Culture and strategy should meet for breakfast.

September 10, 2019 Erin Miller

3-minute read

toast and eggs

We’ve all heard the Peter Drucker quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But is that statement still true? At Workhuman® Live 2019, Pamela Puryear, CHRO at Zimmer Biomet, had a new twist on this phrase: “Culture and strategy should meet for breakfast.” Both of these initiatives are key to organizational success, so how do we prioritize both strategy and culture? 

Pamela said, “Change can happen at any age, even at a 90-year-old company.” She became CHRO a couple of months before speaking at Workhuman Live and explained to the crowd the vision to transform culture at Zimmer Biomet. “We are reimagining our future through people and culture,” she said.

Zimmer Biomet was founded in 1927 and its mission is to, “alleviate pain and improve the quality of life for people around the world.” The company is a large conglomerate with 23,000 team members operating in more than 100 countries. Why is the cultural transformation so important now? Pamela referenced Simon Sinek’s famous quote: “Customers will never love a company until its employees love it first.”

Here’s a look at Zimmer Biomet’s transformation roadmap:

1.     Connecting people to mission

2.     Framing mission with guiding principles

3.     Making culture a part of strategy

4.     Supporting strategy with structure

5.     Leveraging (neuro) science to shape culture

Connecting people to mission

This is number one on the list because, “it’s about how people feel about the mission and how they connect to the mission,” says Pamela. The first action item was to roll out “mission ceremonies” – one-hour, in-person sessions where members of the executive team would talk about the mission. These sessions built trust and allowed employees to share their perspective on how they connect to the mission on a personal level.

Framing mission with guiding principles

Too many companies spend time wordsmithing their values. Pamela recommends putting values in simple terms so you can ensure people understand the value quickly. “Your job is to make it easy for people to understand and easy to remember,” she said.

Making culture a part of strategy

How do culture and strategy come together for business performance? “Every company has a strategy. Not all companies have culture as a part of their strategy,” said Pamela. “You can’t talk about culture transformation without talking about the context of the business first.”

Supporting strategy with structure

Structure isn’t just an org chart. It’s all the people, processes, procedures, systems, and how they work (or don’t work) together. The structure must be aligned with the strategy in order for the organization to achieve its goals and mission.

Leveraging (neuro) science to shape culture

While 70% of all change transformations fail, the successful culture transformations are grounded in science. Pamela referenced a CEB Culture Benchmarking Survey that found it takes 22 months to reach behavior adoption after a transformation. One of the easiest ways to change behavior is through a simple culture framework. At Zimmer Biomet, the culture framework comprises simple promises and related habits that bring the promises to life:

  1. Shape Tomorrow – connect to why; seek bold possibilities; anticipate obstacles
  2. Ignite Collaboration – embrace shared purpose; empower every voice; celebrate the journey
  3. Focus to Win – identify the essential; simplify the complex; adapt and deliver

As the Zimmer Biomet example shows, if culture isn’t a part of your strategy going forward, you won’t be able to keep up with the competition and retain top talent.


Transforming company culture through storytelling

How Citrix re-built its strategy around D&I

When human values and organizational values overlap

About the Author

Erin Miller

Erin Miller is the Vice President of Human Resources at PrecisionHawk, a drone technology company based in Raleigh, NC. She is a progressive people leader with a passion for driving innovative human resource and people-first practices within organizations looking to scale.

Previous Article
Workhuman Book Club: "Creating Mindful Leaders" by Joe Burton
Workhuman Book Club: "Creating Mindful Leaders" by Joe Burton

Joe outlines the latest research on stress and burnout and walks the reader through simple, research-based ...

Next Article
Don’t Wait for HR – Build Your Work Family
Don’t Wait for HR – Build Your Work Family

Working in a culture that is like a family is good for employees, customers, and business. Here are four pr...