We often talk about corporate culture as a competitive advantage that’s more impactful than strategy. It’s a valid assertion; and yet, it’s not the whole story. A corporation’s culture can impact its business partners, its customers, its surrounding community and society. Call it corporate-culture-as-a-difference-maker. Said another way, it is corporate culture that makes a difference in the world.
Make no mistake – generating a strong corporate culture is still a business imperative. Culture will forever eat strategy for breakfast. What’s different is that now, more than ever, consumers have taken notice of what corporations value and how corporations behave. As Simon Sinek explains in his Golden Circle model, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Consumer spending, particularly among millennials but even with Gen Xers and Boomers, is increasingly driven by brand values. Consumers want to know that the corporations they support stand for something more than simply generating profit for shareholders.
If you want their business, you’d better take note of their values. As Sinek says, “the goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” Not everyone, but enough people share Apple’s values (i.e. we are here to make great products that are simple and integrated on our platform) that it currently has 20% of the world’s smartphone market share (it had as high as 50% in 2016). Apple’s corporate culture is embedded in why the company exists and it’s clear to most consumers what the company stands for.
Given Sinek’s assertion, that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” it’s interesting to hear Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya say in his TED Talk on the Anti-CEO Playbook, “the CEO playbook of last 40 years teaches you everything about business but nothing about being a noble leader.” Perhaps what Sinek and Ulukaya are pointing to is a market inefficiency. Consumers want brands that align with or give credence to their values.
In his Anti-CEO Ted Talk, Ulukaya goes on to say, “the new way of business, it’s business, not the government, that’s best positioned to make a difference in today’s world.” Look no further than what Facebook announced in mid-March. In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook said that not only would it give each of its employees $1,000 and “exceeds expectations” on their performance reviews, it’s also offering $100MM in cash and advertising credits to small businesses affected by the virus. The majority of this $100MM is being given as grants, and Facebook is also offering online guidance and virtual training for businesses on how to keep open during the pandemic. Facebook’s brand has taken some hits over its privacy and data collection policies, among other issues, and yet it’s clearly making a play to generate a culture that makes a difference. This move demonstrates that Facebook’s culture reflects the fact that, in this era, customers are shopping for values as much as products.