Organizations focus on culture and/or come to experts for support for different reasons. Some enjoy the competition of getting on a 100 Best Companies to Work For type of list; others desire the notoriety of being recognized as a great workplace in order to aid with recruitment; others simply believe focusing on culture is the right thing to do.
All of these reasons are excellent. However, what companies typically don't consider are the ways in which specific cultural elements will best drive their business strategy.
Think of a business strategy as what an organization or a business unit wants to accomplish over a certain time, and how they plan to do it. The "what" is determined using a variety of approaches, such as looking at external forces and then deciding where to focus effort. More advanced strategic planning brings in an analysis of the company's internal capabilities as well. The "how" to accomplish or operationalize the strategy is logically deducted to form objectives and tactics over a certain period which are monitored, attached to roles, and connected to individual performance plans.
However, often missing from these analyses is the consideration of what cultural elements are required to facilitate—and not hinder—the "how."
Case Study: Mending Cultural Gaps in Order to Execute Strategy
Let's use an example to better illustrate these concepts. Recently, I worked with a large global organization, and a significant element of their strategy was to increase sales calls per day while at the same time switching their target market from government-sponsored buyers to the private sector. Using Lean-type approaches, they were able to increase sales calls per day. However, they figured their existing sales methods were top notch and so decided to keep those the same.
They quickly learned that although their sales team performed the sales methods flawlessly, the existing approach was no longer applicable to the new target market. This was because the private sector buyer required a full solution from the entire company, as compared to specific pieces normally sold by the sales team.
The new approach would require the company to communicate and share information across various business units in order to accommodate customer needs. However, in a culture of silos, employees felt they could not count on people to cooperate outside of already-existing teams, and there was not a strong "family" feeling. In short, the barriers to successfully executing the new sales strategy were cultural ones.
The company realized that the culture strategy that was needed in order to drive the business strategy forward would be marked by knowledge sharing and camaraderie across teams. They shifted their focus toward implementing initiatives to seal this culture gap. Their strategy for culture involved methods, policies, procedures, behavior changes, and more to ensure total company solidarity would flourish.
Ultimately, in addressing the underlying cultural gaps, the company found success in implementing the new strategy.
First, Culture Strategy. Second, Strategy for Culture.
These concepts look synonymous but I assure you, they are not. All companies have existing cultures, whether they were developed intentionally or unintentionally. What needs to be accomplished first is to determine what type of culture is required to fulfill the business strategy.
Once that is completed, a plan for a new culture which focuses on the specific elements that will drive the business strategy can be established.
Jason Slusher is a Senior Consultant at Great Place to Work®