“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
As someone who gets paid to help organizations develop & implement strategy (among other things), I get lots of questions about the best way to go about developing strategic initiatives, how to make sure they get done, etc. Usually people expect to hear terms like “SWOT analysis” or “management retreat” or something like that.
The reality is that while there are any number of great ways to create & drive strategy, there is one guaranteed way to kill it. If the culture of the organization is such that nothing can ever change or improve, then no amount of strategic planning sessions will matter. Lots of leaders don’t like to hear that, partly because too many of them are trained in everything but matters of culture. They want to have some kind of formula or matrix that can fix a culture or make the organization’s culture what they want it to be, but it doesn’t work that way.
The culture of your organization is going to be driven by management behavior, and it’s going to be driven by your core values. Not the core values typed up on letterhead and posted in the break room, but the ones you actually live by. Most organizations don’t really know what their core values are. They have some generic terms they throw out (“respect”, “professionalism”, etc), but they really don’t know what that means.
Ask yourself this: What is important to you about your business? Maybe it’s something like “integrity”. Great. Now ask yourself this: What has to happen for you to know there is “integrity” in your organization? I’d suggest you sit down with your management team and brainstorm what “integrity” means to each of them. Maybe it’s “being honest”, maybe it’s “what I say = what I do”, maybe it’s a hundred other things. Whatever the case, make sure you as a group agree on the definition.
That doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Hopefully it’s not, although too few businesses actually spend time doing it. Here’s the hard part: go live it. If you see anyone not living out your agreed upon definition of “integrity”, you have to call them on it. If you don’t, you’re telling everyone it’s really not that important. That’s especially true for members of the management team. You’ll never get better behavior from your employees than they see in management. So there can be no excuses – just accountability.
The point of the example is this: if you don’t intentionally create a culture built on accountability, a culture that sticks to your core values, a culture that knows what’s important, then you’ll probably get a culture where none of those things exists. At that point, it won’t matter what brilliant strategy you come up with. You’re done before you get started.