Struggling with Strategy Execution? It Might Be a Culture Problem

In one of our articles last week, we started with the famous Peter Drucker quote, “Strategy eats culture for breakfast.”

And it may be overused [we’re guilty], but it’s certainly true. But, when our clients and subscribers ask us why their organization is struggling with a constant set of strategy execution challenges, the root of the problem usually points to their organizational culture.

The problem is that culture is squishy; it’s a hard concept and an issue that isn’t usually fixed quickly. So, it’s often a component of organizational leadership people ignore. It’s easier to work on tactical-level issues, and quite frankly even strategic planning.

But without a strong culture, strategic planning simply falls on its face.

While we are expert strategic planners, we aren’t as versed in changing organizational culture. So, we’ve been looking to the experts in the field and trying to learn how we can use their process and skills to integrate cultural change into strategic planning. One of the resources we’ve come to love and reference again-and-again is the Netflix culture deck (full version here, our shortened version here), created by Patty McCord. She has also written a great book titled, Powerful Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility.

Some of the adaptations we’ve taken from these resources have helped us think about shifting culture within a more concrete structure. Shifting culture is fundamentally about changing or creating beliefs, behaviors, and actions/experiences that align to a desired organizational culture. Here’s a quick breakdown of the structure:

  1. Defining Beliefs within your organization that you need to change or what new beliefs do you need to create. What beliefs does your organization need to hold onto to create the culture you want?
  2. Outlining Behaviors that demonstrate those beliefs. What behaviors do you expect that demonstrate your core beliefs?
  3. Outlining Actions/Experiences that change or create new beliefs. What action or experience does your team need to make to change or create your core beliefs?

Mind you, this is just a jumping point and very basic outline of the process for changing culture. Think of it as the 096 idea before you jump into Changing Culture 101.

Over the next few months, we are going to be tackling the idea about leadership and culture as an integral part of strategic planning. Why? Well first and foremost, strategy cannot be achieved without a foundation of culture. Just look at the graphic below that we’ve adapted from BCG:

And secondly, changing culture is hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy either. But we know strategic planning can help be the catalyst to the change. We’ve seen it first hard – just learn from Washoe County.

As a parting thought, we love this quote from Patty McCloud’s Ted Talk on culture. We highly recommend you watch the full video.

“Go back and start questioning the why of what we do at work… Have the courage to throw away the stuff that simply doesn’t matter.”



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