by PJ Stevens
Change begins where Strategy, Culture, and Leadership connect.
Recently I have been working on an organizational and culture change project with a client, using the relationship between Strategy, Culture, and Leadership to effect long-lasting change.
The power of linking these three elements, understanding them clearly and accepting that ‘leaders get the culture they model’ was key to bringing the strategy to life, within their teams of people across many divisions.
The Peter Drucker quote ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ is so true! And yet I feel it is all too often overlooked or doesn’t receive the proper attention it deserves.
Consider this: As Owner, Manager, Director or Member of a Senior Leadership Team you write the best business plan with the most accurate strategies that would win a business plan award or gain top marks in an MBA; but who is going to deliver it, and why?
Often, we see leaders fail to include people – their greatest asset – in the early stages of the process of creating a strategy. This leaves their people feeling under-valued and ‘done to’ rather than empowered and enabled.
It is extremely important for Leaders to take great care to develop and model the right behaviors for others to see and imitate. Eventually, managers, leaders, and employees will model these behaviors themselves, which ultimately helps to create the environment (or culture) in which people can bring the strategy to reality.
If you exclude – or fail to include – people at the start, then that is the ‘behaviour’ that people see, and feel, and this will impact on creating the culture. Culture is said to be ‘the way things are around here’. So if people are excluded, then you get a culture of exclusion. If people are valued, listened to, and included, you are far more likely to get a culture of listening, inclusion and so on.
Failing to Connect Strategy, Culture & Leadership has Severe Consequences
No matter how brilliant the strategy, if Leaders do not create the right environment for their people to flourish and therefore own and deliver their part in the strategy, it will fail, in part or whole. Note that some 80% of Mergers and Acquisitions fail to meet expectation, and this is largely due to failure to engage people early in the change and share with clarity the purpose and value of the change.
Think about the best environment for people to flourish and grow. What words would you use to describe such a culture? Here’s what one group came up with (see photo) in a workshop. What do you notice? How would it feel to work in that culture?
If we agree that culture is ‘the way things are around here’, then how do you want things to be around ‘here’ for you? What do your clients want it to be like when they interact with your business and, what does your greatest asset – your people – want it to be like on a day to day basis?
The Marketing message is not the culture, or the customer experience, necessarily. The culture is the ‘that is the way things are around here,’ and that rubbish is a sign of the company culture and of what the customers will experience.
Consider the Client Experience for a moment. They read marketing materials about quality customer service, they see adverts and YouTube clips attesting to this. However, when the clients arrive in the car park they see rubbish lying around, and here’s where culture comes in. What sort of culture allows for rubbish – crisp packets, cigarette butts and take away boxes – to blow around the car park? The Marketing message is not the culture, or the customer experience, necessarily. The culture is the ‘that is the way things are around here,’ and that rubbish is a sign of the company culture and of what the customers will experience. There will be a set of behaviors, values, and experiences that form your company culture that says it’s OK to throw rubbish and importantly, the belief that it is not my job to pick it up. In a culture of pride and ownership the rubbish would not be dropped and if it was, someone would pick it up, because ‘that’s how things are around here’. Swap the topic of rubbish for swearing, bullying, support, kindliness, clarity and so on.
Remember, change begins, where strategy, culture, and leadership connect
So creating and developing the right leadership behaviors in the business will help create the right or the best environment and culture for people to flourish and bring the strategy to life, in the right way. Poor behaviors, creating the wrong culture can pollute the environment and thus stop or stifle people from living the strategy.
A farmer tends to and prepares the ground creating the right environment before he sows the seeds, which he also tends to. After a period of time, crops grow and then they can be harvested. It’s the same in businesses.
There are many other benefits of aligning organizational culture with strategy and great leadership – such as helping to reduce unwanted conflict, bullying, sick days and wasted opportunities, to developing a high-performance culture, improved recruitment, and engagement, and adding value to the business, its people, and the wider community.
Remember, change begins, where strategy, culture, and leadership connect.