Connecting Culture to Strategy – by Caroline Samné

Your strategic planning must be in synch with your company culture.Not only do organizations need to be able to define and proactively create their culture they also need to be able to express their strategic orientation and how it connects to the culture.  We tell our clients to heed the warning: you must ensure that you connect your strategy to your culture and ensure that your culture can support your strategy.  One cannot work without the other!

Employees want a clear vision and purpose; they need to understand where the company is going and how it plans to get there.  So not only do we need to ensure a sound culture; we must also connect it to a sound strategy.  How many of your employees can clearly state where your company is headed and why it exists?

Being aware of and assessing your organizational culture is the first step in capturing an image of the present day situation. Once you have some data about your culture you can objectively take a step back and ask yourself what the results mean to your organization and its strategic vision of the future. Will your present day culture bring you to where you need to go as an organization?

Is your strategy well-articulated and defined?  If so, does your culture now support the execution of the strategy?

Take an organization who says that it wants to double sales in the next two years yet has a culture that has been more customer centric and less sales oriented.  What will need to happen within the culture in order to support the strategy?  Will you need to change the focus of your organizational DNA in order to shift how you operate?  If so, will this be feasible and realistic in the next 2 years or will you have to re-define some of the strategy while you simultaneously start to shift the culture to support your strategy?

On the flip side if you are trying to shift something within the culture, you must also look at how it shows up in your strategy.  For example, many companies are trying to instill work-life balance, yet for this to be truly reflected in the culture we would need to see it exemplified in all processes and structures, an example would be how meetings are run (do meetings allow for conference calling to accommodate telecommuters? are meetings constantly called for 4:30 not allowing people to leave on time?), how are rewards and recognitions allotted (do people who work overtime get bigger bonuses and promotions?)  In other words do our actions and strategies match our stated values?

Numerous studies have shown that what employees really want is a workplace that not only provides those types of benefits but also creates an environment where people feel valued, respected and where they feel like they make an important contribution. If you treat people with disrespect, provide no recognition or positive reinforcement; nice benefits may take the sting out for a while but very quickly the pain returns.

Therefore, creating a strong and healthy organizational culture is more than a few perks that create a nice appearance from the surface.   A strong culture must be connected to a clear and well-articulated strategy and vice-versa. What really counts is what people will find when they dig below the surface.

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