Why Culture Still Eats Strategy for Breakfast (and maybe lunch as well)

January 26, 2016 by

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast Peter Drucker nailed it years ago when he spoke those famous words.

In the last year, there were two thorough studies released showing employee engagement and culture topping the list as the number one challenge for organizations worldwide, one by the Society for Human Resource Management and the other by Deloitte. An overwhelming 87% of respondents believe engagement and culture were “important,” with 50% declaring the problem as “very important.” Furthermore, the “very important” responses doubled from two years prior. Fully two-thirds of the HR respondents said they are currently updating their engagement and retention strategies, for good reason.1

Needless to say, there is much work to be done on the challenge and thousands of organizations are seeking new solutions for nurturing engagement and culture. Much of the effort is needed because of several key dynamics taking place in the workplace:

– The Rise of Virtual Work and Mobile Technologies. It’s a whole new paradigm in the work world, with employees constantly connected to their jobs and logging more hours than ever. Such changes require adapting methods for building engagement and culture, such as supporting a good work from home policy, allowing employees to attend meetings virtually, and trusting them to do their job, even when you can’t see them.

– A Dearth of Understanding about Employee Engagement. When asked if they understand the concept of employee engagement, only 50% of employees responded positively. Shockingly, this figure only improves to 68% for Managers.2 If the very group who has the greatest impact on employee engagement cannot define it, one cannot hold out much hope for great engagement outcomes. To drive engagement, companies must first start with education.

– The Era of Transparency. The widespread use of websites such as Glassdoor, Facebook, and LinkedIn has given new power to employees and job candidates, as they search for insights and knowledge into company cultures. Thus, companies need to be far more proactive in managing how their culture appears on these websites in order to promote and protect their employer brand. The best option to manage reputation is to make internal improvements to culture. When employees can speak positively about their employer, that message will spread on social media as well.

– Millennials, Millennials, Millennials. How many articles and blogs have you seen regarding this special (yes, special) group of employees? Probably hundreds, for good reason, since Gen Y now exceeds the number of Baby Boomers in the workforce. Hence, the changing demographics require altering solutions, since both the drivers of engagement and culture values for Millennials are far different than for the other generations. Millennials are supremely driven by: doing a job they can get passionate about, working somewhere that has high Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a workplace environment that promotes collaboration, and trust (especially as it relates to workplace flexibility). A great strategy for better engaging Millennials is to measure how well your company is doing right now. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” as the old saying goes. Unfortunately, most employee engagement survey providers have not updated their survey instruments to reflect this generational shift in what motivates. In essence, they and their clients are not asking the right survey questions for Millennials. As you embark on your next company survey, make sure you are adapting your questions to stay relevant for Millennials.

Changes in the new world of work require changes in how we think about running a business. Having a good strategy is important, but you need engaged employees to properly execute any strategy. That’s why it’s time to make culture a bigger focus in your goals. When you have a positive, healthy culture, everything else will follow.

1 Deloitte University Press – DUPress.com 2015
2 Modern Survey, 2016



Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.

Email: kevin@kevinsheridanllc.com