Tag Archives: aligning culture and strategies

Strategic Planning Part 2: The Beginning

Our previous post focused on best practices for executing strategic plans. Taking a step back, this post will focus on the formation of those plans.

To begin, a strategic plan is a high level description of what you intend to do, what you do not intend to do, and how you will move from where you are to where you want to be. A typical time horizon is 3 – 5 years, but may vary depending upon the industry.

These plans should not be confused with long-term budgets or “wish lists.”

Instead, the strategic plan links the mission, vision, goals and objectives. The strategy also needs the buy-in from those expected to deliver. For that reason, they need to be involved from the outset.

Further, to be successful, strategic planning requires a mix of imagination and realism.

  • Imagination to describe an innovative product or service, or a way to market for which there is little or no competition.
  • Realism to make sure that there is a practical way of executing the strategy.

Here are some of the specific steps for formulating your plan:

  • Assess current reality and opportunities, both external and internal
  • Develop and/or communicate mission and vision to ensure alignment
  • Define the gaps between “is” and “needs to be” and set the right goals
  • Develop, assess and select strategic alternatives
  • Compare best practices to ensure the strategy can be executed
  • Convert strategy into action, using strategy maps and a balanced scorecard
  • Launch and build high performance teams and work groups to execute the strategy
  • Create an accountability plan so that people at all levels are held accountable for taking the action steps outlined above and for staying-the-course

What is Culture?

culture2Continuing with our theme on “culture,” and how it drives continuous improvement, let’s take a closer look at defining the term.

Among a sea of individuals doing very different things every day and every year, culture is a thread of commonality. Culture is both everywhere yet nowhere in particular. We cannot see it when we zoom in to an individual or a specific action, but we know it is there.

Here are a few definitions from our Partners Forum as well as from published sources:

  • Culture is “the way we’ve always done it”
  • It is our behavior
  • A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization [Webster’s Dictionary]
  • Culture is self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing. [Booz & Company]
  • Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. [Shawn Parr in Fast Company]

It is not easy to measure, but our Partner organizations have measured indicators of culture.

One organization focuses on strengthening and maintaining a culture of helpfulness. The CEO has explained that “helpfulness is who we are” and they have trained people in what behaviors a helpful culture provides.

Others have described their organizations as having “a culture of innovation,” or “a culture of caring.”

Alternatively, some employ annual surveys of both customers and employees to evaluate the strength of their culture of treating everyone — customers, co-workers, and business partners — with care and respect.

Connecting the dots, however it is that an organization defines its culture, it is important to align that culture with their business strategies and continuous improvement effort.

Aligning Organizational Culture & Strategy

culture4Continuing our theme of how organizational culture is a key driver of continuous improvement, it is important to properly align strategies with culture because culture can support or constrain strategy in a number of ways.

For example, an organization that that fosters employee engagement supports a culture of hard work, innovation, and “going the extra mile;” a culture in which people generally like coming to work. Such a culture enables successful execution on a strategy to give customers better responsiveness and reliability.

Similarly, a culture of caring and respect for others is essential to a strategy based on providing the most helpful and caring service to customers so as to win loyalty and referrals. For example, one of the Partners described how their cultural value of giving back to their communities in donations and volunteerism enabled them to appeal to the civic-mindedness that their customers valued. Another described “maverick thinking” that prompted employees to challenge things that were not quite right as a culture that supported the strategy of constantly improving safety, quality, and efficiency.

Each of these examples described core strategies that were aligned with and supported by their cultures.

But what if an organization’s culture no longer supports a winning strategy?

Sometimes a culture becomes out-of-step with its strategy due to internal changes. For example, a change in leadership behaviors can very easily shift an organization’s culture from engaged to disengaged, from collaborative to everyone out for his or herself, from maverick thinkers to risk-averse CYA’s. Careful work is required to rebuild and to sustain the cultures that support the strategy.

Sometimes, leadership must create a new strategy that the culture is ill-equipped to support when external factors change. For example, a company with a culture that values tradition and continuity will suffer from the entrance to the market by an innovative, paradigm-changing upstart. A company that thrived by attracting and rewarding hot shot individuals may struggle when the market begins to demand sophisticated coordination and execution. A company that thrived on risk taking may suffer when expectation about quality and reliability rise.

Clearly in some instances the culture must change, or it will devour the organization’s strategy and everyone will be out of work.