You are what you eat and, of course, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So, if culture eats strategy for breakfast, as Peter Drucker famously observed, you should mind what strategy you feed your corporate culture. While Mr. Drucker’s statement was intended to call-out the strategic execution risk posed by poor corporate culture, the converse is also true. That is poor corporate strategy will result in a toxic culture. Now, if corporate culture is a byproduct of a company’s strategy, mission and values, I suppose in this analogy the latter two would be lunch and dinner.
Framing “culture vs. strategy” as a tradeoff misses the point. Highly successful companies have both a solid corporate strategy and a vibrant corporate culture. While one may occasionally occur without the other, these anomalies are rare and hard to sustain. A startup in a new industry may be able to create a fantastic working environment, however, without a clear direction the initial enthusiasm will soon dissipate. Similarly (and perhaps more frequently), well-established companies can (and do) formulate ambitious strategic plans which fail to inspire those who would implement them. A lack of agility and accountability often leads to shelving these projects.
Established communications service providers often struggle with strategic execution due to a stodgy corporate culture. A prevalent “good enough for government work” attitude is often a byproduct of years (sometimes decades) of uninspired strategic objectives. The vicious cycle leading to conformity includes commoditization, fueled by a risk-averse herd mentality that delivers “mee too” products, services, messaging and customer experiences.
Inertia is a powerful force, and righting a company’s culture can be an onerous task. Rather than trying wholesale company-wide improvements, it’s tempting to rely on the creation of smaller teams or subsidiaries armed with a divergent strategy and staffed with high-performing/high-potential personnel to achieve specific goals. While these initiatives can succeed, they must be properly funded, nurtured and deliberately kept separate. Otherwise, they will eventually dissolve into the dominant parent company culture.
For service providers serious about increasing agility, improving the pace of innovation and becoming great places to work, leadership must be deliberate about the change they intend to make. The gradual process of improving the culture must start at the top of the company, be accompanied by a vision and supported by a strategic imperative and goals. While strategy alone won’t change the culture, without it, any effort to change the corporate culture is doomed.
At Ronin, we’ve crafted and successfully implemented new strategic initiatives for communications service providers looking to become market leaders in their space. We’ve seen how a shared objective can transform a company’s culture and add a spring to employees’ step.
All this talk about strategy feeding culture reminds me, we’re also hosting a free mixology class featuring mixologist Ian McCarthy’s secret Bacon Bloody Mary recipe. We’d love to have you sign-up to join us.
– JP González, VP OF STRATEGIC MARKETING