June 8, 2023

Navigating Turbulent Markets: Why Culture is the North Star

By: Jennifer Ogden


Our Head of Brand Strategy, Jennifer Ogden, recently sat down to be interviewed by Creamer and Milliken on the power of culture, especially during volatile times. Here are her takeaways below.

With market conditions shifting constantly, maintaining equilibrium may be the most challenging thing. Two years ago, it was on lockdowns and remote work, while last year brought supply chain challenges, global instability, the war for talent, and great resignation. This year will be about responding to market contraction and finding ways to be bottom-line smart without hurting brand momentum and responsiveness. I don’t know when we have had so many different winds of change in such a short order–pivot fatigue is a real risk.

In the face of a relentless cycle of change, maybe the biggest challenge businesses face is ‘pivot fatigue’. Each reset in response to market conditions brings forth a new set of “best practices” – do more of this, don’t do that – creating a sense of exhaustion and overwhelm. It becomes critical for organizations to remain focused on their identity, both in terms of their core beliefs, principles, and policies.

By anchoring themselves to their cultural North Star, businesses can find stability and guidance amidst uncertainty. Culture provides a framework that helps organizations adapt to market conditions while staying true to their values and long-term vision. It enables them to make strategic decisions and foster resilience in the face of challenges.


The Pitfalls of Trend Chasing and the Power of Culture

Pivot fatigue is not solely a result of uncontrollable shifts in the market but is also fueled by the desire to chase trends. There is an abundance of coverage highlighting what the “fastest-growing” companies are doing, what influential leaders believe in, and what the media presents as best practices. However, much of this information is just noise, designed to instill a fear of missing out (FOMO) and drive rapid action in potentially divergent directions.

Businesses must resist the temptation of trend-chasing by staying true to their core identity. Evaluating trends through the lens of their unique values, principles, and long-term goals allows organizations to make rational and durable decisions. It helps them differentiate between short-term fads and sustainable strategies that align with their purpose and mission.

They say culture is everything for a reason–it’s the ties that bind a team and a true business insulator. In a hot market, people are loyal to a strong culture and less likely to leave for money or a new position. In a down market, a strong culture is an incentive to pull together towards a common goal to see through challenges and deliver on another level. It energizes, engages, and pulls the best of what we have to offer together. Because no matter what business you are in, the people business, and culture is what binds us.


Culture as a Strategic Imperative for Business Success

Culture is not just a “people” issue; it is a strategic imperative that shapes how businesses achieve their goals, interact with their stakeholders, and pursue long-term value. Beyond its internal impact on employee engagement and morale, culture plays a crucial role in defining how a company engages with its stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and the environment.

Since the Business Round Table‘s shifted its views on corporate governance, the focus of businesses isn’t just about driving returns for shareholders. It is now recognized that well-run companies aim to cultivate trust and loyalty with their customers, invest in their employees, foster strong relationships with suppliers, contribute to the communities in which they operate, and provide value to their shareholders. And culture is largely how a corporation engages with all of these stakeholders. It sets the values, norms, and behaviors within an organization, influencing decision-making, communication, and overall business practices. A strong and intentional culture is essential for a corporation to effectively prioritize and address the diverse needs and interests of its stakeholders.

By embracing culture, businesses can align their actions with their purpose and values. A strong culture enhances employee loyalty, fosters collaboration, and attracts top talent. It also cultivates a positive reputation, builds trust with customers, and establishes meaningful connections with other stakeholders.


Nurturing a Resilient Culture for Sustainable Growth

As businesses sail through uncertain waters, culture serves as a vital guiding light. It provides stability, direction, and reassuring purpose amidst the unpredictable nature of market conditions. By acknowledging the challenges of pivot fatigue, resisting trend-chasing, and recognizing culture as a strategic imperative, organizations can leverage their cultural North Star to navigate change, make informed decisions, and build resilient and prosperous futures.

Culture is not just a “nice-to-have”; it is a fundamental driver of business success. By embracing culture as their compass, businesses can chart a course toward sustainable growth, engagement, and success.

For more insights on culture, check out our article on how to build a culture of resilience here.

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