Culture, Strategy, and Lunch

Culture and strategy are intricately linked. The best culture is that which enhances the organization's ability to achieve its strategy. A common saying, “Culture eats strategy for lunch”, typically refers to the impact that culture has on strategy execution. Culture also has an impact on how an organization approaches strategy creation. This can impact the quality of the strategy itself and also the strategy execution.

Culture’s Impact on Strategy Creation

Culture is created over time based on what leaders pay attention to and what works as groups successfully address business issues. As mentioned in my last post ("What's Culture Have to Do With It"), what works becomes accepted and the assumptions underlying it are no longer questioned and become invisible. It is a deep shared web that is not easy to see or change. As such, I encourage you to consider how you can use your culture as a source of strength and be patient as you work with it. In this post, I offer a few things to consider in your strategy creation process. Next time, I will focus more on culture and strategy execution.

Strategy Creation and Culture - What Can You Do?

1) Increase your awareness of what your information and design choices say about your culture. How do your shared assumptions (often invisible) about things such as power (your own and others), time (horizon e.g. quarterly, decade), and truth (what is valid, not valid) affect the choices made in strategy creation? Be curious. If culture is “the way we do things around here”, what are other possible ways that may provide greater leverage for effective strategy creation and execution? How far are those other ways from the way you currently do things? Which of them offer a better potential outcome?

  • Information Base: What information base do you use?

  • How broad and diverse is it – external and internal? current and future?

  • Whose sources are considered true or accurate? Which are practically or politically acceptable?

  • I knew a CEO who would not allow open conversations about the organization’s weaknesses. In a strategy meeting, his new COO spoke openly, yet respectfully, about his initial observations and experience, and was gone the following week. What did this say about truth, power, and openness?

  • Do certain types of data hold more weight than others (e.g. financial vs. human)? What does this say about what your organization values?

  • What time horizon do you use? Do you stretch your thinking with a long horizon to consider possible futures before getting down to strategic choices or do you focus primarily on the quarter?

  • Process: How does the strategy actually get created and what does that say about beliefs underlying your culture?

  • Do you hand it over to an external expert to analyze and recommend a path forward? What does this say about your beliefs in the knowledge and capability that resides within your organization?

  • Do you take the large scale, everyone-in-the-room approach? This could be based on a belief that everyone deserves a voice. How is it moved to decision and execution?

  • Do you create a core group that has a strong base of knowledge and accountability which can invite and consider all inputs and make decisions? This group can contract for external assistance and engage stakeholders, yet they have the responsibility and decision rights. If you go with a core group:

  • Who is in the group and who is out and how are those decisions made?

  • Who gets heard and what weight can one or two people wield?

  • Sometimes one person’s voice wields much more power than others. If ‘Bob’ says it, that is what will be done. What beliefs underlie this behavior and what impact does it have on the quality of the strategy and the execution?

2) Look in the mirror and ask, “What’s my contribution to where I find myself?” If there is a ‘Bob’, as introduced above, or ‘a Suzy’ who simply dominates the executive team meeting, what can you do? As I work with executive teams to help increase their effectiveness, I often hear of one person who dominates the team meeting. I ask the individual who shares the concern, “what’s your contribution to that situation?” In other words, if the team is stuck because Suzy is dominating, what are you doing to allow that or to help shift that?” You may have an assumption that you can’t speak up, which you may believe is borne in respect. This could be the case, but it could also be a fear of reprisal. The big question though is how is it impacting the results you want for the organization? What could you do differently that would still be respectful to the individuals involved and would enable the organization greater potential for the results you want? You could practice balancing advocacy (telling) with inquiry (asking) to begin to shift things.

  • “Bob, that’s an interesting perspective. Would you share a bit more about what underlies your perspective? Would others also share how they see the situation?”

  • “Suzy (or team), can we take a time-out here? We’ve got 3 more things on the agenda and only 20 minutes left. What’s the team’s best use of the next 20 minutes?”

3) What’s becoming clearer about your culture? What in your culture will help advance your strategy and move the organization into the future successfully? What could hinder it?

Reach Out and Stay Tuned

If you have questions, please reach out via email to touch base and/or to schedule a complementary call. Stay tuned for more regarding culture and strategy execution.

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