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Making Culture Your Winning Strategy

Updated: Jan 7, 2022


In times when a regular strategy just won’t do, organizations need to connect with the core of who they are and what sets them apart. Can culture help reshape places of work and drive a competitive edge?
DEFINITION: Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that characterize an organization.

Most business leaders will tell you that they lead strategy-driven organizations -the C-suite sets the objectives and the marching orders and then cascades the direction to the business, the accountability, responsibility, and rules of engagement for ultimately the people to fall in line and deliver.


Strategy can of course be the hero; however, some of the best strategies can fall victim to the potent power of company culture. The two need each other to deliver a winning combination.

“A company rewards itself when exponential leaders align culture with strategy. Culture must ripple through every act of policy and business strategy.” William Craig, founder, and President, WebFX

Corporate Services and Workplace Experience specialist, Robert Teed formerly of Symantec, Polycom, DocuSign, ServiceNow, and now Chief Coaching Officer at Integri Group sums it up nicely:

Culture exists in and moves through the people that make up the company, leaders and otherwise. And, it's what connects those people, regardless of where they physically are. It’s the purpose, values, character, and personality of your organization in action.
Leaders who have or want a ‘great’ culture rarely leave it to happenstance. They are intentional about culture. They are clear what a 'great' culture means to them, they invest in it, they curate it, they amplify it, they live it. They feed it, and it feeds them. Employees who want to be part of and contribute to a 'great' culture do the same.
Company culture transcends the physical workplace. Your company's office walls may exhibit and reflect your company's culture, but they are never its source. Its source is always the people. Having a hip office with cool amenities does not make for a great culture (Silicon Valley has had no shortage of toxic cultures existing in hip offices).
There is never an absence of company culture. Some version of company culture always forms, love it or hate it, try or not.

Visionaries, Early Adopters, Trailers & Resistors


Most organizations will have a combination of:

VISIONARIES - those blue-sky thinkers that invent, create, dream the future that is critical to any organization. However, they need the rest of the organization to follow to turn any of these dreams into reality. The Visionaries tend to be fearless as they understand that without risk there cannot be progress.
They look to the EARLY ADOPTERS/CHANGE AGENTS in the organization – those who see the merits in the ideas and are willing to give it a try to see and explore the possibilities. The Early Adopters are explorers and sometimes willing to go through a certain number of challenges or risks to explore the future.
Every organization has the TRAILERS, that 5% of businesses that neither lead nor get in the way, they simply follow. 
But by far the biggest challenge lies with the RESISTORS, of an organization. It’s this group that needs to be convinced of the new direction, maintaining, or changing your company culture – in fact, these resistors can be the success or failure of any cascaded strategy, no matter how great or visionary it is. The key here is not to convince them but gain their buy-in and support to help drive company culture forward. 
The recollection of the ‘Kodak Moment’ rings loud for many. A Visionary at the firm invented one of the first digital cameras as the future of the business. The idea was turned down in preference to sticking with traditional film, and the rest is history.

Fear is a driving factor

Instincts are at the very core of human behavior and one of the most powerful instincts is fear at either end of the spectrum - the Visionaries thrive in the fear zone but at the peak of the Resistors, fear is an inhibitor of progress – fear of change, doing things differently, perhaps new ways of working that will threaten their own individual ability to survive.

Those Resistors thriving in the status quo can often outlive or overtake the few visionaries and early adopters. Time is of the essence to gain buy-in from non-adopters before they wear out the efforts of those intending to drive transformation and change.
The Resistors become key to your company culture, and through understanding and managing this group lies an organization’s ability to succeed or fail.
An important test of culture is how your people behave when no one is looking – do they embrace the new ways of working or do they revert to the old? Even worse, do they actively block progress in the fear of their own survival and protectionism?

Why Investing in Culture is a Winning Strategy?

“Culture will guide organizational design going forward. It’s no longer an afterthought, but a critical pilar of every strategic plan. Strategy and culture need to work hand-in hand.” Georgina Miranda, Culture & Strategy Officer, 4xi Global Consulting

We’ve been on ZOOM for almost 2 years versus walking the halls and connecting with our fellow peers and leaders. The values and connection points that contributed to organizational culture have been tested in endless ways during the pandemic. This period was one of challenge and learning. Each of us has emerged with a new understanding of ourselves, our team, and our world at large. As organizations consider and design what returning to work looks like, the big question leaders need to ask themselves is ‘what do we want it to feel like?’

Leaders have the prime opportunity to design and innovate a culture that reinspires their people back to the workplace. We live in times where people are consciously choosing to leave roles in droves, that no longer suit them. Culture can be an excellent competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. Culture can be the glue to help people reconnect again in a meaningful and unified way. We can’t expect people to just snap back in like a puzzle piece. There needs to be space for reconnection and culture is a critical element.


Developing a strong organizational culture takes time, investment, and buy-in. It starts with awareness around your current culture or lack thereof. You might look at what needs healing, what needs attention, what needs development and support, and what needs a total redesign.


This work shapes the DNA of the organization so to speak. It also helps create clear boundaries of what a company IS and IS NOT. People choose their places of work equally to belong to something bigger than has a purpose. Here lies the opportunity to align around a common value system, purpose, and organizational approach to doing business.


To even understand your starting point in the realms of company culture, you need to listen to your people and ask questions to know where to begin and invest.


When a culture has been adopted and valued, you feel it at every level of the organization—top-down and bottom-up. Everyone walks the talk from the inside out. This means your customers and external sources feel the thing you do too. Think of aspirational organizations like Virgin, Patagonia, and Apple. Their culture lives far beyond their products and offerings and leaves a meaningful and lasting impression. Actions often speak louder than words, as you see behaviors aligned with overall cultural norms and values at every interaction.

Culture driving impact and changing behaviors?

The Walt Disney Company is often lauded for their fantastic customer service – and this is even as they continue to test the price elasticity of a daily ticket in their theme parks.


There’s a story about a young child who tossed her Belle doll over the wall of a construction area at one of the parks and by the time park security retrieved it, the doll's dress was ruined by mud and water. Since there wasn’t a replacement available, the textiles team made a new dress for the doll and returned it good as new to the family at their hotel along with photographs of the doll’s day around the property. We have heard similar stories from Ritz Carlton as well, involving a wayward teddy bear.

“Now nowhere in the Disney handbook does it spell out that team members should make new doll clothes; however, they are inspired to Create Memories That Will Last a Lifetime.” Tony Johnson, Chief Customer Experience Officer, 4xi Global Consulting

This is how selecting team members with a heart for service, steeping them in culture, and empowering them to be amazing can lead to magical experiences.


Being intentional in having everyone understand your purpose and WHY is critical in developing culture throughout. And it goes beyond just theme park theatrics. This comes to life in healthcare organizations as they build teams of empathetic caregivers or in restaurants with inspired culinarians.


Customer Experience is inextricably linked to culture and is about understanding that sales growth is primarily enabled by creating experiences that motivate customers to spend not just once, but over and over again. Happy customers spend more, are more likely to return, and will recommend you to others in their circles. That is a sustainable business roadmap – and one, unlike economic pressures, supply chain, or market forces, that is entirely within your control.


One key to ensuring your team is prepared to serve is through empowerment. This goes beyond the usual corporate speak of “empowerment” where the word is thrown around in an attempt to sound like a leader worth following. Empowerment is scary and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something you don’t want. You must show your team the way through your actions as a leader, emphasize your culture at every turn, and train your team in the skills they need. Then once you have shared your expectations and given them the latitude to make decisions in the moment, you must do the hard part. You have to trust them.


They will make mistakes and you will need to coach them a bit – and then let them try again. But as time goes on, they will become more comfortable making decisions, thus making it much quicker for them to resolve issues and take care of guests in the moment. This is essential for any good storefront, or contact center, to remove friction points for their customers.

“As an example, some organizations have systemically failed in instilling a values-based culture. Every time I go into a DMV or a USPO office, I can see the very worst of Culture as a Strategy. Each time I have the good fortune of flying with Virgin, staying at a Ritz Carlton Hotel, or go to an Apple Store I see the contrast quite clearly.” Simon Elliot, Managing Partner, 4xi Global Consulting

The thing is, no matter what you say, or tell, building your culture is a delicate process and full of nuances, a long-term journey, rather than simply a statement in the annual report - it’s an organization-wide, long-term commitment to change and transformation.

Vranda, an Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) reporting platform is helping enterprises comply with coming SEC requirements. Focused on driving not just data but culture - increased visibility, education across the organization, driving real impact and behavior change with folks on the front line - doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do.

Allowing for culture to impact work experience design

As we think about how work experience design goes hand in hand with culture, there are many opportunities.


Lobbies and Culture

For those few that have activated their lobby’s, that sets a certain tone. For those who choose a ‘Men in Black’ security presence at the front desk versus ‘Welcome Ambassadors’ achieve a different tone. Every touchpoint in a lobby experience can tie back to the organizational culture.


Kitchens and Connection

Food and food experiences have been at the heart of community since the beginning of humankind. We all have our most important moments over the family dinner table, around the kitchen of the home, cooking together, working together, socializing, catching up, solving problems together.


What better place to build a workplace culture than from the kitchen - connectivity, collaboration, casual collisions, community.

Company Campuses

Look at organizations like Nike where visiting their global campuses is like a place of worship to what the business stands for. At Airbnb, how every space, every room, reflects a very personal insight into their global business. At Salesforce, where it feels more like a homage to fun and exploration than a corporate office. Capital One and their investment in workplace convenience and services, and how that builds a friendly, collaborative but highly focused culture that extends to the local community.


Mergers and acquisitions

In recent years we have seen endless large organizations acquiring smaller, nimble, innovative companies to grow their market share and offerings while surpassing the competition. As the two merge, what culture will prevail? While the acquiring company might be more risk-averse, how can they continue to nurture and develop the innovative spirit of the company they just acquired and create space to not lose this competitive edge?

No matter where you are today on your Culture journey, understanding your current landscape is critical, from which you can build your actionable plan and strategy to transition from your current state to your desired culture state of tomorrow.


It’s not an easy journey, that likely will include some form of trial and error. Yet when you can start to feel the subtle shifts in your organization of not just your visionaries walking the talk, but even those who might have protested every step of change along the way—you will know it was worth it.


It will take conscious leaders to commit to developing culture and become agents of change. Conscious leadership asks us to be mindful, compassionate, and selfless in all we say and do. Becoming a conscious leader begins with having the self-awareness to drive meaningful change in the organizations we run and keep well.

We have an opportunity to consciously look at our current situation in the workplace and engineer the design in a way that best supports the future growth of not only the organization but the people making the magic happen.


We can’t ignore the data that speaks to the heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression that are impacting places of work around the world or the disparities that still exist in terms of providing equitable structures and offerings.


Conscious leaders will help shift the global collective out of outdated systems, behaviors, and structures that are no longer relative to our world today and that do not have the best interest of their people rooted in their core. They will be able to do so with awareness and total consciousness, first within themselves, then within their places of work. It’s a new era to thrive not only in profitability but with impact and total well-being.


Let culture be your competitive advantage and what unites your people, customers, and everyone you touch.


Are you ready to challenge your status quo and nurture the right conditions for culture to be a forethought rather than an afterthought?

Making Culture Your Winning Strategy is imperative today. You can view the full article here and download it too.


Let us know if you would like to explore how 4xi can help you design the right strategy and help with the transformation from where you are today to where you want to be in the future.


4xi: Inspiring the future, together.

THE AUTHORS:

Simon Elliot is Co-founder and Managing Partner of 4xi Global Consulting & Solutions, a boutique advisory firm focused on the human experience for people at work, in education in care, at rest, and at leisure.


Simon is a Fellow of the Institute of Directors (London), a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, and the Institute of Leadership & Management. He is also the Chair of the WORKTECH Academy for North America.

Georgina Miranda is a global leader in change, transformation, mindfulness, conscious leadership development, and the advancement of women. She serves as the Chief Culture and Strategy officer at 4xi and is the CEO of She Ventures.


Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, conscious leaders, and those called to shift mountains within themselves and the world around them. She is a global explorer and mountaineer athlete, on her way to becoming one of less than 15 women worldwide to complete the Explorer's Grand Slam--reaching the highest peak on each continent and the last degree of the North and South Pole.

Tony Johnson is 4xi’s Chief Experience Officer in Residence, CEO of Ignite Your Service, and one of the world’s leading customer experience strategists, trainers, keynote speakers. He is an author, a presenter, a podcast, and webcast host, and one of the best-recognized personalities in the world of customer experience.


Learn more at www.4xiconsulting.com or email us at hello@4xiconsulting.com


4xi: Inspiring the future, together.

4xi Global Consulting & Solutions is a team of talented leaders from both the client-side and service provider side creating an impact in the Human Experience (HX) for people at work, in education, rest, and at leisure.


We believe in a people-first, experience-led philosophy, whether client, employee, or guest – their experience is the fundamental foundation of success.

We work with corporations, service providers, and innovators:

  • Strategic Advisory

  • Amenities, Design & Operations

  • Customer Experience (CX)

  • Training & Development

  • Strategic Partnership & Growth

  • Innovation

  • Solutions & Support

Our Strength is in the Power of Our Collective.




4xi is proud to be Chair of WORKTECH Academy for North America and a member of its Leadership Advisory Board. 4xi is a Global Ambassador for WORKTECH Academy.


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