It took me some time to wrap my head around a famous phrase often credited to the Austrian American management doyen called Peter Drucker. The statement – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” figuratively painted a picture of an aspect of management being usurped by another, rendering the latter almost useless or less effective.

As catchy as this phrase may seem, the real crux of the message often gets lost in translation. I feel it means that paying attention to a company’s organizational culture and any aspect of the business it affects is as critical as paying attention to the management’s strategic moves. In other words, as effective and consistent as a top-down management approach may be, especially in areas of decision-making and strategic planning and directing, management cannot wish away the risk of disengaging from employees coupled with a lack of creativity and limited innovation. This awareness means that for a company to be successful, it needs its drivers’ genuine buy-in, involvement, and active participation.

Interestingly, investors are beginning to corroborate this as they increasingly become interested in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors in identifying material risks and growth opportunities in companies of interest. As a result, many companies are becoming more concerned about how they are positioned publicly regarding ESG issues to look incredible and attractive to investors and even talents. Therefore, every company that wishes to scale, grow, and thrive needs an ESG sustainability strategy. More studies have also buttressed this point by indicating that one of the easiest ways to achieve this level of attractiveness to both investors and talents is by looking inward to improve things within, such as the treatment of employees, community engagement, diversity and inclusion initiatives, labour practices, human rights, and product safety which are all within the purview of the social construct.

A simple example of culture at work coupled with perception impact was portrayed in the true story of a beer-producing and retailing company whose 60 of its ex-staff published a jointly signed letter on X, which led to a bit of back and forth as paraphrased thus:

The letter: This company fosters a culture where employees are afraid to tell their bosses about their concerns because of its culture of fear and toxic attitude. The claim to aspire to be the best employer in the world is so sad and absurd because we all know it’s a gimmick to recruit top talents. Most former employees feel they were treated less like human beings while working there.

The CEO: Because our work environment is not conducive for everyone due to its fast pace and intense nature does not mean long-serving employees find it challenging to thrive. Our culture is built on developing and rewarding great people while focusing on business growth.

The letter signatories: Many of us who worked for your company for several years were high performers. Therefore, suggesting that those who apparently couldn’t hack it are somehow less worthy in your eyes is preposterous. Your response confirms your true disregard for all your former and current staff.

These accusations of toxic culture led from the top have caused so much damage that despite several attempts by the brand to go public it’s been unable to do so since 2019. Numerous stories and features were published in media outlets globally that got the brand associated with a toxic culture. The proposed 2022 IPO is still delayed as the firm tries to tackle the damage done by the uproar. So, is it safe to say that the fear of investors’ reactions to the company’s flotation may have caused the IPO delay?

Despite all the checked boxes of this beer brand, from revenue growth, market share, brand recognition, expansion plans, and industry trends, the recent brand perception that stemmed from its work culture seemed to have successfully made a mockery of them all.

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Truly embracing ESG principles and making them part of your CSR has numerous benefits that can make your organization a happy workplace and investors’ delight. However, drilling down to ensure culture works for and not against an organization requires a deeper understanding of the interdependency of work culture and organizational behavior. For instance, because culture shapes behavior, encouraging a culture that values innovation and risk-taking will encourage more creativity and open-mindedness among employees. Likewise, a culture of collaboration will promote cooperation, while competitiveness will lead to more individualistic behavior.

Since work culture is a medium to manage expectations, leaders who embody great values can inspire employees to adopt similar behaviors. This positive example seamlessly flows into how great performances are recognized and rewarded. Role modeling, socialization, feedback mechanisms, and adaptation become offshoots of excellent work culture engendered by organizational behavior.

Conclusively, the greatest strength of this ideology resides in success alignment. When an organization’s culture aligns with its strategic goals and desired behaviors, it can enhance employee engagement, productivity, and overall performance. However, a mismatch between culture and behavior can lead to challenges. For example, if a company values innovation, but its employees are risk-averse due to a culture of caution, it may struggle to innovate effectively. Likewise, the change management approach, especially when organizations seek to change their culture. There is often a need for behavioral change tools, which may involve leadership training, communication, and incentives to encourage the desired behaviors.

Call To Action

If you were the company’s CEO in the case study above, would your leadership communication style remain, “Listen, people. Communication is a two-way street,” “Whenever I talk, you must listen”?

If not, what would you do differently?

Let me take this opportunity to thank all those who responded to last week’s CTA. We are currently going through your responses to select the best of the best. Kindly send your views on this week’s article to [email protected]. Your thoughts encourage us to learn from one another, knowing that no man is an island.

At the same time, I wish us all a happy International Week of Happiness at Work. Remember to share how you intend to celebrate it in your workplace.

Opaleye, a well-being specialist and corporate wellness strategist, writes from Lagos