclusion of thought which is the key to building a sustainable enterprise.


Are we open to:–


• A completely diverse, opposite views and opinions?


• A culture that is inclusive and encourages healthy dissent?  


A culture where the idea or views are respected and valued, irrespective of whether you are in a position of power and influence?


If no, then it is time to re-think and build the right culture!


Communicating and Cascading


Every organisation has a vision, but is it communicated and cascaded to employees across all levels? Do employees understand it, and are they able to make sense out of it, and most importantly, relate to it?


Well, it takes a well-defined internal communication plan to ensure that everyone across the company understands and are able to relate to the vision. This internal communication cannot be a one-time activity or effort, but needs to be done consistently and frequently to ensure everyone across all levels are on board and are able to relate to the organisational vision.


Building Flexibility and Vigour


The corporate world has been discussing about surviving, thriving and sustaining in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world. This has been a topic of interest and fierce debate for over a decade now.


What does it take to survive, grow and sustain in this VUCA world? Organisations which have been successful in building flexibility and vigour in their culture and make it their DNA are the ones that are able to flourish and grow irrespective of numerous challenges faced by them. In many organisations, CEOs spend most of the time (about 80%) on strategy, technology, operational excellence, etc. and very little time (20% or less) on building the right culture.


In the last few years, this percentage has changed for good and we are seeing a positive trend that CEOs are spending more time on culture, but this is not still good enough! The time spent by the CEO on building the right culture is what differentiates between a good and a great enterprise and one which sustains and grows!

* Views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and do not represent the views of Atul Ltd.




Rohan Lele is Vice President - HR, Atul Limited. He comes with an experience of 16 years and has worked with both Indian and Multinational companies in various HR roles in India and Asia Pacific. Rohan Lele has completed his Masters in Human Resources Management from the Faculty of Social Work, M. S. University of Baroda is currently pursuing his Doctoral Programme (PhD) in Human Resource Management.


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