If you’re in business, you’ve probably heard the saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Shame, poor strategy. Why can’t strategy and culture be equally important?
We like to think it is. Well, actually, we think of strategy and culture in the same way as the lovelorn early humans described in Plato’s Symposium. Hey, wait now, hold up - we promise this won’t turn into a whole lot of philosophical mumbo jumbo, hear us out.
Right, so according to the comic playwright Aristophanes who plays a role in the Symposium, love had its origins when the gods split mankind into two parts.
In his version of events, humans used to have four arms, four legs, and two faces looking out into different directions and, as such, were capable of a 360 view of their surroundings. They were also very fast, moving around by doing four-handed cartwheels.
These powerful beings were so effective at staying alive and gaining territory that they made the gods rather nervous. This is when Zeus, the Greek king of the gods, commanded his son Apollo to cut each human in two, in order to make them less powerful.
You can see where this is going, right?
Aristophanes believed that this age-old sundering that inspires humans to go out and seek their soulmate so they can once again be whole and move about the world as a strong, capable unit. Cue 10 000 Hollywood romcoms. Yada yada.
The actual point we’re trying to make is that strategy and culture are two sides of the same powerful business idea that should be allowed to contribute to the whole in equal measures. Sorry it took so long, but the image is rather striking, don’t you think?
See, business strategy is rational and logical, whereas corporate culture is human.
A clear strategy is something that is used to direct the focus of an enterprise in order to achieve business success. It remains consistent.
Culture, on the other hand is complex, emotional and ever-changing. It's as nimble and malleable as the people who define it.
When a company's strategy is at odds with its innate culture, it will never work - in cases like these there either needs to be a change in strategy, or the company culture has to be addressed and amended from grassroots up.
However, even though these two aspects of business management are governed by different parts of the human psyche and brain, it actually addresses the same aspects of organisational alignment if it works in harmony. The most critical element of any strategy is its translation into reality; the true measure of its success lies in its execution and this cannot be achieved without organisational alignment.
Strategy is made up of goals, objectives and activities, whereas culture speaks to the values, practices and behaviour that underpins it. As such, strategy alone will never yield optimal business results.
In an ideal world, strategy and culture would co-exist in the following five ways:
- Strategy would drive focus and direction while culture provides a positive, organic habitat in which it could thrive.
- Strategy would be the headline of a company's story, while culture provides the common language its employees use to communicate its vision, mission and values.
- Strategy would provide the rules for the game, while culture lays down the rules of sportsmanship.
- Strategy would set a business apart from its competitors, but culture would be the secret weapon that underpins strategic advantage.
- Strategy would provide the outlines for innovation and ingenuity, while culture would fuel the desire and engagement required to get the job done.
As you can tell, if you manage to find a way to align these two aspects of business management the sky's the limit in terms of what can be achieved. Just to drive that important point home, here are a few illuminating statistics:
- A Columbia University study shows that the likelihood of job turnover at an organisation with a positive company culture is a mere 13.9%, whereas the probability of job turnover in low company cultures is 48.4%. YAY for employee retention!
- The Department of Economics at the University of Warwick found that happy workers are 12% more productive than the average worker, and unhappy workers are 10% less productive. When your workforce is optimally productive, it’s that much easier to reach your strategic goals.
- Purpose-oriented employees experience 64% higher levels of fulfilment in their work compared to non-purpose-oriented employees. They are also 50% more likely to move into leadership and 47% more likely to act as promoters of their employers than non-purpose-oriented employees. Dynamic environments like these are hothouses for innovation and strategic success.
Keen to get your strategy and culture in alignment for ultimate business success?
Excellent! You can start taking tangible steps towards reaching this goal by getting to grips with your existing company culture.
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