Business Strategy v Company Culture

Big Red Car here. Going to be clear and 70F today in the ATX. Not a bad winter day.

On Earth as it is in Texas!

Today we speak of the relationship between business strategy and company culture. They are different in a meaningful way. Not quite as clear as the Austin skies today. Let’s shed some light on them.

Top down

Business strategy [Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, Culture — that business strategy, grasshopper] is a top down element of the planning for a successful company. It is the first place after Vision and Mission where leadership and management come together to plot and plan the company’s future.

Strategy is the view from 30,000 feet. It is the broad strokes and the blunt pencils.

It is then further defined by Tactics — the boots on the ground view of things — and Objectives — the company’s To Do List.

Strategy is a top down initiative.

Bottom up

Culture is the conscious and unconscious behaviors and beliefs of the organization developed in response to the Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives and Values of the company. These beliefs and behaviors propel performance and inform decisionmaking at every level of the company.

It is a responsive and bottom up element of the company’s DNA.

The totality of the company’s policies, procedures, values and leadership flavor the culture; and, the culture is constantly changing as the flavors are mixed in different proportions as the company continuously evolves.

CEO engagement and communication are the special sauce of any culture.

For a detailed discussion of the culture of a small company or a startup see:

The Company Culture Series <<<link.

One important point — inasmuch as culture bubbles up from the bottom, it is still impacted dramatically by the values of the founders. If the founders have a well defined set of values and have been able to define them and articulate them well then the culture will be grounded on these values. When the values are missing or the values are suspect, then the culture will similarly be suspect.

Take a gander at the recent Zillow sexual harassment and the Uber opposition research fiascos to see how an errant step from the top can undermine and poison the company culture by exposing toxic values. These are real examples of how not to do it.

Zillow Sexual Torture Allegations <<<link

 Uber Opposition Research Allegations <<<link

Pro tip: Company culture is not foosball and a keg on Friday.

Steak v gumbo

Strategy is red meat, imagine a very nice New York strip — well seasoned, fat trimmed close, seared on the outside, medium rare and sizzling pink on the inside. Very tasty but prepared by a single chef and coming from the top down.

Culture is a gumbo — spicy, lots of different ingredients, eaten hot, constantly changing, nice piece of crusty French bread to sop it up with. Very tasty but prepared by group — including the tasters themselves — and one that each taster tastes something a little different.


The other day a brilliant CEO asked The Boss: “When are we big enough to start thinking about company culture?”

The Boss replied: “When you hire your first employee.”

Company culture begins to form at that hiring moment and the hiring process itself is the first contact between your people and the company culture. It is never too early to begin focusing on company culture.


An important element of understanding business strategy and how it works with company culture is the realization that your people will be “loyal” to the culture as it has their fingerprints on it. They will adhere to the strategy. Strategy is almost entirely rational. Culture is almost entirely emotional. And, therein lies the biggest difference. Know this.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it. Naughty or nice? Both!

8 thoughts on “Business Strategy v Company Culture

  1. I have found that company culture is emergent rather than set by the management. It comes from the strategy, people, and behaviors.

    Management does have control over all of these things, but they don’t put together a slide deck called ‘culture’ and call it a day. They need to keep adjusting the three things they can control through strategy iteration/communication, hiring/firing, and process analysis.

    I’m not sure where ‘values’ really matter though. Maybe as a marketing/recruiting tool?

    • .
      Values are from the heart of the founder of any startup.

      If a founder gets Vision, Mission, Values right — he can get other hands to assist in the formulation of Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, and Culture.

      The initial inoculation of culture comes from the founder and then becomes owned by the company itself. Someone set out to make Special Forces special but now it is owned by the men themselves.

      Go here and look at the Values booklet and see how they are connected.


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