Traditional business school thinking is that strategy drives culture. Figure out the strategy and then make the culture fit. In a steady state world, that model makes perfect sense. Except we don't live in a safe, predictable environment. In a world of uncertainty the only thing that is predictable is that your strategy will be "subject to correction". Long after the strategy has been shredded, what will endure is the culture. The new reality - culture enables strategy.
It's become popular to use the expression "culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's colourful, catchy, engaging, provocative … and wrong! We need both strategy and culture. The conundrum with a good metaphor is that logic doesn't unseat it. We need a better metaphor.
"Strategy is a bicycle, culture is a bus."
It's a mistake of epic proportions to assume the bicycle can pull the bus. Difficult when the road is flat; impossible on a steep incline. Know also that if the bicycle has to swerve - if, for example, a black swan runs into the road (a black swan event describes unpredictable, sweeping and highly disruptive change, e.g., the 2008 financial meltdown) - the bus will just keep on going .. and going. And in the collision that follows … no prize for knowing the winner!
We need to get strategy on the bus … recognising that culture has primacy at the back of the bus! What does that mean in practical terms? The next time your team meets to discuss strategy make sure that culture is front and centre. In an uncertain and unpredictable world, to be a successful leader is to breathe life into the culture every single day. The problem? Intent and intestinal fortitude aren't always aligned. What's important gets in the way of what is essential. Early resolve is not the same as a successful outcome.
The evidence from our own research, and that of others, is that only 20% of organisations are managing their culture. The Culture Imperative: If you are not managing your culture someone else is! The union; a dominant customer; a predatory supplier; the local press; government regulators; and/or a function or sub-business that, because of past success, have undue influence and will be pleased to move into the vacuum.
Insights from "The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture".