Culture, clarity and brand

The estimable Peter Drucker once stated that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Not sure about the eats part, but the fact that it plays a critical role in building a strong, resilient, competitive organisation is accepted wisdom today.

From where I sit, culture is the active face of your brand. Brand is the result of the promises you keep and how you go about making and keeping those promises is driven by your culture as much as any strategy or operating plans.

Last week when reading a terrific customer service story about Netflix (Star Trek role play was involved), I followed a link to their “Culture Deck”.

Once described as “… the most important documents to come out of the (Silicon) Valley”, the slides set out with clarity, humour and detail what Netflix will (and won’t) stand for and on.

Take a look for yourself.

While there are certainly other “cult-like cultures” out there, it’s quite rare for the things that make them tick to be made quite so available for scrutiny outside the walls of the organisation.

What can you learn from the deck?

The Netflix culture is theirs and you shouldn’t try to mimic it – I guarantee what works for them won’t work for you the same way. But I’ll see if I can boil things down to a few tenets that you can apply in your own organisation to gain the sort of clarity on display in their document.

1. Identify the driving force of your culture. Netflix identifies it as “freedom and responsibility”, yours might be delivering quality, amazing service, etc.

2. Know your values. The real ones, not the ones just for show on the poster in the foyer and in the About Us section of your website. The ones that are inconvenient non-negotiables. Netflix has nine – generally I think any more than five opens you up to things that aren’t core, that you will trade on if the circumstance is right. (You can read more about values here.)

3. What are the things that make your culture yours? What’s in your DNA? Netflix has “seven aspects” they name. You might not have that many – doesn’t matter the number just know what they are.

4. Flesh out the things that make your culture yours. What are the legends and stories that give it life? What are the things you will and won’t do or accept. Netflix has “high performance” as one of the seven aspects and says things like “Adequate performance gets a generous severance package” to support the point. Harsh perhaps but it certainly gets the point across about what will and won’t fly.

5. Align your policies and practices to support what your culture values.

For example, Netflix values freedom and responsibility as the central defining attributes of their culture and, as a result, doesn’t have a vacation policy after an employee pointed out that they “don’t track hours worked per day or per week, so why are we tracking days of vacation per year?” Which led them to realise that the important measure was what got done.

As a result there is no policy or tracking for vacation days. There is also “no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked”.

So take the time to know what your culture stands for and on. What your (true) values are. How your culture plays out in what your organisation will and won’t do. And build policies and practices that support and reinforce it.

Every organisation has a culture (whether you know what it is or not). Whether it is a deliberate choice or what you got when you weren’t paying attention is up to you.

But one thing is for sure. A cult-like culture is not the sole province of those foosball-playing tech start-ups and creative agencies.

Nordstrom department store has one that is storied. Marriot Hotels has one that has won them awards for years. Apple has one that they go to great lengths to keep to themselves. Look at any strong resilient organisation and brand and you will find a strong defined culture.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at



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