Strategy & Culture – The 2 main levers leaders can pull to make their mark

Strategy provides clarity, direction and focus for collective change work and I have written a lot about this topic in previous blogs. Check out ‘Strategy as a little black dress‘ and ‘Visions, missions and all that jazz’ as two examples.

Culture by contrast is far more elusive and esoteric, made up as it is of unspoken ‘truths’, embedded rituals, incumbent mind-sets and social norms. As Peter Druker famously said “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast everyday.” Many a well thought through, beautifully crafted and well communicated strategy has crashed onto the rocks of current culture and virtually disappeared without trace. It is clear that addressing the prevailing culture is at least as important, if not more important than crafting a new strategy, when it comes to ensuring you are building a sustainable future for your organisation, area, function or department.

It is worthy of note that there is a vast body of academic literature on this topic, many different;

  • Definitions abound;
  • Models are available;
  • Methods to assess exist; and
  • Processes to change culture have been developed.

I do not want to add to the Terabytes of data, insight and knowledge that exist on these topics with this article, (although I may in later blogs)! As you would expect I have my own pragmatic tools that I use in this area that have been synthesised from the best of what I have seen in the leadership world, both in academia and in my client base. If it is a culture tool-set you are after then please contact me for further details and I will explain what I use in my culture change toolbox.

What I want to do with this blog is simply issue a warning to all leaders to save them some time, and a lot of energy. The warning is this,‘You are being watched!’

What you do is far more important than what you say and often gets amplified across the organisation. If you are trying to change your strategy and operational performance without considering changing your prevailing culture you will not deliver your intended results. After all, your organisations culture has taken hold and is pervasive, well embedded and is perfectly designed to give you the performance and results you are getting now.

If your aspiration is to step change these results and performance, then your prevailing culture will need to be addressed and changed. Depending on the scale of the gap between your current reality and your aspiration, this culture change may be subtle and easy to achieve, or it may be radical and take a lot of energy to deliver, either way it needs to be addressed.

The first place I suggest you look for this change to start is in the mirror.

Ask yourself, what can you do with your own behaviours, habits and rituals that will send a strong signal to the organisation that things need to change? Take a look at these 10 habits for a start, because, if you continue to do what you do now, you will get what you get now. One of the definitions of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expect a different result. You are not insane, despite what others may say, so take a look at yourself first and change what needs to be changed to ‘twitch’ your leaders into aligning their personal values, drives and needs behind a new more productive and effective set of habits and rituals that will drive the organisation towards your strategic intent.

Once your behaviours are aligned then the next step is to articulate the aspiration; select, reward, recognise and develop those leaders who can align with the desired behaviours you need, spotlight and discuss prevailing rituals that need to change and where necessary reinforce the desired change through organisational design.

When written down it can appear a bit daunting. In reality its a series of relatively small changes that together start a new trend and embed new more productive habits.  This is work I have helped leaders and their teams do for years so if you do need any help in this area then let me know and we can talk about how best to get your culture change going.