What is the culture in your organisation?

Brief explanation of strategy

Most organisations retreat for what they refer to, as strategic planning workshop once a year. The Strategic Plan normally is a manifestation of the resolve by an organisation to deliver on its mandate as well as contribute to its business vision and mission. This strategic plan is an articulation of the direction the organisation wishes to take its business to in terms of delivery of services and or products. The Strategic Plan derives largely from the expectations set out for in the vision, mission and core values of the organisation. However, recently there has been heated debate over what should take prominence in business, culture or strategy? Before I delve into the intricacies of this subject let me share my understanding of culture in business.

People Management Issues Robert Mandeya

What is culture?

From the little research I did on the word, I would say from a business point of view; “Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that when combined create pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation.” A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. I will add and say, employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, when they are operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy. From this assertion it is can be argued that performance-oriented cultures possess statistically better financial growth, with high employee involvement, strong internal communication, and an acceptance of a healthy level of risk-taking in order to achieve new levels of innovation.

Putting it simply I would say, “Culture is the environment in which strategy thrives or dies.” Therefore culture is imperative for sustained success in business.

How culture can enhance strategy

The strong proponents of culture posit that in any business endeavour, “people matter more than machinery, products, and real estate.” They further argue that it is people who invent and build, support and serve customers in business. These very same people create or undermine value, cultivate or kill relationships, drive or reduce success in your business. Accordingly it is said, a well-conceived strategy living in the hands of unhappy, misdirected, misinformed people is a sure way to a slow and painful death of any business. There is no comparison to being in the hearts and hands of energised, informed, and motivated people.

It is further argued that companies are not linear and inert systems. They are ever-changing, organic communities that are dependent on the engagement, talent, and energy of their people to operate successfully. Ignore the mental well-being of your people and culture at your own peril. Step inside of any company, no matter the size, stage of development or level of success, and the culture is either driving the strategy or undermining it. To exist in the first place, a company must have a clear purpose, a deliberate intent, and a directive or set of ideas that it uses to pursue a clear goal, but it’s the people who have to execute it.

From researches done so far, there is abundant evidence in every industry that the best-laid plans (or strategies) are derailed, suffocated, or distorted by cultures that either don’t understand or straight-away reject the intent.

This, in turn, slows, sucks the life out of, or sabotages the implementation or execution of the company’s strategy.

For the sake of debate, let’s assume there are two kinds of companies in the world. Those driven by strategy, where culture is not a priority, and those guided by a clear strategy where culture is highly valued and universally understood. To help clarify what’s important, let’s look at the relationship between culture and strategy.

Every company needs a clear strategy?

It is common knowledge that a company must have a clear reason for being and a plan of action. But, you might be surprised by how many companies lack strategic clarity, and whose only purpose is to make a profit. To be clear, making money is absolutely imperative, but it is just one of the outcomes of a successful company. However, competitive differentiation and optimal financial performance do not come from strategy alone. To ignore the potential of a fully engaged and mobilised culture that understands, embraces, encourages, executes and enhances strategy is negligent and a missed opportunity. It is, therefore, imperative that today’s leaders not only understand and focus on the interdependence of strategy and culture, but also step back and examine their own role—it is one of the most important areas of their personal responsibility. The mental and physical health of the company in their care must be paramount for sustainable success.

Strategy is rational and culture is emotional.

Strategy, at its core, is rational, logical, clear and simple. It should be easy to comprehend and to talk about.

Without a clear strategy, a company is lost. Culture, on the other hand, means different things to different people.

It is emotional, ever-changing and complex. Culture is human, vulnerable, and as moody as the people who define it.

It can be intimidating and frustrating, often leaving leaders dodging it, neglecting it or discounting it. Because so many large companies are run by people whose expertise is heavily skewed to the rational, financial, and legal side of the equation, culture is often subordinated, misunderstood, or underappreciated.

Every company has a culture, but not every culture is healthy.

Culture is the environment in which the intent of your company is nurtured, fuelled, restricted, or suffocated.

Mandeya is a senior executive training consultant and communication in management advisor, a personal coach in leadership and professional development with the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on mandeyarobert@yahoo.com or mandeyarobert@gmail.com. Views contained herein are personal.