One of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It speaks to the idea that we can come up with all of the great ideas we want to, but if there is not an alignment between the effort and the organization’s DNA, it is just not going to happen. Likewise, it also means that strong cultures can help guide companies through good and difficult times because resilience can be part of what a company is all about.
I came across this amazing example of organizational resilience. It’s a story of how French monks have continued to make their centuries-old liqueurs. While I don’t recommend an intellectual property governance plan where only 2 people know the ingredients of your product, their experience has lessons for all of us.
Not surprisingly, they have a strong culture. Besides being bound together by their faith, they have a very clear vision statement (Stat crux dum volvitur orbis [“The cross is steady while the world turns”]). This allows them to see well beyond existing issues in guiding their business.
The monks make the liqueurs to support other monks and nuns all over the globe, so maintaining production is important to continuing their way of life. So, what do to during the COVID crisis? They pivoted their distribution from bars to home retail. They showed solidarity and support for those who keep them in business by donating part of their proceeds to bartenders and providing alcohol to a local hospital to make sanitizer. With their view of how they fit into the world (“We have to learn to live with the virus.”), they allowed their culture to guide them through this difficult time, as they did for many others. See their website for how they have navigated other crises during their existence.
Building this kind of culture takes time, but there are concrete steps that senior management and HR can take, including:
- Be clear about the culture you want. This can be done through brief mission or values statements.
- Reference the culture when making important decisions. For instance, “We are giving some of proceeds to bartenders during COVID because they have supported us during other difficult times and will continue to do so in the future. We think about our business in terms of centuries, not months.”
- Reward those behaviors that support the culture.
- Teach the culture to new employees. The best way to do this is for individuals to share stories about how they have experienced the culture. Leaders should talk about how the culture has sustained the organization.
Culture emerges in organizations. The question is whether it is allowed to grow wild or if it is cultivated. When we are mindful of it, it can help guide decisions and lead to more productive enterprises. Or, as the CEO of the monks’ business says, “When you have roots this deep, it allows you to forget the short term and project your vision far in the future.”