I was recently asked to join a panel of speakers at the Contact Centre NZ Summit and the topic was “Developing a customer-driven and highly-engaged workforce... why building a strong culture is key to delivering excellent customer service” and why “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (a phrase originated by Peter Drucker, a renowned management guru).
The best way to expound on the topic is to first define terms. The common definition of “strategy” is it is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim. It is rational and logical, clear and simple; easy to understand and to talk about and drives focus and direction. Without a clear strategy, a company is like a ship without a rudder.
“Corporate culture” is defined as the shared beliefs, values, standards and attitudes that characterize a company. As part of this, employees need to understand where the company is heading - the vision - and believe in it themselves. They should be able to feel it and make it their own.
Businesses forget the importance of culture and put strategy first. They think culture is just something that happens as a consequence of employees working together. In fact, company culture is something that is created…
it’s the overall environment for the employees… it creates a cohesiveness in working together towards attaining company goals. A good culture will lead to engagement and execution of strategy.
As someone who has worked in different industries and countries, I believe that the right culture is what a company needs to proritise as part of its strategy. I worked in an airline, where corporate culture could be described as more formal, traditional and hierarchical and then for a telecommunications company where it was more dynamic, team-based and fast-paced. Now that I work for a fin-tech company, it is a combination of both and the thrust to become more digital and future-thinking has strongly influenced the way the staff think and act.
In most contact centres, there is a diverse mix of cultures. I have staff that are from different countries and continents, staff who were born in New Zealand and staff who migrated here, staff who joined the company after completing high school and staff who have university degrees, those who have been with the company for more than 20 years, and staff who just joined a few months ago. Making sure that everyone relates to and shares in the company culture can be challenging but since my company has always prioritized this as a barometer for its success, then it has become a norm.
Staff will enjoy their time working if their needs and values are consistent with those in the workplace. They have good relationships with coworkers and are more productive. Furthermore, attrition rate is low because they want to work for the company longer.
Corporate culture is truly the key to a company’s long-term success. Even if a company has a well-thought-of and brilliant strategy, what eventually happens with it will depend on the employees. If the contact centre environment is fun and nurturing, the agents will be resilient to challenges and committed to providing excellent customer service. After all, “happy employees mean happy customers!”
So, does culture eat strategy for breakfast? My response is that culture eats strategy the whole day!