Personal Business: Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Organisational culture and strategy can seem like a chicken and egg deal – what comes first when we talk about business success? But, according to the business guru Peter Drucker, the answer is simple: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Silicon Valley
I’m a fan of ‘Silicon Valley’. The characters in TV series work relentlessly for their employers, but they don’t seem to do it for the money. Their job is a big part of their lifestyle: they believe in their company, and they have fun at work.

Until recently I assumed the series was guilty of wild exaggeration, especially regarding the culture at the world’s most successful technology companies. But the more people I talk to who have experience of working there, the more it seems to be pretty accurate.

My experience
This echoes my own experience of working at a tech startup. When I attended the job interview I was surprised to see someone coast past me on a skateboard. The walls were decorated with graffiti and there were arcade games and a foosball table.

But people weren’t slacking off playing foosball all day, as you might imagine. The work ethic of my colleagues was intense. The culture wasn’t a hindrance to getting stuff done – if anything it was a reason for people to work hard.

The Danish Model
In the past, some international companies have run into problems on their Danish adventure (think Ryanair and Uber), but the problems have been of a particular nature – falling foul of the so-called Danish model of employment.

The ‘Danish Model’ seeks to ensure minimum working conditions for employees. It is a barrier if, like Ryanair and Uber, you are seeking to get people to work for as little as possible. But if you are looking to get the best people to do their best work, you need to go beyond this.

One of the biggest challenges for tech startups is attracting and retaining the right people, and then motivating them to do their best work. The Danish model focuses on ‘traditional ’ parameters (job security, salary etc), but for tech startups you need to build on top of this to create the organisational culture that people in the industry seek.

Just throw in skateboards and foosball and breakfast is cooking.