From The Mix: Culture Eats Strategy

Linda Lisle, Social Media Community Manager | 11/8/2011 | 3 comments

Linda Lisle
By Jonathan Becher, Chief Marketing Officer, SAP

Earlier in my career at SAP, I took a new role with a group that was described as in need of a “turnaround” and an “updated strategy and direction.” I was urged to introduce a new mission/vision, strategic objectives, and revised key performance indicators. Exert top-down control.

My first few weeks on the job contradicted this advice. I noticed that almost every important decision had to be made by me personally. At first I assumed this was because individual employees had little understanding of the company strategy. However, it became apparent that cascading the strategy was unlikely to help, because everyone was used to delegating up.

I came to the conclusion that the organization didn’t need a new strategy to solve its performance problems. While performance hadn’t been up to full potential, the issue didn’t seem to be with processes or structures or metrics. After a couple of years of being told what to do and being discouraged to think for themselves, my new group had a culture problem.

Because most leaders view culture as something soft and intangible, it’s often overlooked when they take a new job. Unfortunately, in my experience, the single biggest roadblock to success for a new leader is not understanding the current culture of his/her new team and clearly articulating how that culture must change. A well-designed and well-implemented strategy will not be effective unless people are motivated to support it. This idea is captured by the mantra, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” popularized during Mark Fields's tenure at Ford Motor. In my situation, culture was clearly my job one.

So rather than working on strategy or objectives or metrics, I concentrated on changing the culture. I immediately removed myself from some of the approval chains. I delegated critical and visible decisions to my direct reports and publicly reinforced their decisions. I encouraged them to finalize some long-standing issues without vetting them with me beforehand. And perhaps most importantly, I shared all of this with my manager, who went out of his way to reinforce the new style.

Check out Jonathan's full post.

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View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
batye   From The Mix: Culture Eats Strategy   1/1/2012 3:38:14 AM
Re: Culture Eats Strategy
maybe in USA it possible, but in Canada IT Co.'s I never heard or seen it...

mejiac   From The Mix: Culture Eats Strategy   11/30/2011 12:26:44 AM
Organizational Culture

 'A well-designed and well-implemented strategy will not be effective unless people are motivated to support it." 

I cannot agree more with this statement. Many companies struggle to improve efficiency, implement new tools and methods, and focus on training. But at the end, it comes down to what the company culture is. If the culture is that everything is centered on the boss (typical in small companies), it doesn't matter what changes are implemented, and employees will hesitate knowing that the boss will reprimand them for doing otherwise.

In the other side of the coin, big companies can have burocracy hamper decision making, having employees hold back and making positive changes.

This is all addressed by creating an environment of sharing knowledge, awarding creativity and innovation, and empowering employees to make decisions and actually be able to implement them.

tekedge   From The Mix: Culture Eats Strategy   11/28/2011 11:27:11 AM
Culture Eats Strategy
I am a bit confused. Are you in a way, not doing what you initially set out to change? Why did you have to go back to your manager and seek his blessing in implementing the change. You could have said 'The buck stops here' and changed the culture thereby.

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