Shelley Polansky BBB

As a business owner, what would you pick to attract loyal customers, retain great employees and achieve long-term success? Culture, strategy – or a combination of both?

In the past decade, there has been plenty of debate about which is more important, with quotes floating around that “culture constrains strategy” or “culture trumps strategy” and “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

The more popular position favors culture, especially following on the heels of the dotcom ping-pong tables, game nights and comfy seating that made for great employee satisfaction. But can culture go it alone?

Culture or strategy?

Culture is the invisible stuff that holds organizations together, but if it isn’t clearly defined or doesn’t align with a business’s goals, it won’t be sustainable over the long-term. The result can be disorganized based on what the employees want and experience, or, even worse, employees can become unhappy, and the work environment can turn negative.

Likewise, the perks and benefits and the fun of coming to work will not improve business operations if there aren’t sound core values and a strong vision. Gallup’s 2017 study on the State of the American Workplace finds that a positive company culture is important, but also that business performance improves when workers feel they have a stake in the future of the company. How, then, can a company establish a successful business strategy and a great workplace culture so the two work in harmony?

A good business strategy

Companies can start by defining their culture, managing that culture, and reviewing and improving their business strategy. Strategy is the ideas, whereas culture is the action, or how things get done.

A good business strategy, which is different from a business plan, does several things. It gives an organization a sense of purpose and helps employees become engaged, focused, motivated and excited about the company’s branding.

It also outlines a company’s goals, values, mission and vision, and identifies what sets the company apart from the competition. It defines how a company measures success, which can be almost anything, such as making an impact on society, conserving the environment, improving performance, innovating change and achieving high levels of customer satisfaction.

To develop a sound business strategy, companies can get an overall view of the business. To do this, they can:

Evaluate vision and mission statements to align them with workplace practices. The vision statement describes the organization’s purpose, values and future direction, while the mission statement outlines the business’s primary objectives and what should be done in the short term to carry out the vision long term.

Develop objectives for all areas of the business, highlighting the priorities that will help the business carry out its vision and mission. Break the objectives into short-term plans that can be carried out on a daily basis, with to-do lists and action steps for each department.

Define the ideal customer to target the key markets and figure out what makes the company’s offerings appealing to that audience. Find needs customers don’t know about yet or wants competitors are missing out on that the business can fulfill.

Add community value by figuring out how the business can make a difference in the community, for the environment or even at the global level.

Review performance on a regular basis to ensure objectives and action plans are on track and identify any areas needing improvement. This helps break down and prioritize what’s happening in the workplace and what needs to happen next.

Why culture also is important

Defining, setting and carrying out a great strategy involves getting employees on board, eager to share the company’s vision and goals.

Companies can do several things to increase employee engagement and improve workplace culture:

Support employee growth: Offer incentives for employees to engage in additional education or training opportunities, provide on-the-job coaching and offer feedback beyond annual reviews. Be sure to acknowledge any achievements to help employees feel like they are a key part of the company and that their work matters.

Promote wellness: Be sure to include work-life balance and promote personal well-being. Provide telecommuting options, if possible, encourage employees to take breaks and offer vacation time.

Think mission and vision: Ensure your employees understand the company’s mission, vision and values, so that they feel included in the company’s growth plans. Having a BBB accreditation shows employees that the business places stake in trust, transparency and integrity. Encourage employees to follow and recognize these standards as they work together.

For those solo operators, place importance on culture with reminders of how and why the company got started. Start a list of things to be thankful for and write down the good things that happen each day, including any great customer feedback. This keeps the focus on the positive, while also continuing the passion for the business.

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