Harvard Business Review recently released an article by Hubert Joly, former Chairperson and CEO of Best Buy and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, where he discussed the interaction between strategy, purpose, and culture. When these factors align, Joly contends, “magic happens”— and it is this magic that make companies like Microsoft, Netflix and Best Buy so successful. Together, these factors form a triangle of connected angles and shapes, and if one changes the other two must evolve and adjust to maintain balance— just like your strategy and purpose adapts and depends on your culture.

This begs the question: How can we too access the magic? How can we build a culture that supports strategy and purpose? Joly has a few ideas, or rather “levers” that play a part.

Management Levers.

Key management processes directly impact culture. What kind of people do you appoint to positions of power? What kind of people does your company recruit? Does performance trump bad behaviour? How are decisions made and by whom? How does your company measure and reward success? How are meetings conducted? All these structures, processes, and rules can shape culture.

At Netflix, for example, there is only one policy for travel, entertainment, gifts, and other expenses: “Act in Netflix’s best interest.” That’s it. Also, there are no company-wide rules on office hours or the number of vacation days employees can take. These reflect the culture of “freedom with responsibility”.

Human Magic Levers.

Here we are dealing with the essential and interconnected ingredients that, together, create an environment in which people are eager and able to fully give them energy and talent to serve the company purpose. Joly highlights the following ingredients: meaning, human connection, autonomy, psychological safety, mastery and growth mindset.

Autonomy for example, is especially important when it comes to creating a hybrid working environment. Reisinger, Sephton and Fetterer (2022) identified three autonomy scenarios in the workplace:

  • High Autonomy: “I have full autonomy to choose where and when I work with the ability to come into the office if I want.”
  • Limited Autonomy: “I am required to work remotely full time and can choose to work anywhere but the office.” or “There is a minimum number of days required in the office, but I can choose which days to come in.”
  • Low Autonomy: “I am required to work in office full time” or “I work from home and the office, but the days are chosen for me.”

Business Levers.

Improving or changing operations affect strategic choices. It shapes company culture as well. For instance, changing operations after listening to customers will shape or re-enforce a culture where customers are coming first.

So, to guide your organisation through the volatile, uncertain and complex times calls for more than forcing a strategy and purpose.  Which strategy could have prepared an organisation for the impact of Covid-19 or the fallout from the war in Ukraine?

As an alternative Joly, propagates the empowerment of teams by means of a guiding frame in order to be effective and energised when the unexpected invariably happens. That means being guided by a clear purpose and some key principles – another way to describe culture – as opposed to by a strategy that is developed for a more stable environment.

By utilising these levers, you can begin to build towards a strategy, purpose and culture that coincide and support one another.

For insights into how you can better navigate organisational culture, join us for the following events:

Organisational Culture Seminar | 28 July 2022 | Online

Contact katie@knowres.co.za for more information

Designing Fit-For-Purpose Organisations | 6-7 September 2022 | Online

Contact katie@knowres.co.za for more information


Joly, H. (2022, June 10). Does Your Company’s Culture Reinforce Its Strategy and Purpose? Retrieved from hbr.org: https://hbr.org/2022/06/does-your-companys-culture-reinforce-its-strategy-and-purpose

Reisinger, H., Sephton, P., & Fetterer, D. (2022, May 13). Balancing Autonomy and Structure for Remote Employees. Retrieved from hbr.org: https://hbr.org/2022/05/balancing-autonomy-and-structure-for-remote-employees