Creating a Work Culture Intentionally Designed to Support an Organization's Purpose and Strategy is a Key Priority when Transitioning to a Hybrid Work Environment

In a world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, and complexity, developing and executing linear, top-down strategic plans is an exercise in futility. Who could have predicted the Covid pandemic? Or developed a detailed strategy to withstand the aftermath of the war in Ukraine?

Now more than ever, our teams need a guiding framework built on purpose and a few key principles – a way to describe culture – to stay productive and energized when the unexpected invariably happens. This is an infinitely more effective way to manage a crisis than predictably executing predefined strategic plans. 

Culture plays a powerful role in making purpose and strategy come to life - The purpose-strategy-culture triangle

Traditionally, a well-thought-out strategy was considered the key to a company's success. More recently, purpose has emerged as a central element of doing business. Although culture typically receives less attention than purpose and strategy, it is a critical component of business success – it’s how an organization and its employees behave, as well as its beliefs and guiding principles. 

Ensuring that purpose, strategy, and culture are tightly connected and aligned is critical as culture plays a powerful role in making purpose and strategy come to life. In other words, we must connect how we work, which is our culture, to what we do, which is our strategy, and why we do it, which is our purpose. All these elements are linked together. 

With every change in strategy, we also must adapt our culture and behaviors. Why? For the magic of change to happen, everyone must be willing to unleash their individual and collective creativity and talent to embrace the new strategy. This can only happen if the culture continues to be aligned with the company’s strategy and purpose. When culture, strategy and purpose are back in sync and mutually reinforcing, magic happens!

In the words of Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy, "I like to think of purpose, strategy and culture as a triangle: Each angle connects with and shapes the other two, and if one changes, the other two must evolve and adapt to maintain balance and shape, or the triangle breaks and falls apart."

Definition of corporate culture

Since we don't go to the office as often anymore, we think, "Oh, our culture is gone." Typically, we used to define "culture" in terms of the free food we got, and the happy hours we spent together. Today, that happy hour facade is somewhat gone. Culture is not so much about what happens in the office as it is about how people work together. 

The definition of "corporate culture" is very broad: it includes everything from worker engagement to organizational personality to what happens when the boss isn't around. Culture is critical to attracting and engaging top talent.

Articulating culture as a succinct message around a simple and powerful idea that everyone can relate to is essential to its effective delivery and widespread dissemination. The combination of simplicity and emotional connection is a powerful way to mobilize attention, energy, and action.

In 2012, Best Buy adopted a corporate culture that exemplified its values, most famously that of "...an inspiring friend." This concept was perfectly aligned with the company's purpose at the time, which was "...to enrich lives through technology by addressing key human needs.” This inspiring buddy mindset crystallized corporate culture for every employee and helped transform how they related to each other, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and local communities. It streamlined their decision-making process and encouraged actions consistent with the company's purpose and strategy.

The importance of designing an intentional corporate culture in a hybrid work environment

Too often, we think of culture as a one-time exercise that consists of listing a set of values, and then posting them on the website, and you’re done.

The result: many culture-related initiatives fail as quickly as they start. Why? Typically, because leaders create and communicate a set of organizational values, without directly linking them to the expected behaviors and everyday work practices and processes of the organization.

For values to be more than just lip service, they must be expressed and observable through daily behaviors and actions that exemplify those values. 

The desired behaviors need to be integrated into our daily work practices, from the way we communicate and relate to others, to the way we make decisions and conduct meetings, right down to our core processes, such as hiring, onboarding, succession planning, feedback mechanisms, off-boarding, etc.

What kinds of behaviors reflect our values? If, for example, one of our values is innovation, how will I know we were innovative? Do we design and develop our products and solutions faster than our competitors? Are we seizing opportunities faster and learning from our experiences?

Culture is a living concept that must evolve, especially at key inflection points

A successful corporate culture is co-created from the top down and bottom up based on shared values and clearly defined behaviors that create buy-in and accountability. 

Companies are increasingly aware of the need to rethink their corporate culture: to move from a controlling and coercive management style to a more democratic, inclusive, and collaborative one. Top-down, authoritarian governance simply doesn't work anymore: what drives people to excel is their connection to a larger, shared purpose, more meaningful work and greater flexibility and creativity. 

Now more than ever, it's critical that we intentionally define how we want to work together, and that we continually re-examine our culture to ensure its continued growth and alignment with strategy and purpose ... perhaps not as often as strategy, but certainly at key inflection points, such as in the hybrid work environment.

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