Does culture drive performance or does performance drive culture?
Updated: Apr 17, 2019
Let’s be honest, consistently securing senior buy-in to regular and significant investments in organisational culture can be really hard work. The impact on performance improvement is often intangible or difficult to prove, and truly understanding and measuring the links between culture and performance takes time, effort and investment. Most organisations don’t have a long and stable history of seeing results from their culture change efforts, which can mean the business case is held together with series of leap-of-faith assumptions – too easily torn apart if there is a cynic in the board room.
These dynamics aren’t helped by a number of age-old questions. Does culture drive performance or does performance drive culture? In organisations with a strong culture and strong business performance, which came first? Don’t successful companies naturally get more engaged teams? Winning feels good – right?
At dragonfish, we truly believe that organisational culture fuels performance. Culture is not just some mysterious, unseen presence, or an outcome of circumstance. It can be shaped. And when that shaping is done properly, culture can be the positive force behind an organisation’s performance. Good instead of bad. Win instead of lose. It can make or break any business plan.
And this belief is backed up by unequivocal evidence. In 2016, we partnered with Bournemouth University on a piece of research that assessed the cultures of 1,200 large organisations and uncovered what the fastest growing 20% had in common.
What did we find?
In three words – Vision, Purpose and Values.
In the 20% highest performing organisations, employees were 22% more likely to agree that the Vision for the organisation motivates them, 26% more likely to see that their company has a clear Purpose beyond making money, and 24% more likely to say that their company’s Values shape decision making every day.
The chicken or the egg?
The reason this evidence closes the chicken and egg debate is simple. Vision, purpose and values frameworks don’t happen by accident. They aren’t an outcome from strong business performance. They are only embedded through time, clarity and sustained effort from a leadership team. The framework can only be a cause and high performance can only be an effect. There is zero chance the egg came first – it could only come from a chicken.
Working with some of the UK’s most loved brands, we see examples every day that long-term business success only comes from clarity on what the organisation stands for, a motivating picture of the future and an understanding of and commitment to the ways of thinking and behaving required to get there. And we love talking about Vision, Purpose and Values. If you’re interested to learn more we run breakfast briefings on this topic most months.
For an informal chat please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.