Is Corporate Culture More Important than Strategy?

Anytime there’s a recession and subsequent recovery, the top executive minds huddle together to rethink strategy.

Strategic planning is the formal consideration of an organization’s future course. All strategic planning deals with at least one of three key questions:

  1. “What do we do?”
  2. “For whom do we do it?”
  3. “How do we excel?”

I’ve been listening to a few smart executives who are paying attention to the culture in their organizations, almost as much as their strategy. One asked me if I thought corporate culture might be more important than strategy.

I believe you can’t implement strategy successfully without considering the beliefs and attitudes of the people required to execute the plans.

How about adding #4: “What do we believe about why we are working?

Unless people embrace their jobs and their work wholeheartedly they won’t sustain efforts in the face of difficulties.

In Change the Culture, Change the Game, Tom Smith and Roger Connors write: “Either you manage your culture, or it will manage you.”

In simple terms, “culture” refers to how people think, act and get things done in your company. It is comprised of three components:

  1. Experiences, which foster beliefs
  2. Beliefs, which influence actions
  3. Actions, which produce results

Few managers excel at optimizing culture. While they’re aware of surveys that reveal two-thirds of employees are disengaged, they don’t know how to break down culture into readily identifiable components. They get lost in emotions, feelings, beliefs, soft skills and fuzzy thinking.

Optimizing your culture should command as much attention as performance metrics, operations, finances, sales and every other organizational discipline.

By harnessing the power of culture, you can change the game by growing faster than your competitors, surviving a bad economy, improving your value proposition and outperforming all previous metrics.

You may not realize it, but as a manager or team leader, you create experiences every minute of the day that help shape your organization’s culture. These experiences include:

  • Promoting someone
  • Firing someone
  • Announcing a new policy
  • Interacting in meetings
  • Providing feedback
  • Communicating through conversation, email or presentations

Such interactions shape beliefs about “how we do things around here.” These beliefs, in turn, drive people’s actions, which collectively produce results.

What do you think about paying attention to corporate culture along side of strategic planning?

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