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Culture eats strategy for breakfast

By Sadhana Smiles
30 May 2016 | 1 minute read

I am sitting at the airport on my way home to Melbourne. I am exhausted, my body hurts, my brain is foggy and I have had only three hours sleep, but all of this fades because my heart is full of joy, pride, love and connections that will last a lifetime.

I have just spent a week on the Gold Coast at our national conference and annual awards. We broke many records: highest attendance at conference, highest attendance at awards, most award wins ever for Victoria and first wins for many of our offices and agents. What stood out the most was the leadership, the camaraderie and the celebrations of a tribe that is connected through values we all aspire to live by and the culture we belong to.

A positive team culture is how we do things here, and at Harcourts we do things with our hearts and our heads.


Now, you may say I have been drinking the Harcourts cordial… and maybe I have. However, having worked in many different brands, I know that the culture of an organisation is what keeps people there. People are loyal to culture, not to strategy.

A strategy is what we put on a piece of paper and, although important, the reality is anyone can come up with a strategy. It is much harder to create a winning culture. If your strategy is poor but your culture strong, you will still gain success.

If your team culture is strong and people are loyal to it, then you build resilience as a business and when you hit turbulent times, it is these loyal people who get you through.

A great culture creates a competitive advantage; it attracts people to your business, it attracts customers and it becomes a part of your brand. Virgin is a great example of this. The culture that Sir Richard Branson has created has become part of the brand and client experience.

I recently attended a lunch where Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes, was speaking. For every pair of TOMS shoes that is sold, a new pair is given to a child in need. The concept is called One for One – imagine writing a strategy around this!

TOMS inspired people to get behind the brand and concept and give back in a unique way. They were able to involve not just their own people but their customers as well.

Harcourts’ ‘Walk a Mile in their Shoes’ has become part of our culture. We engage the greater community to walk with us and make a stand against violence towards women.

One of the things I have learnt in business is that strategy can be copied; however, you cannot copy or duplicate culture. Every organisation has a culture, but for many the culture has just grown or happened naturally, and there has been no thought given to it. There is no plan in place; leaders have not asked what type of place they need to create so people want to belong to it. In my team, we bleed blue, and we are proud of it. However, that in turn bleeds into our network; the culture we have created is viral.

Don’t you want to belong to a tribe that makes you feel the way I do? One that challenges you to be the best version of yourself, that celebrates your success, that supports you in times of need, that knows the gaps in your business and plans with you to reduce them, and that has leaders who fiercely protect you and have your back every step of the way.

If your tribe isn’t making you feel the way I do after a week-long conference and three hours’ sleep, maybe it’s time you considered changing to one that will.

There is one sure rule in business, and that is that culture will always eat strategy for breakfast. If your environment and relationships are toxic, it will impact the performance of your business.

So, as I board my flight homeward bound, looking forward to my head hitting the pillow, I know that I am privileged to lead a brand where the vibe is bold, visionary, exciting, inspiring and connected. We know who we are, what we stand for and where we are heading. The future is truly exciting.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast
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Sadhana Smiles is chief executive officer of Harcourts Victoria, the state division of one of Australia’s leading and well respected real estate brands.

She is also a popular speaker and presenter, and is regularly asked to speak at some of the industry’s most prestigious events, including ARPM, AREC, AREL, RELC, the REINSW Women’s Conference and the Harcourts Conference.

Sadhana is also a regular contributor to a number of national real estate journals and publications.

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