Culture As A Core Business Strategy

 My thoughts…


I often wonder how many organizations truly put the effort into understanding how culture is fundamental to their business success, and how to optimize such to bring their desired culture into the fabric of the organization.

Later on in this write-up, we will explore the three following areas where people can create the conditions and influencing patterns to manifest a desired, living culture to emerge and to continually form though:

  1. The business model.
  2. The business strategy.
  3. The structure and design of the organization.

We have addressed in other write-ups how an organization forms and manifests its culture through its values, beliefs and assumptions, as well as through critical ‘artifacts’, as Dr. Edgar Schein would say.

SCHEIN ide1_0Traditionally, people have been, and always will be the key focus of culture.


We tend to take a Kurt Lewin Field Theory perspective that behavior is influenced by both the person and the environment.

B = f(p,e), meaning that behavior (B)
is a function of the person (p), and his/her environment (e)

Culture Field Theory

We take a similar view with ‘culture’. That a culture is influenced by people and their environments.

C = f(p,e), meaning that ‘culture’ (C)
is a function of people (p), and his/her environment (e)

For now, we will set the stage for an emergent view of a Living Culture™, and begin to appreciate ‘an organizational culture as a core business strategy’ influenced by:

  1. The business model.
  2. The business strategy.
  3. The structure and design of the organization.

To do this, we will set the groundwork for such.

To begin…

To Define Culture

For the sake of a common understanding, let’s define culture:

An organizational culture is simply the ‘influencing patterns’ that people consistently and congruently experience over time which emerge as the norms, beliefs, values and practices that guide people in their perspectives, attitudes, decisions and behaviors’. (Trottier, 1994)

An ‘influencing pattern’ is a contingency of interdependent patterns that begin to emerge and form into something which has an inherent capacity to influence persons and events.

I believe the above description is in line with Dr. Edgar Schein’s definition of culture:

The culture of a group can be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration… (Schein, Edgar H. (2010-07-16). Organizational Culture and Leadership (The Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series)

What is A Living Culture™?

Simply, a Living Culture™ emerges and evolves as an ‘open system’
as new norms, perspectives, values, attitudes and beliefs emerge
its internal and external environments.

In addition, a Living Culture™  ‘lives’
through the experiences and actions of people.

A Living Culture™ exists in the organizational design, its business practices, business models, systems and processes.

A Living Culture™ is not ‘in some future time, that we hope for…’

A Living Culture™ is what happens and
what is experienced in the now – the present tense.

“The Future is Created Now.”



A Fundamental Principle as a premise to support the ideas presented in this write-up:

People are ‘experiential’ by nature.

People learn (assimilation and accommodation) mainly through their experiences, behaviors, observations and reflections. Learning is an emergent process.

To offer a famous well known quote by Andrew Carnegie;

As I grow older, I pay less attention to what (people) say, I just watch what they do.”

People have heard all the talk, read the ‘values list’ in the pretty frames in the hallways that basically sound the same in any organization, or have attended the ‘event change programs’ about its vision, desired norms, values, attitudes and beliefs.

But the reality is until people experience such in a consistent and congruent manner, those ‘talking points’ will not become real,
nor internalized in people’s minds and hearts.

So, how does an organization create both the conditions and the ‘influencing patterns’ that help form people’s experiences which then emerges as what is called ‘the culture of an organization’?

How does an organization embed the desired perspectives, norms, attitudes, values and practices that manifest the desired culture into the fabric of an organization?

”When one experiences a difference,
that is what makes the difference”
(Patrick Trottier, in the ’80s)

Traditional Approaches To Culture

So, how are we doing with ‘traditional approaches’ to culture?

You know – ‘lets do a culture assessment, find out what it looks like now, create a strategy to identify the issues, create a ‘vision’ of the future,  and ‘fix it’

For all the money and effort that go into corporate change initiatives,
they have a decidedly mixed success rate. Only about half of transformation
initiatives accomplish and sustain their goals, according to a survey on culture and change management by the Katzenbach Center.

According to a 2013 Katzenbach Center global survey of more than 2,200 executives, managers, and employees on culture and change management, the success rate of major change initiatives was found to be approximately 54 percent.

Key Findings  – The Importance of Culture in Enabling Change

Strategy& Global Change Survey
2013 Katzenbach Center global survey – Executive Summary:
Strategy and_Cultures-Role-in-Enabling-Organizational-Change pdf

What can we draw from these indicators?

For myself, maybe we need to ask ourselves some questions like:

Based on the above success rates of the current focus on ‘organizational culture change / transition / transformation’, or, whatever term of your choosing, maybe we have to look at this ‘organizational culture thing’ differently.

What if:

What if an organization is not encapsulated by the overly used term, ‘culture’?
(encapsulated; enclosed in a capsule, or other small container; reduced; restricted)

What if this nebulous construct named ‘culture’ is never placed under a microscope as something to be quantitatively assessed, analyzed, segmented and diagnosed?

What if the term ‘culture’ is seldom mentioned. Rather, an organization focuses on setting the stage and the conditions for the desired perspectives, values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors to emerge and form naturally.

Serendipitously, I discovered the following quote by Dr. Edgar Schein in the interview;
‘A Preview of Organizational Culture and Leadership from Edgar Schein’, (Dr. EdSchein and Tim Kuppler, January 7, 2017 ( )

Quote: “I’m almost tempted, when I get into a client situation or a coaching situation, to say: let’s have this entire conversation without using the word culture…

What if
the desired culture is simply ‘experienced’ in a consistent and congruent manner over time emerging and forming the desired norms, values, attitudes and practices?

What if certain norms, values, attitudes or practices emerged and were quite distinct from the original thoughts of a “desired culture”? Let’s say some emerged and some evolved as the organization emerges and evolves?

What if, organizations focused of creating a ‘Leadership Culture‘.

Traditionally, we approach leadership as individuals, or a set of positions. We assess and analyze to identify measured competencies and capabilities as individuals and/or groups. We seem to ‘see’ leadership’ and ‘leader’ not as their own cultural entity, but as a potpourri of skills and capabilities, and mostly focus on ‘leader training’ through hundreds of workshop hoping that ‘something’ will stick.

As has been noted by many esteemed thought leaders as well as throughout behavioral science research, lectures, books, consulting practices and scholarly institutions around the world, ‘leadership’ is considered to be the core ‘influencer’ of organizational culture.

Thus, many view ‘leadership’ as the ways-and-means to achieve the desire culture (the desired result).

What if we focused not on the desired ‘organizational culture’ as the prize, but shift our focus to ‘a leadership culture’ not simply as a ways and means but as a continually emerging resolution in itself.

Thus, would not an organizational culture naturally emerge
from a leadership culture?

Continuous Emergent Learning

Let’s say people are constantly learning new ways of thinking, new mental and emotional frameworks, new ways to ‘see’ things influenced by:

  • Novel technologies…
  • New perspectives influenced by social norms, diversity, changing marketplace, world trends / patterns, new generations, technologies, etc…
  • Increasing complexity and rate of change in the world…

As in traditional ‘culture change’ programs, does moving from one ‘static culture’ to another ‘static culture’ suffice in this day and age… and tomorrow?

Many ‘culture change’ efforts wish to move from ‘A’ to ‘B’ culture…
while the world has moved to ‘F’.

‘A’ hierarchy    changes to ‘B’ while world has emerged to ‘F’ …

What if
we could create a ‘living culture’ to naturally emerge and evolve as our worlds emerges and evolves. (vs. culture change, and change management programs)

Recently, I revisited the first ‘article’ ever given to me from one of my undergrad professors in 1972 in regards to culture and organizations. The article is by Magoroh Maruyamam, Toward Human Futuristics, 1972.

Human Futuristics, as a study of future cultural alternatives, will not be another branch of ‘science’ in the traditional sense. Its function will differ from that of science in many respects. First, cultures are not ‘existing objects’ to be observed, analyzed and explained. Second, future cultures cannot be predicted by extrapolating the past ‘pattern’ of change, the past rate of change or even past rates of acceleration of change. There are too many unprecedented innovations taking place which render extrapolations invalid. Third, culture changes do not just happen. Therefore, culture changes are subject to people’s goals, imaginations, will and choice.

In the past, in most cases, cultures were either stationary or very slowly changing transmitted by the older generation to the younger generation through the process of socialization. Sudden cultural change, when occurred, was merely a matter of transition from one stationary pattern to another stationary pattern.

Today (1972), we are entering an era of transition of a different nature – from a chain of quasi-stationary patterns to a duration of perpetually transforming patterns which depend on people’s will and choice.”

So, are these thoughts even more relevant today than in 1972?  ……. I think so.

So what to do?

  • I contend that we stop seeing an ‘organizational culture’ as some abstract ‘thing’ external to ourselves, and ‘see’ such clearly as an extension of ourselves.
  • I think it is important to understand how a culture is manifested by both people and by how organizational systems and processes are designed.
  • I think it is important to see ‘organizational culture’ as a living, evolving, emerging extension of ourselves as we live, evolve and emerge.
  • I think consistency and being congruent between what we say, and what we do is everything.
  • I think it is important to remember what people ‘experience’ in a consistent manner over time is the real culture. The real culture may, or may not, work for them. People may choose to internalize it, or survive it.
  • Culture needs to ‘fit’ what we want to achieve, and how we want to work together to achieve it.

Culture As A Core Business Strategy

Let’s explore the four following areas where people can create the conditions and influencing patterns of experiences for a desired, living culture to emerge and to continually form:

  1. The business model.
  2. The business strategy.
  3. The structure and design of the organization.

1. The Business Model – A Few Considerations

Whether an organization is a start-up, or an organization that has been around for a long time, there is always a need to review the business model because of changes in such areas as the target market, technology, growth opportunities, customer expectations, social norms, etc. Because of such ‘changes’, what if people started thinking proactively about one’s company’s culture as an integral and fundamental ingredient of its business model.

“The purpose of a company is not to create a nice workplace culture but to function in the economy, to provide goods and services. Once you’ve got that concept that we’re in this-and-this business, then you want to design a workplace culture that optimizes fitting to that business.” Dr. Edgar Schein from ’20 Organizational Culture Change Insights from Edgar Schein’, by Tim Kuppler ( )

Some Questions To Facilitate Awareness And Exploration Of The Importance Of Culture Becoming Inherent Within The Business Model:

  • Who is the customer? And what does the customer value?’
  • What business are we in? What is our business model?
  • What do we want our brand to stand for?
  • What are our core beliefs? What do we as people stand for?
  • What is our business purpose… what is our ‘higher purpose’?
  • How important is culture to our business model?
  • What is the role of culture in our business model?
  • What does culture look like within our business model?
  • What does leadership practices look like in our business model?
  • How do we give people experiences that are consistent and congruent with our desired culture through our structures, practices, systems, policies, relationships and business processes?
  • How does the role / design of IT/IS reflect our culture in our business model?
  • How do we work together and build positive relationships with each other in our organization, with our customers, with our market and with our supply side in our business model?

Comment: Even when you have the greatest business model, you will not achieve optimal performance if you cannot create a supportive / validating culture that becomes integrated and synergistic within that model as a whole.  This is why culture needs to be embedded as an integral part of the business model canvas.

2. The Business Strategy – A Few Considerations

Traditionally, a change in organizational culture has been written as and viewed as a unique initiative / program within an organization’s ‘to do’ list.  This sets up an organization’s culture as ‘something nice’, or as ‘a program’ outside of the core business strategies of the organization. Thus, cultural change many times becomes ‘something we have to do as a sideline project outside of the core business strategies’.

As an alternative, what if an organization embeds their values into their core business strategies to create internal and external people new experiences congruent with the stated values. What if policies and standards of performance become congruent with the stated values.


 A. Strategic Goal: Service / Product Value To Enhance ‘Reputational Capital’

To enhance product / service reputation through integrated information systems to support and increase the scope of product / service knowledge, customer feedback, innovation and decision making at front-line staff, systems and customer interfaces.

 B. Strategic Goal: IT / Front-Line Information Systems Integration

To design and implement open and integrated IT/IS systems where people  / teams can design user-friendly, customized dashboards to enhance a greater understanding of, as well as their contributions to, the business as a whole system.

C. Performance standards congruent with desired customer experiences. To actually answer a customer call-in within one minute (standard) congruent with the phone message: “Your call is important to us.” Now, would that not be a revolutionary customer experience.

3. Organizational Structure And Design – A Few Considerations

Most, if not in all organizations, have two basic types of structures.

A. The fist one is the formal structure that describes ranks of individuals, authority / reporting channels, functional departments and the segmentation of those functions.

B. The second one is the informal structure. Whereby the formal structure shows how participants are expected to relate to each other, the informal structure is how they actually do relate and interact with each other, how work really gets done across the organization, what types of relationships are developed as well as what actual value each person / group brings to the performance of other members and to their customers.

The informal structure is where and how the work gets done
and goals are met.

Most organizations are still formally structured according to The Industrial Age hierarchical silos. This 19th Century design is based on traditional authoritarian power (feudal lords and expendable serfs), upward lines of reporting, territorialism, management control of information, and expected ‘god-like’, infallible humans at the top to follow without question.  This formal structure exists for the control of resources, people and outcomes but not necessarily adaptable to today’s rapidly changing and increasingly complex world.

In a May 2011 “Harvard Business Review” article, Harvard Business School professor John Kotter suggests that hierarchical organizations inhibit timely transformations, which are essential if a business is to survive in a rapidly changing environment. He suggests that hierarchies work for standardized processes but they are not useful in dynamic environments. They are slow to react to new opportunities, which often require transformative change.

To extend Dr. Kotter’s point, I believe that traditional, hierarchical structures cannot fully reflect, and may actually inhibit, the desired values, attitudes and practices that are needed to deal with the complexities, risks, competitive innovations, market changes, political changes, customer expectations and rate of change that organizations have to deal with today.

I believe that the 21st Century needs structures that move from  Industrial Age silos toward the Interconnected Age such as collaborative, functionally integrated, value-based networks linked by integrated information and value streams, and where ‘positional leadership’ is a thing of the past. Maybe, some day, a person is not defined by their position, but by their merit and character as reflective of the desired values of that organization.

It is important to remember that an organizational design must be constantly aligned to and in support of the business model and strategic focus of the organization. Such must also reflect and become a synergistic reflection of the values of the organization.

How would you design an organization that would effectively function in a complex world of change and challenges? What would that look like?

How does the design of your organization, its business process, IT/IS systems, structure and customer interface embed and thus reflect your values so internal and external people actually experience such consistently and congruently in their interactions with your organization?

Summary Thoughts

Through my studies, practice, and observations I believe that the ‘influencing patterns’ people experience over time constitutes how they will begin to perceive and define the culture of an organization. This is in line with the Emergent Change® Platform.

Thus, I believe the desired culture needs to be embedded and reflected in an organization’s business model, their strategic goals, their business systems and processes, their ‘leadership systems’, their technology systems, and their organizational design. In doing so, with conscious effort and guidance, the desired culture will emerge and form new norms and practices as a living organizational culture.

Bottom line, if you want to change the culture give people a different experience that is consistent and congruent with the desired values of the organization within an open system of Emergent Change®.


All thoughts about these ideas as well as other feedback are appreciated.

Patrick A. Trottier
Emergent Organizational Development and Change®

About Patrick A. Trottier

I am a 30 plus year applied Organizational Development practitioner having honed my craft in the U.S., Canada and internationally. Presently living in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., I am currently developing the next evolution of O.D. termed; 'Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change® (EODC)®, and focusing on Emergent OD®, Emergent Change® and the development of Emergent Organizations® within my professional practice.
This entry was posted in Change, Culture, Emergent Change, Emergent OD and Change, Emergent Organizational Development, Emergent Organizations, home, Leadership, Organizational Design, Organizational Development, Patterns, Perception, Performance, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Culture As A Core Business Strategy

  1. Kellie says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your views!

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