Culture is a competitive advantage

John Moore writes today about various grocery chains and how they are attempting to mimic Whole Foods. He thinks it won’t work because they can’t replicate Whole Foods’ people.

I agree.

What whole foods has is a culture that creates brand loyalty. A culture that makes people want to work there. And when people like working at a company, they create customers that want to buy from them.

Culture is THE most underrated factor in a company’s success. And I don’t mean just a fun culture. But a culture that is based on values and passion and commitment (that’s what makes it fun).

An interesting case study is Toyota. For 15 years GM has been trying to replicate Toyota’s success. They have  replicated, emulated, copied, and stolen all of Toyota’s secrets. Except the important one: The culture of innovation. Lean Production  didn’t create Toyota. Toyota created Lean Production. The culture created the tools. And the culture keeps creating new ones. No matter how fast GM tries to keep up, they are missing the critical component – culture.

The same applies to almost every company that tries to replicate another. Starbuck’s gave part-time employees health insurance because it fit into their overall culture. When Caribou does the same thing, it doesn’t have the same effect. When Gateway makes a pretty white computer, it flops. And for Publix to beat Whole Foods will mean they have to transform their entire culture. Which isn’t likely.

So my advice is probably the same as John’s would be. Build a culture first. Then add tools.

Leave a Reply