Strategy and Culture – What if they don’t fit together?

If you haven’t read Blue Ocean Strategy (by Kim and Mauborgne), put it on your back to school reading list. The authors have created an analytical framework for discovering and evaluating opportunities for discontinuous change. A careful read of this book is likely to cause you to ask some new questions about your business. And that’s a great start toward finding new answers.

The only complaint I have is the authors’ neglect of – you guessed – culture. They devote a chapter to the topic of building execution into strategy. Good start – that’s a vital area. However that chapter focuses only on “three E principles of fair process.” These are engagement, explanation, and expectation clarity. Again a good start. Fair process is key. But it’s not enough.

Getting your culture to support your strategy requires more than fair process. Expectation clarity is the beginning, not the end. As a leader, you need to model the new expectations, actively examining your own actions to ensure alignment with the strategy at the deepest level. Learn more about this in my book, The Fourth Factor. Then look at all of your systems and processes (both formal and informal) to be sure they support the kind of culture that you need to successfully execute your strategy.

Get started with your culture today. Identify three day-to-day behaviors that are essential to the success of your strategy. Get specific here – not “good customer support” but “proactively communicating customer issues.” Now look at your systems – organization structure, performance appraisals, and staff meeting agendas for starters. Are those systems designed to create the behaviors you need to make your strategy work? If not, your culture likely won’t get the message. This represents a significant risk to your strategy!