David Lancefield is a catalyst, strategist and coach to senior executives, professionals and entrepreneurs. Over the last 25 years, he has worked with organizations on strategy, innovation, culture from start-ups to blue chips, while building and leading successful businesses and client accounts within PwC. He also speaks, facilitates and hosts the Lancefield on the Line podcast, and writes for Harvard Business Review and is a contributing editor for Strategy+Business, as well as being published by Forbes and Financial Times, among others.
Lancefield sits in the intersection of how strategy, leadership and culture all come together. He joined the Outthinkers Podcast to discuss two topics that are highly prevalent for organizations—strategy and culture. But where they are often treated as one dependent on the other, he brings to us the perspective that the two directly support and inform one another—and that building them in tandem is a competitive advantage is too often overlooked.
The Symbiotic Relationship between Strategy and Culture
Strategy and culture exist in a symbiotic relationship, yet many organizations fail to design them in tandem. Usually, new CEOs, organizational leaders, and entrepreneurs start with strategy, examine the market and customers, and determine where to focus. Later, they discuss how to do it and what is needed from a cultural perspective. For consultants, culture usually sits in the last two slides of the deck. This leaves a big gap between strategy and culture.
Chief strategy officers must recognize the interdependency between strategy and culture to drive execution.
- Culture is informed by beliefs, values, and traits, but ultimately it’s about behaviors and what people actually do in practice.
- Writing down what you expect people to do won’t constrain them; instead it will empower them to decide if they can and want to perform those behaviors as well as where they need support.
- The best strategy work involves people of all backgrounds from the beginning stages. Bring in HR, organizational culture, procurement, finance, operations, legal, etc. in strategy from the beginning. Not only will it offer additional insights, it was also gain buy-in and advocates early on.
- Leaving culture until too late in the strategy journey misses an opportunity to involve the organization in sharing their ideas, hopes, fears, and goals. It empowers them to make choices about how they will align their work to the overall strategy.
Measuring Progress of Strategy-Culture Alignment
With culture change taking years, firms need leading indicators that target cultural behaviors are taking hold and linking to strategic goals. These measures must connect short-term experiments to long-term aspirations.
- Develop metrics spanning macro (business impact) and micro (adoption of new behaviors) levels.
- Culture change can take years, if not decades, in large, complex enterprises. Break down long-term measures into short-term impacts you want to achieve.
- Capabilities are the glue between strategy and culture. Most organizations have three to five capabilities that they’ve mastered.
- Track experiments in new ways of working and how they reinforce strategy.
Activating Networks of Change Agents
Based on the organization’s strategy and cultural assessment, you need to determine the critical behaviors you need to master and show in those capabilities. To speed up change, identify the people in your organization who can serve as “catalysts for change.”
- Change agents are not usually at the top or bottom of the organization. They are the informal leaders who often serve as mentors to others. They have earned trust and respect throughout the organization.
- Conduct conversations, surveys, and questionnaires to identify catalysts for change.
- Equip catalysts to lead new behavior experiments. Record successes and best practices.
- Diffuse change experiments throughout the organization by sharing what worked, but giving people permission to craft the new behavior in a way that works for them. Most organizational change efforts fail because they try to force and push new behaviors from one part of the organization to another.
Culture change requires connecting new behaviors to the core organizational ambition and strategy. Just as strategy and culture intertwine, so must leadership behaviors model the desired cultural values. Leaders who bring this tandem approach set their organizations up for resilience and realization of purpose.