Strategy Without Culture is Nothing

The late management guru Peter Drucker is alleged to have quipped, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Whatever its diet, there is no doubt that organizational culture is a vastly undernourished subject in leadership circles today. The plain truth is that too many people in leadership positions just don't "get" culture and, therefore, are often afraid of it.

Many of us who do strategic planning for a living benefit from the glaring recognition that no amount of great strategy can overcome a culture unsuited to implement it. That's why cultural diagnosis, design and alignment are essential to successful strategy development and execution. 

Groysberg, Lee et al. (2017) have undertaken new research on organizational culture that is of tremendous value to leaders and those who counsel them. The authors detail their results in the January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review. They write that, "Strategy and culture are among the primary levers at top leaders' disposal in their never-ending quest to maintain organizational viability and effectiveness (p.45)." They rightly lament, however, that culture is a much more elusive lever than strategy "because much of it is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets and social patterns (p.46)." 

The authors provide useful analytic tools for leaders who want to improve their understanding of culture and its complex relationships with strategy. They identify and rank eight "cultural styles" for example, such as Learning, Results, Authority or Caring. Their research assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each style and, importantly, which ones work best in different organizational types.

People who don't understand organizational culture sometimes place it in the context of "soft skills." Baloney. Those of us who've learned that culture determines whether strategy succeeds or fails know that building and sustaining it are among the very hardest skills of all.

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