The business owner looking to drive company success should focus on their role in creating and maintaining the right culture.


An effective company culture is often discussed, but maybe less easily recognised. It is clearly very important to the success of your business, and in many ways is the very foundation of what you have created. Some cultures are worked at and created by design, others are simply the coming together of your values and the behaviours that are seen on a daily basis by clients and between colleagues. One of the best definitions of culture is : “It’s what happens round here, when no one is looking”.

Many clients ask us to help with strategy, but always remember that culture comes before strategy. Any strategic plan that I work on with a client, starts with Item No 1 – Vision and Values.

Without those, your strategy will be some ambitious thinking that lives in a parallel universe to your business and I would challenge the very justification for a strategy without that values-based foundation.

Whatever type of culture you are seeking, then it should deliberately designed to be that way, and it will require the business owners commitment to make it happen. It’s not an accident! The reality is that you get the culture you design or the one you allow. You decide. I’d rather have the one that I design.

In order to get that culture, you as the business owner along with the leadership team, if you have one, must be committed to, and aligned on, what values that culture should represent and what behaviours can be demonstrated in everything that you do.

The leadership team, even if that is just you, must consistently communicate to all employees what your culture means and why it matters to them, what their roles are as the individual and as the wider team, how it impacts the work they do and what it means for clients and for the business. That also means that you must lead by example. An effective culture is lead, it can never be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”.

The best are leader set and team driven.

The Link Between Culture and Performance

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (yes that really is the name) did some research a couple years ago. One of their research papers was based on survey responses from 1,348 CEOs and CFOs and in-depth interviews with executives representing 20 percent of the US equity market capitalisation.

The findings were very interesting, as they uncovered the link between culture and both business successes and business failures. Their work showed a clear link between culture and performance, which, tells me – Culture before Strategy.

Two of their (many) findings that I was specifically interested in with regards to developing team driven cultures were:

  • Culture is set by the CEO
  • The Board doesn’t drive culture but can influence it through their choice of a CEO

Yes, many of these respondents were larger businesses than ours and yours, and that can mean different approaches, but I’ve always thought about culture differently in that is the everyday behaviours that are demonstrated within the working environment that is the reality of your culture, not some ambitious directive delivered from on high.

One of the questions that MAP ask in our values interview stage is “Talk me through a time when the company culture couldn’t get the best from you?”

Many businesses never realise the full potential of their team because there exists an underlying culture clash.

Just as I have said as the business owner you get the culture you allow, then that must be said to be the same for every member of your team.

Isn’t it sensible to think that the most effective cultures are where all employees have more input?

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. In order to ensure culture is elevated to drive results, is it me as the owner or the whole of the business that has to be involved in defining and developing the desired culture?
  2. If as the leader, I am demonstrating the behaviours that I expect, shouldn’t everyone do the same so that the whole company is living the core values?
  3. If the Company as a whole, shares the responsibility of getting the culture they design, then are they accountable for the culture, as well as the impact of the culture on business performance?

Once you have started to implement your designed culture, then consider how you keep it in focus.

Balance culture with the bottom line.
 Realise that a strong and healthy culture helps to sustain business success, through good times and bad.

Transparency and accountability are two components of a healthy culture, and as the owner you must ensure these are recognisable in every aspect of your business.

Educate clients and suppliers about your culture, and about expected behaviours. Why would you want a client or a supplier who doesn’t value and respect your culture?

Determine how to measure culture and identify metrics that can be used to evaluate and report on the strength and health of the culture.

And in a time where recruitment and retention are hard, create the link between core values and performance incentives. Rewards should align not only with the behaviours that reflect the desired culture but also with the purpose, the strategy and the business model.

Stuart Brown