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Breaking News! Culture and Strategy Eat Breakfast Together

Strategy without culture; culture without strategy - alone, neither of them lead to high performance

'Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, the quote questionably attributed to organisational development expert Peter Drucker, gets many a head nodding in a room when it is mentioned. It highlights the reality that if we focus on simply the nuts and bolts of strategy rather than the people side of business we are heading for a big FAIL.  With the important issues of engagement, well being and motivation levels impacting on organisational success, culture is the critical component that brings strategy to life.  It builds the social capital which enables people to do great things together.

The reality is strategy and culture shouldn’t be seen in separate camps.  If we work on co-creating the strategy of the organisation collaboratively with people we can have a huge effect on the cultural side of things. This becomes possible because we tap into one of the most vital ways to strengthen people’s engagement and sense of purpose:  increased voice and recognition of the value they bring.   

If we insist on strategy only being developed and shaped by leaders, or the 'strategic development team’ with no input from the people doing the work, we end up with words on a page that no one pays any attention to.  Strategy created by a few people in a closed room won’t create the momentum we need for success.

Some of the comments I have heard over the years from working in this space are:

'We just get edicts from on high - we have no idea why'

‘We just get into something and yet again it changes - with no good reason that we know of.'

‘I have some great ideas for the new initiative I want to share but there is no forum for me to do it in.'

‘I don’t feel REALLY listened to - listening is tokenistic at best.'

‘The Board and Executive release the strategy for the company, but we never really look at it again as a team to see if what we do aligns.'

Compared to comments from people who have had real input into a collective strategy through a process of engaging and collaborative discussions:

‘This is the first time I have felt like I have had the opportunity for strong contribution.''

‘We had really great robust debate in the process and I now see where we need to go.'

‘Seeing the current context of the world outside and how it affects us has made me open up my eyes to the challenges of our work as a whole.'

‘My team was able to influence some of the big picture thinking.'

‘We can now see how collaborating across teams could make a big difference to how we deliver.'

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Bringing strategy and culture together is about CULTIVATING CONVERSATIONS that CONNECT PEOPLE to PURPOSE and PEOPLE to PEOPLE

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1. Be sure to TALK about PURPOSE:

Do you talk the big WHY around your business? Do your people see the underlying purpose for the initiatives you might be bringing in, and how it impacts on the work in a positive way for your clients? This means talking far beyond any focus on making money or simply being more efficient. The Deloitte Millenial Survey 2016, states thats 'Almost nine in 10 (87 percent) believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” In less than 10 years Millenials will make up about 44% of the workforce. Many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are also driven by far more deeper purpose than the pay packet. Simon Sinek, leadership guru and speaker of one of the most watched TedTalks ‘Start With Why’ says, ‘People don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy WHY you do it’. Most people are not in their job for the money - they want to be deeply connected to the human centred purpose of the work. This focus on deep purpose aligns value driven behaviour - the heart of culture - to the strategic intent of the business.

2. Be about IMPROVING, NOT PROVING - give people a safe place to have a VOICE:

When we experience open analysis and discussion on what is working and what is not in an objective and future focused way, we start to feel safe about sharing our thoughts and ideas.  Bringing the best of ourselves to the table in the spirit of improvement means that we start to align as collaborators in the development of successful strategic direction.

Alignment is reached through being prepared to spend time in what Sam Kaner, collaborative facilitation expert, refers to as 'the groan zone’.  This conversation gives us time to air divergent opinions and perspectives and find the outliers and the alignment.  Innovation is often found in the outliers. Don't dismiss them - embrace them. 

3. Get RID of the ELEPHANTS:

Have the courage to step into spaces that might raise issues that are challenging.  In fact, doing this well, with respect for people's opinions and differences will build trust.  People will have a safe environment to test thinking and ideas. If there is a culture of fear then discussion on the important issues won’t happen.  Being able to state what the issues that are holding you back in an objective and non-blaming way creates safety.  Taking out the personal and putting in the professional will build a culture of transparency and trust. Stop having elephants in the room and start having conversations that address them and find strategies to get around them.

4. Create a LEARNING FOCUS in teams:

As a team and an organisation, have as your question mantra: ‘how do we do what we do, better?' Organisations that focus on growth as part of their strategy have to create environments and cultures that compel and encourage people to be real learners - driven by that collaborative inquiry mantra. Team collective capacity is built through inquiry based conversations and a growth mindset. It takes the learning out of the learning and development department’s hands solely and places it in the hands of the teams themselves, so that problem solving and building collective capacity of the team resides within the team, for the team. Expertise is still brought into the team when it’s needed, but the main learning occurs in reflective conversations and actions on the work - cultivating a culture of learning and application.

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Strategy without culture is like a dry biscuit - it looks like it might sustain you for a while, but after a little nibble no one wants to eat it.

Culture without strategy is like a bubble bath - it feels good and is fun in the short term, but add a little soap and the bubbles disappear quickly.

Galvanise your teams by having deep conversations that connect them to each other and their purpose along with the strategy they need to get them there. 

Now that's a satisfying breakfast!