Friday, August 23, 2013

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch: How True Is It?

Culture is what happens when the managers are not around.

We all heard the saying: Culture eats strategy for lunch, culture as the most invisible but powerful corporate fabric,  is both 'hard' competency and 'soft’ asset of the business. Effective execution of a strategy relies on a strong culture. When does a weak culture ‘eats’ strategy and undermine success? How shall you be mindful of culture? What are the strong culture traits, and how can culture, like water, to push the organization in the right direction and reach the destination?

  1. Strategy development requires understanding the current environment including the organizational culture. It requires an assessment of how the various factors (including the culture) help or hinder efforts to move to the desired end state. A successful strategy must account for culture's impact on implementation efforts if the strategy is to succeed. Strategy implementation may have to deal with culture change as part of achieving the new end state  
  1. The right culture is a prerequisite foundation for implementing the strategy. Culture precedes strategy. An organization's cultural orientation forms the basis for initiating and improving on strategies and sustaining it. A strong culture should have the characteristics of inclusiveness, innovation, learning agile, etc. A too weak culture affects the ability to walk in one direction and fill in the gaps when formal artifacts - such as strategy, processes and org charts - are not good enough. Weak cultures rely on a bureaucracy to enforce rules and regulations that undermine an organization's speed, simplicity, and competitiveness. Great organizations live their values!  
  1. Culture is collective human behaviors: Whether they are aggressive or conservative, selfish or humanistic, collaborative or individualistic. If people are not in tune with an articulated and ingrained culture, their behavior will be less predictable, and understandably so. When people align with the company's values, there is less need for bureaucracy, which means an organization is able to move with speed, simplicity, resilience and possibly gain a competitive advantage. 

  2. Be mindful of culture with differentiated workforce strategy: To maximize execution against a strategy you have to create that strategy while being mindful of the culture into which it will be introduced. To win and maximize strategy execution, an organization must have a differentiated workforce strategy, which requires aligning an organization's strategic capabilities to strategy and aligning the right people into the right position in the organization's strategic capabilities. How does an organization maximize strategy execution when players are misaligned with positions?  
  1. Culture is what happens when the managers are not around. The strength of culture is reflected in the degree to which an organization performs as intended and desired without immediate, hands-on direction from its management. That doesn't happen unless people are bought into the strategic direction and have internalized the values of the organization. All changes even executed successfully have been mostly messy experience during transitions. Every major change at its core is a difficult emotional experience for one's involved in making it happen. There are beliefs, assumptions, authority dilution, rumors machines operating beneath the surface 

  2. Simply put, executing a strategy in an enterprise with a weak culture is like trying to drive nails with a hammer that doesn't have a rigid handle. How culture undermines strategy is by increasing the amount of time and effort it takes managers to initiate and execute a strategy and possibly even the degree to which some of the tactical goals critical to the strategy's success can be achieved. 
  1. Cultural behavior would be clearly critical capability to execute strategy under shared vision. However, execution effectiveness will be influenced by not only cultural readiness but also completeness of that strategy. For instance, the strategy needs to be developed under the understandings of organizational capabilities, and change management may be one of the tools to promote strategy execution. When existing strategy is not working and the new one is not defined, then 'culture eats strategy for lunch' . 


I think the best argument you have in the article is that "Culture is what happens when management is not around". Without a clear understanding and acceptance of the vision and direction of the organization by the entire company, implementing strategy will be an uphill battle.

I agree with the statement that "culture is what happens when management is not around." Culture is also what happens when management is around. I do have a problem with point 6 and "weak culture." By definition culture is strong, which is why it eat strategy at lunch. It's not so much a weak culture as it is a misalignment between strategy and culture, which is the point of the essay in the first place.

Love this article. Culture and leadership are the most important foundation for anything in the operation and of course they are the first things that I look at for change management. But, quite often change management is needed to get the desired culture. So perhaps a catch 22.

I agree with what you are saying. But my perspective is that culture is like air. With bad air, we die -- slowly or fast. With good, healthy air, we flourish.

Strategy, on the hand is a process that runs in the cultural "air." All that you say is true. But I think comparing the two is like comparing a process to the air around us or the water in a fish tank.

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