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  • Kelly Wood

Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast

In the past, corporate strategy has been seen as the driving force for success in organizations, but research is now clear that positive culture in workplaces contributes not only to employee satisfaction, but to corporate bottom lines. Though analytical thinking and technical, strategic skills are important in leadership; a compelling culture is what creates energy, joy and higher employee retention in organizations. This Word Pile dives into the research that reinforces that creating positive culture in workplaces requires a clear, well understood culture, trust, leaders with emotional intelligence and understanding of and alignment to corporate values.

The research shows that creating positive culture is a key competitive business advantage for corporations today and that when done properly, positive culture creates a tremendous amount of energy and improves the organization’s ability to thrive. In one study, by Boris Groysberg and partners, they analyzed the cultures of 230 companies along with the leadership styles and values of more than 1300 executives across a range of industries. They learned that shared, enduring, pervasive, enduring and implicit culture directly positively relates to employee engagement and motivation. Other research has shown that the power of a positive, trusting culture gives employees more energy to be productive as well as inspires easier collaboration. Creating clear culture in organizations starts with the leaders and ends with an employee base that has clarity and trust in their leadership.

In addition to a clear culture, trust in the leadership of organizations is a leverage point for more engaged employees, better retention, more collaboration and higher amounts of self-reported joy on the job. In a Harvard Business Reivew 2017 article, the Neuroscience of Trust, the research found that “Those working in high trust companies enjoyed their jobs 60% more, were 70% more aligned with their companies’ purpose and felt 66% closer to their colleagues and experienced 40% less burnout”. Did you want to take a sweet second to read that again?! Look at those stats!

Authentic relationships drive employee trust, engendering a happier workplace and therefore the corporate bottom line. As Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence points out, a key component of cultivating trust in leaders is a fundamental understanding of self-awareness, a first steppingstone of emotional intelligence. The pivot toward creating a trusting culture based in leaders who have high self-awareness can be taught through coaching and conversation of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is key. Leaders can have the best education, strategy and analytical skills, but without emotional intelligence they will not be a great leader. Leaders need to be able to inspire with their actions, authenticity and with their engagement with the organization’s mission. With high self-awareness, leaders can be socially skilled leaders who persuade, motivate and collaborate with high octane skill – an attribute that can help bring employees along in modelling and creating positive culture building. A critical attribute of an emotional intelligent leader is the self awareness to identify personal core values and understand how they match, or don’t match with the corporate setting they are leading.

Leaders who live their own personal values in alignment with organizational values tend to have a strong, authentic leadership presence within the organization. In absence of shared values, the leader-follower relationship is imperilled and that when leaders live corporate values inauthentically, they are seen as without integrity, the most important value employees connect with a strong leader.

The effects of putting significant resources toward building positive culture pay off with employee joy and retention as well as advantage to corporate bottom line. Positive culture building can be created with efforts by leadership to train and get education in the different aspects of culture creation; clear culture, commonly held values, trust and emotional intelligence.

So with that, my leader friends, what’s your next move? What are the spaces where you see areas for improvement that you can take on yourself and where do you need to consult with an expert to up your skills? Remember the first statement of this word pile: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.


Fernandez, J. E., & Hogan, R. T. (2002). Values-based leadership. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 25(4), 25–27.

Goleman, D. (2005). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review, 1.

Groysberg, B., Lee, J., Price, J., & Cheng, J. Y.-J. (2018). Organizational culture the leader's guide to corporate culture how to manage the eight critical elements of organizational life. Harvard Business Review, 96(1), 44–55.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Zak, P. J. (2017). The neuroscience of trust. Harvard Business Review, 2017 (January-February) 44-49

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