When Culture Knocks Out Strategy

Having spent the past two decades managing diverse growth initiatives the most important learning I have had is that the success of a business strategy is 100% dependent on the organizational culture. Culture determines the organizational ability to critically and strategically think and execute with focus and determination.

And culture is built by the people and their behaviour.

Culture– that all elusive and hard to describe organizational element that fuels how an organization performs– has had a lot written about itself. Yet there is no one-size-fits-all formula that can be applied across board for leaders to have the right work culture that results in achieving business goals year on year. If leadership does not lead cultural change, then the rank and file would, in most occasions, disintegrate into a collection of varied sub-cultures or a culture of crumbs resulting in utter misalignment with strategy.

There is a Pattern

Working various key initiatives across the course of my career I have discerned a noticeable pattern where the expected impact of strategy did not materialise simply because of the prevailing culture. In majority of the scenarios the focus was on developing a strategic difference that focused on delivering short-term profitability. Yet in the risk assessment, of the strategy, there was no accounting for the most critical asset of all—people- other than the usual manpower requirement.

Not factoring in people or employees, their behaviour and their approach to organizational initiatives is like running in a marathon without any training and expecting to win!

Guide the Culture to aid your Strategy

As leaders we have to understand that there is a social culture that exists and within which we all operate. This social culture is different, across cities and across generations, and is compounded further by the impact of social media which has led to the rise of self-interest based communities leading to word-of-mouth referral becoming a norm for success and failure for a business.

This entire cultural behaviour mix is in play daily in all organizations. It’s a dynamic element that interacts with the existing organizational culture and, before you know it, a behaviour pattern emerges which is the manifestation of a hybrid uncontrolled culture.

To aid business strategy in being successful, in the longer term, it is very necessary to support strategy with identified culture values that focus on being transformational, agile and reflect the organizations’ purpose as well as engage and builds bridges for and with employees.

By investing and working the culture development, as strategy execution is undertaken, one would be guiding the strategy to be successful and thus ensuring achievement of business goals.