How do you make sure you build company culture that’s aligned with your strategic vision?

The question came up often at this year’s first Ultimate Culture Conference in Chicago. One thing is clear: your culture and your strategy should have a symbiotic relationship.

Your culture should allow your organization’s values to define its behaviors in a way that propels strategic success. So when Zappos hires passionate customer support employees, they are reinforcing their values as a customer support driven business. Similarly, when Ginger.IO hires empathetic employees they are reinforcing their strategic vision as a mental health app.

If the goal is to align your strategy and culture, what does success look like? Below are examples from two organizations that presented at the Ultimate Culture Conference, detailing how they aligned their company culture with their strategic vision to achieve business success.

Know who you are. Define your company culture.

Step one of aligning your company culture and your strategy is knowing what each of these is. Chief Culture Officer Mark Hertzerber accomplished this at SunEdison during a busy 2 year period for the company–in that time, SunEdison redefined its business strategy, restructured their 13,000 person company, performed 3 IPOs and acquired 10 companies. Having a clearly defined company culture allowed SunEdison to not only survive that much change, but to thrive throughout those changes.

How did Hertzerber do it? He knew the company needed to improve its culture to accomplish the tasks ahead, so he started by ensuring the executive team was on board. Next, SunEdison defined their culture by clearly articulating their mission, values, and culture. They debated every word. In fact, the only word used twice, was used twice on purpose: team.

Once defined, Hertzerber knew their culture would only truly permeate the organization if people all across the company got involved. He empowered 200 cultural black belts throughout the organization.

Hertzberger emphasized that it wasn’t an easy transition: it was about a change in emotional awareness, not just cerebral processes.

Take advantage of your strengths: Align your culture and strategy.

When your company culture and your strategy are aligned, it means you’re using your employees’ innate skills and to create a competitive advantage. Hampton Inn has mastered this approach and created a company culture that is a strategic advantage. In the hotel business, differentiation is difficult. Hampton Inn’s strategy is to provide only the necessary parts, provide them well, and differentiate on service. Naturally, they focus on building a culture that brings out the best in their employees, so that they offer the best service possible to their guests. They encourage employees not only to be creative with how they bring smiles to their customers’ faces, but also to share their out-of the-box ideas with each other .This is how one of their traditions, “Good Morning” bananas, started. With a limited staff unable to greet every guest, one Hampton Inn let the fruit do the talking by writing welcoming, fun messages on bananas. Guests loved it, and now, many more Hampton Inns have adopted the tradition.

(Photo of Hampton Inn courtesy of TripAdvisor.)

When thinking about investing in culture, remember the symbiotic relationship between culture and strategy: Build culture that fits with your strategy, and make sure your strategy fits with your culture.

Read more from the Ultimate Culture Conference here.


Bailey is a Principal at Live in the Grey. Bailey is passionate about the relationship between the needs of a business and the needs of the people involved: customers, employees, stakeholders. She is also passionate about themed parties and arts and crafts.


  • Yonica

    Awesome article! It really boils down to clear communications across the board. Companies could have a winning formula, if they would just communicate their mission, vision, strategy and goals to their employees. The culture and company suffers the most when their employee talents are suppressed and/or misdirected.

  • sreenivasan krishnan

    While following an Organization’s Culture is important, in a Global context, one needs to tweak and balance, this to fit into your local strategy taking into consideration the local culture!

  • Supratik Biswas

    Its true but the biggest hurdle is in family held businesses where culture is often taken for granted and nobody gives it a serious thought.

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