Does Your Culture Support or Sabotage Your Strategy?

An organization’s capacity to execute its strategy depends on its “hard” infrastructure–its organization structure and systems–and on its “soft” infrastructure–its culture and norms.”

Amar Bhide

(Harvard and Columbia)

Is your organisation one which invests a considerable amount of time and effort (and, therefore, cost) in looking to the future and creating a strategy and strategic plan? I hope so! However, what happens if the plan is not successful and the objectives not achieved? Is the blame put on to the market, the competition, the planners, the staff, or even the plan? The problem may be something more fundamental – the culture is not right for the strategic direction!

There are a number of variations about what is a strategy and what is involved in identifying and creating a strategy. The definition below is one which covers most of the key elements.

“An effective strategy is an integrated array of distinctive choices about which markets a company serves, what unique value proposition it offers to the customers, and how it arranges its functions to deliver that value.” Prof Jan Rivkin

In creating a strategic intent, Michael Porter suggests asking 3 questions:

What is the business doing?

What is happening in the environment?

What should the business be doing? types of organisational culture 

For many years, when working with organisations in various sectors on creating their strategic plan we found that people approached the process with good intentions and wanted to be thorough and professional. The tools and techniques are generally well-known and are applied with varying degrees of effectiveness. Many managers know about the 7S’s, SWOT and PEST and suchlike. (How well they use them is another matter!) The better organisations have customer feedback data and may carry out some market research. Their analysis of the external environment is based on good information plus knowledge and experience. However, when they come to analysing the internal environment, they may not have such a clear understanding even presupposing they carry out the Strengths and Weaknesses thoroughly.

Combine running the day to day business with looking to the future and leading the people and the organisation and today’s executives and managers have plenty to deal with. Is it any wonder that they do not consider the culture of the organisation? Anyway, surely the culture is what it is, we cannot do anything about it can we? Not strictly true.

Corporate culture happens – the only doubt is if it is the culture you want to have (or be part of.) What is the culture of an organisation – or the corporate culture? The simple statement (probably first used at McKinsey) saying, “the way we do things round here” is a good start point. A more wordy definition is “the moral, social, behavioural norms of an organization based on the beliefs, attitudes and priorities of its members.” This does provide for a better understanding of where cultures start to emerge. Corporate cultures evolve from a number of factors:

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