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Culture eats strategy for lunch

It’s like a unknown, unmapped compound straight out the X Files. Newmont has built a community in the middle of Ghanaian nowhere for its western expat employees at Ahafo. A pristine suburbia with driveways, lawns, playgrounds, sidewalks, concrete curbs. Flower pots on porches.

newmontcommunitycenterAnd a community center in the middle of it. The gathering place for middle management to vent frustrations of Denver senior leadership, share stories of near mishaps, talk about home.

It was here, drinking beer and eating bar-b-queue, when a concept that’s been bouncing around in my head finally settled.

Months later back in Denver, I met with a friend who’s an executive coach. We were talking about marketing, branding, reputation management and how the best executed plans have little to do with good marketing, and everything to do with how well the marketing consultant understands the culture of business.

She said: “As a CEO once told me, culture eats strategy for lunch.”

There are no power point slides here in the community center-cum-bar. No memos. Top to bottom, with a bit of alcohol loosening the corporate line, Newmont employees talk about their larger purpose convincingly. They truly believe that the gold they’re mining is turning a nice profit, yes. But it’s lifting people out of poverty. It’s making a difference in people’s lives. And improving Ghana for the long term.

newmontcommunitycenter_2As he ordered another beer, the guy in charge of training told me:

“Our job is to work ourselves out of job. Ghanaians can do this. We’re teaching them to fish.”

It’s hard to find organizations with this kind of consistent messaging. It’s hard to pull off. Newmont is either really good at message control, or authentic.

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