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  • Lou Killeffer

Culture Eating Your Strategy?

As diligent and forward facing as many CEOs are they still find themselves buffeted by issues that can threaten the long and short term health of their business. Often this suggests a re-think and a necessary change in strategy.

Certainly business success depends on sound strategy and the ability to adapt and change. But execution is where a strategy either succeeds or fails. This is because no matter the strategy, it all comes down to people and their ability to fashion solutions to issues and opportunities in the real world.

And when the going gets tough, as it almost always does, new plan or not, we all tend to revert to what we know. Knowing full well what we’re doing is, well, “off strategy” and now considered little more than a “bad habit”. Behavior we all agreed in the planning phase wasn’t in the best interests of the business. But, hey, what’s this one exception? So we return to our comfort zone, muscle memory kicks in, and simply getting things done trumps strategic and executional purity.

Once again, Peter Drucker was right…

What people believe and how they behave is far more powerful than any policy or plan. As he said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

So what does that mean; what happens as a result? Can’t each function and division go off on its own and freelance the execution of the plan? Can’t each team, much less individual employees, ad lib to their own goals in the conduct of the business? Where might all that lead?

Drucker argued, and business history makes clear, any meaningful disconnect between culture and strategy puts the coherence of the business model and the long-term viability of the company itself at risk. It can create confusion and concern, internally and externally, regarding the company’s purpose, relevance, and the value proposition it provides its customers. The solution is the hard work required to make sure the two are fundamentally integrated and embraced at all times - and certainly well in advance of any significant strategic change.

This has been my experience with several clients whose leadership looked boldly into planning their future but somehow forgot they, and all their far flung employees, would be carrying their cultural past forward as well. Dilbert's experience seems somewhat similar...

Time for a New Framework

At such a point smart firms seek a healthy and constructive review of their purpose and model as they consider a new overarching strategy and the proactive plan of action to achieve it. One that provides focus and energy in taking control of the future and defining it in their own image.

This re-appraisal of the critical moving parts of the business most often takes place as the first step in the larger long-term planning process. The key outcome is a clear statement of the strategic and cultural foundations of the company. What I call, for lack of a better term, the Corporate Charter.

That is, a unified declaration of the company’s mutually reinforcing Values, Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Culture.

To be clear, by that I mean:

  • Values: What you stand for, fundamentally believe, hold dear

  • Vision: Your purpose, why you’re in business

  • Mission: What you seek to achieve

  • Strategy: How you’ll meet your goals; the plan to get there

  • Culture: How what you hold dear and where you’re headed informs how you work, who you hire, and what you expect of yourselves and who you work with

The Corporate Charter

Your Strategy (your action plan) is how you will realize your Mission (what you want to achieve), which in turn reflects your Vision (why you’re in business), which is based on and fundamentally grounded in your Values (your enduring beliefs) as expressed daily by your Culture (your behavioral norms and expectations).

Obviously to be effective, these often misconstrued components must be clearly stated using the company’s own vocabulary. They can’t be academic or intellectual. Fuzzy or formal. They must be real and meaningful. The best are quite brief and believable from the boardroom to the loading dock.

A Corporate Charter then establishes the principles that guide the decisions made and the solutions developed every day at the enterprise. It clarifies the organization’s priorities while positioning you to identify and seize new opportunities. And It makes the hard decisions on all the essential moving parts easier; from the value proposition to the product portfolio; from the innovation pipeline to the consumer experience, and consistent stewardship of the brand.

Doing More, With More

We constantly hear about doing more with less, ok, how about doing more with more? More clarity? More alignment? More focus, more team work, and more engagement?

By definition, an effective Charter also brings the wide array of your company’s programs and activities into alignment; so that, together they satisfy the needs of your many constituents – your consumers, your dealers, your partners, and your employees – as well as the many social and business communities you serve.

With such clarity and broadly shared ownership, everyone’s job then becomes getting closer to the company’s vision: with each decision made and each product, service, or experience delivered. In this way, the Charter engages the entire enterprise and invites each of your key stakeholders, internally and externally, to join the leadership team in bringing their best to their organization.

Are you all bringing your best forward everyday? Are you aligned and doing more with more? Or, you'll excuse the expression, is something eating you?

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