Strategy or Values? Yes!

on November 12, 2010

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”  The idea behind this is that values and cultural norms in an organization are often much stronger than the strategy that gets communicated in PowerPoint decks from the company’s top leaders.   But what about pursuing growth?  Does strategy trump culture then?  How much of the CEO’s time is spent on strategy vs. culture?  I think we’ve all likely heard at some point that values and culture is just an “HR thing.”

From my experience, not much benefit comes from debating the importance of strategy vs. values/culture.  It’s not an “either-or.”  As one of my mentors loves to say about many things, “The power is in the AND.”    I’m sure we would all agree that a great strategy and a great culture are good things.  But it isn’t just that both should be strong.  Organizations benefit greatly when strategy and culture are LINKED.

Culture is all about what gets rewarded and what gets punished in an organization.  Strategy is all about where we are going and how we are planning to get there.  It just makes sense that the two should be walking together in lock step.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Top leaders often spend significant time working to bake the perfect strategy, while culture, values, and desired behaviors in the organization never make the agenda.  At the same time, champions of values and culture can be resistant to looking at how they should evolve to sync up with strategy and desired business results.   I was excited to see Jim Heskett of Harvard Business School doing some research this summer on the impact of strategy, execution, and culture on organizational success.  If you are interested in his thoughts, check it out at Harvard Business School,  Jim Heskett.

Linking strategy and culture is powerful, and it starts at the top.  When the executive team takes equal ownership for articulating current realities and desired future state for both strategy and culture, the right conversations naturally start happening in the business.

Is that behavior consistent with helping us achieve the future state?

Do we need to more clearly articulate for our people the cultural shifts we want to make?

Are our leaders equipped to deliver on both the strategy and culture?

Do all of our people understand why the strategy is important and how we all need to work together to bring it to life?

The next time somebody says “Culture eats strategy for lunch” or “Culture is just an HR thing,” I will be looking for the right catch-phrase to share my passion for making sure they are linked.  Any ideas?

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