Culture IS strategy

Dan Gregory   @DanGregoryCo

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I dislike it partly because I have an aversion to all of the corporate clichés and motivational psychobabble that polute the worlds of business and leadership. However, it bugs me mostly because it artificially separates culture from strategy and vice versa.

Typically, any leader trying to execute a strategy without a consideration for the environment they are working within, or of the current mood of the people they are looking to engage, will enjoy a rather short tenure as leader.

The truth is, a consideration of the context in which you operate, the opportunities and setting you provide access to as a leader, and the example that you set is critical to both the culture that grows (we don’t really create culture so much as provide the conditions in which it emerges) and the strategy you execute through it.

So where do culture and strategy intersect and how might they work together in a synergistic way?

Aligning WHY with WHO.

It’s often asserted that strategy is defined by the What, How and Why a team or organisation should function in the way that they do. A clear direction is set, some rules of engagement and behavioural norms are established and a sense of purpose and meaning is communicated. 

What can often be missed is the “Who” part of the equation. 

This is where culture and strategy very much overlap. So, rather than simply directing through pragmatic or rational instructions, it’s important to establish a sense of empathy for where people currently sit in terms of their emotional state and engagement levels. Additionally, leaders must evoke a vivid picture of who you help them to be through the process of executing your strategy.

Critical in this is aligning your strategic purpose with the identity of the culture you serve. It’s no good asserting a vision of innovation and challenging the status quo if the culture is one of risk aversion and consistency (or if your organisation happens itself to be the status quo). In fact, the exquisite BS detector located between your ears will likely reject any such directives as incongruent and even ridiculous.

This means, leaders who want to drive purposeful organisations must align their WHY with the WHYs of their people. An inspiring mission is clearly advantageous, but it is far more engaging when teams can engage with it at a cultural and an individual level.

Even more importantly, this alignment between culture and strategy fosters a sense of self-driven engagement as well as establishing behaviours that become self-correcting. Rather than vacilating over whether a course of action might be deemed appropriate by a superior, it can be evaluated by asking, “Is this the kind of thing people like us do?”

In the end, both strategy and culture require different tools and thinking, and must be actioned by different members of the team and at different times, however, by artificially separating one from the other, we risk conflict (internally and externally) and the efficacy of both.

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Culture & Purpose. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design