We’ll preface this section with an unconventional source of wisdom for business, the great Persian poet Hafiz:
The Happy Virus
I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious – So kiss me.
In business there is no greater asset than an inspired culture. Such environments create a Happy Virus that leads to optimized bottom lines and thriving top-line growth. Happy viruses that infiltrate top-performing cultures happen when strategy becomes manifested in the culture.
Despite recent books, articles, and decent debate over Culture Trumping Strategy, this war of culture versus strategy is a one-sided and misguided notion.
Business cultures that have The Happy Virus do not exist in spite of strategy. The opposite point holds true. Vibrant business cultures are a result of having and manifesting a strategy that resonates within the organization and in the market. Culture does not exist without strategy.
Ponder how cultures are built. It is a three-step process of bringing an entity into being that is as old as the human psyche: thought, word, and deed.
First a thought is formed. In business, the thought that births a venture usually fills a market need and is also aspirational. As Steve Jobs encouraged, such thoughts need to have passion enough to “put a dent in the universe.” All businesses begin with thought. Then, do your homework.
You put your vision—the thought—into words. This is the strategic phase. This strategy provides a blueprint for building your business and crafting the right kind of culture that can birth and sustain a growing business.
The kind of culture you have is a result of how well you have manifested and managed your strategy. The deed phase becomes the culture itself.
Because the lifecycle of business is dynamic, this three-part process—thought, word, and deed—needs to be reviewed and adapted annually.
Culture, once established, can sustain a business that has lost touch of its core strategic thrust for a short time. Culture cannot make up for a lack of strategy.
The companies that know that a vibrant culture is a result of a founding vision and a smart, up-to-date strategy that becomes explicit and manifested into the hearts and minds of its employees and the market embody The Happy Virus. It’s contagious in the best way—and it’s the CEO’s job to ensure that this benign and magnificent virus take root. Such thinking has worked for luminaries such as Richard Branson, Max De Pree, Anita Roddick, and others.
If you can put thought, word, and deed into a single focus and manifest your strategy into a palpable culture, you can be a market leader.
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Michael Graber is the co-founder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth