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Culture Vs Strategy? Why not Culture+Strategy?

Culture Vs Strategy? Why not Culture+Strategy?

I recently wrote that one of my favorite sayings is ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Today it is proposed that developing, implementing and living strategy can and should be a prime contributor to the culture of any successful organisation.

I do quite a bit of work helping enterprises set and achieve their strategies and through this have discovered many unsuccessful ways to establish and embed a strategy. There are lots of problems and the biggest is the business as usual tornado which we all face. Does anyone know an organisation that has surplus people? Everyone is full up and operating in excess of capacity…there’s just too much to do and not enough time. We all know and we all live this dream everyday.

So how to develop a meaningful strategy that can actually be lived which is a positive cultural enabler and has a chance of driving a successful enterprise?

The first step is that the CEO must live it as a key part of their life. Remember the three roles of the CEO?

  • Chief team builder
  • Chief salesperson
  • Chief strategist

Then it needs to become part of the conversation at all levels within the business. Don’t have the senior executive ‘DO strategy’ and then have the business execute – get people through the organisation to commit and own their part.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to ‘Playing to Win’  (Laffley and Martin), by one of our TEC speakers. So I went off and bought the book, not expecting much. To my surprise it interested me so much that I bought a hard back copy for each of the CEOs in my TEC group for Christmas that year as my present to them. The catch was that they were asked to read and digest over the Christmas break as we would be dedicating a meeting to it early in the New Year. This was of course greeted with groans all round!!!

The session went well and a number have adopted the framework for strategy and I ask all new members to read it as part of their onboarding into the group. It forms part of our language and is part of the language for those members whose companies are using it.

What I particularly like about Playing to Win are two things:

  • There is a simple 5 question cascade that forms the backbone of the method
  • These five questions can and should be posed at every level and to every function within an enterprise – even down to an individual.

The questions are:

  • What is our winning aspiration? (talk in terms of customers needs to be met)
  • Where will we Play? (markets, segments, geographies etc)
  • How will we Win?
  • What capabilities MUST we have in order to win? (unique or at least different from competitors that form a basis of relative strength in the market place)
  • What management systems do we need? ( data, measures and systems to keep track of what we are doing)

Once the method is understood there is plenty more and most find that the more is difficult going…and of course, that is where the biggest power lies- once you can get your head around the ideas of ‘reverse engineering’ and ‘specifying those conditions which must be true’ then any team will be well on its way to getting maximum value from the framework. From my experience these pieces take a while to get the CEO to really understand and embrace and then longer to get team members into a similar frame.

Like life, it is a journey!!

What impressed me most though was how, when implemented well, this approach to strategy does move the culture needle, it becomes part of building a successful enterprise and answers quite well the culture eats strategy challenge.


Ian NealBy Ian Neal, TEC Chair