delivery stamp

It’s said that culture eats strategy for breakfast… and I personally believe that to be entirely true… but what about delivery? Culture might trump strategy every time… but can the same really be said for delivery?

Employers everywhere have woken up to the fact that there is something else to now consider in the recruitment process beyond simply a candidate’s skill set and experience. We know that culture is a key factor in raising employee engagement levels; we also know that employees who are more engaged are likely to better support the achievement of an organisation’s objectives. Cultural fit, therefore, has suddenly taken centre stage when it comes to assessing candidate abilities. Skills can be taught. Cultural fit cannot.

Cultural friction

As your organisational culture evolves – and this is particularly true in the case of start-ups and small, high growth businesses – there is the potential for cultural friction to start to occur. Employees who may have been brought into the organisation with a particular skill set, to undertake a particular, business critical task, may start to find themselves outside of what is fast becoming the cultural ‘norm’. Perhaps they are particularly introverted, while the prevailing culture is more extrovert. Maybe they are planners, while the majority are doers. Or perhaps it is something less easily defined than that: simply that the ‘fit’ isn’t quite right.

Debate rages about what should happen in this instance. Organisational responses tend to be polarised. Either culture is the be all and end all – and anyone in the business not actively driving that culture forward needs either to change, or to have their contract terminated – or culture is secondary to skills, and therefore it doesn’t really matter whether or not you are deemed to be a good cultural fit, so long as you are filling a skills gap within the business.

Culture versus skill set

Personally, I don’t think it is quite that simple. For a start, culture and skill set are not interdependent. You can have an employee who is perfectly culturally aligned, but whose skills are only average. Similarly, you can have an employee whose skill set is stand out, but who positively grates against the prevailing culture. Both of these categories of employee are undoubtedly adding value to your organisation, albeit in very different ways, and both would leave a hole in the business if you decided to remove them.

When it comes to cultural fit, it can help to take a step back and look at your end goals. What are you aiming to achieve as a business? Once you understand your objectives, it is then far easier to evaluate your employees against them and understand what their contribution towards them is, both from a skills and from a cultural perspective.

It’s ultimately about delivery

Ultimately, employees justify their place within their organisation on the basis of their delivery. When it comes to the measurement of that delivery, both skill set and cultural alignment need to play a part. For both elements, there needs to be a cut-off point, below which they actually start to adversely impact on delivery. At this point, action of some sort needs to be taken.

Take the diagram below. Employees can be plotted onto the grid based on their cultural alignment and their skill set/delivery. (The delivery part is critical: great skills are fantastic, but ultimately pointless if they’re not being used to deliver a required outcome for the business!)


The two ‘easy’ quadrants to dissect are the bottom left and top right. Your top right employees are where you should be targeting all individuals within your business; these are the people who are both culturally aligned and are delivering against the organisational objectives. These individuals are hugely valuable to you, and need to be supported and assisted in order to continue to thrive and deliver results.

Employees falling within the bottom left quadrant are likely to be those employees who you need to exit. Assuming their lack of delivery/cultural alignment is not simply a ‘blip’, then it is unlikely any amount of training and support is going to move them into the top right quadrant, and therefore you need to consider the detrimental impact they will be having on your ‘top right’ employees, and take action accordingly.

It is those employees who fall into either the top left or bottom right quadrants which present the biggest challenge. Both the delivery of objectives and a strong cultural alignment are of huge value to the business. However, this doesn’t mean that employees demonstrating only one of these attributes should be immediately removed from the organisation. The reality is that, much as we would love it to be otherwise, it is highly unlikely that we will ever be in a position where we can say with certainty that every single one of our employees falls into the ‘top right’ category.

So what?

The question we therefore need to ask ourselves is: ‘So what?’ So the employee in question is either highly skilled, but poorly culturally aligned, or alternatively they are a huge cultural advocate for us, but lack key skills. What we need to look at is not solely what the impact of their attributes is, but what the impact of their failings also is.

It is then a case of weighing these up against each other. Let’s imagine we work within a retail environment, in a shop selling technology items. One of the in store sales assistants is so good at selling, they have brought in an extra £100,000 in the last year – over £50,000 more than any other sales assistant in that store.

However, they are also not simply culturally unaligned, but are actually actively damaging the store’s culture as a result of their behaviour. In fact, that particular store has had to recruit 20 new sales assistants over the course of the year – 15 more than any other store owned by the retailer – as the turnover level is so high as a result of this individual’s attitude and approach. If the cost to recruit each sales assistant is £5,000… then, all of a sudden, the balance between the impact of their delivery but also their negative impact on the store’s cultural environment starts to be called into question.

It’s a crude example, but I hope it illustrates the factors we need to balance here. Culture is hugely important. Delivery is also hugely important. Organisations must ensure that their workforce achieves a healthy balance between the two, and be confident that, where compromises are to be made, the net impact of that compromise doesn’t do more harm than good.