Strategy. To serve and protect
One of the biggest opportunities facing todays leaders is to get the balance right between strategy and culture. Often the strategy is developed based on solid business thinking with a recognition that the culture of the business will need to align. This neglects however the most obvious state of affairs, that the existing culture will not (and probably never will) align or even be ready for change. If it was, there would have been a natural shift in direction, focus and behaviour already.
Culture – the values, behaviours, rituals within an organisation – is in fact critical to informing strategy. When leaders truly understand how and where their peoples values and behaviours have enabled success in the past (and some must have for success to have ever taken place) they are better positioned to develop the new strategic approach and objectives.
That is not to say that some values and behaviours may need to change , they most certainly will, but if people can recognise their own strengths, positive experiences and future benefit in the new culture, they are more likely to make the shift and align their actions and behaviours to the strategic objectives of the business.
So how can we serve and protect strategy in our own organisations? How can we ensure that when leaders talk strategy, employees are not rolling their eyes and preparing to opt out?
It is not that organisations are unaware of this challenge and much good work is carried out with leaders and change sponsors in organisations early on. Few however have really been successful and at some point down the implementation line a cultural rock is hit, the tyre flattened and the strategic vehicle knocked cleanly and unceremoniously off the road. Where strategy and culture are better aligned, the discretionary effort and personal investment of those across the business is more likely to be focused in the right place. For this to happen, there needs to be a balance between the rational and the emotional in peoples minds . Good employees will understand a sensible and clearly communicated strategy, but will only shift their behaviours when they believe in it and feel personally connected to it. This is more likely to occur when they recognise something of themselves or what has gone before in the journey ahead.
Stories are of course a simple and compelling way to open this dialogue in an organisation. They allow people at all levels of the business to advise and inform as well as be advised an informed. Great leaders listen to their people ahead of putting pen to strategic paper and keep them informed and involved in the strategic objectives and progress being made against this. This serves to reinforce the right culture in an organisation and support employees in acting and behaving in a way that will help them join in the rewards of strategic success.