Culture As A Core Business Strategy – An Emergent Approach To A Living Culture

Emergent Organizational Development and Change (EODC)™

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.

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

‘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’.

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 this 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)

A Living Culture

Let me also offer a fundamental principle to premise and to support the ideas presented in this write-up:

People are ‘experiential’ by nature.

People learn (assimilation and accommodation) mainly through their experiences, observations and reflections.

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 list on the pretty frames in the hallways that sound the same in any organization, and have attended the ‘event programs’ about its vision, desired norms, values, attitudes and beliefs. But the reality is until they experience such, 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 emerge as what is called the culture of an organization?

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

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 culture 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, Posted on Saturday, 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 shifted, or were distinct from the original thoughts of a desired culture? Let’s say some emerge and some evolve as the organization emerges and evolves?

What if we can create a ‘living culture’ to emerge and evolve.

Culture As A Core Business Strategy

“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 that business.” Dr. Edgar Schein from ’20 Organizational Culture Change Insights from Edgar Schein’, by Tim Kuppler ( )

Let’s explore the three following areas where people can create the conditions and influencing patterns of experiences for a desired, living culture to emerge and 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 which has a need to review their business model because of changes in such areas as the market, technology or a change in leadership, then what if senior people started thinking proactively about one’s company’s culture as an integral and fundamental ingredient of its business model.

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?
  • 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 strategic plan.  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 new employee experiences 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.

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.

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 patterns people experience over time constitutes how they will begin to perceive and define the culture of an organization.

Thus, I believe the desired culture needs to be embedded and reflected in an organization’s business model, their strategic goals 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 values of the organization.

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

Patrick A. Trottier
Emergent Organizational Development and Change ™


About Patrick A. Trottier

25 plus year applied Organizational Development (O.D.) practitioner both in the US and Canada. Presently living in beautiful Vancouver, B.C. Patrick currently is developing the next evolution of O.D. named 'Emergent O.D. and Change' (EODC)™
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2 Responses to Culture As A Core Business Strategy – An Emergent Approach To A Living Culture

  1. Kellie says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your views!

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