In 2018 Culture Still Eats Strategy for Breakfast – But You Can Fix That
Corporate America has come a long way in moving executive attitudes away from command-and-control hierarchy towards open, collaborative management approaches.
But companies still struggle to execute their carefully researched and thought-out strategic initiatives. Why is it so hard to take “paper to pavement.” as the CEO of Strategy& noted in a recent video clip.
These Strategy& principals point the finger at what they call a “strategy-capabilities gap” (which is a very consultanty thing to do!) They define this gap as the lack of alignment between what the executives want to do to grow, and the actual capabilities of the people and processes in their organization. Before finalizing the strategy, do they take the time to survey their resources to see how well they are set up to deliver the desired results? Do they take the time to find out if they have the operational chops to execute a strategy that makes sense from a marketplace perspective, but may not align too well with the organization’s top capabilities?
Talent Gap or Motivational Gap?
We see this challenge a bit differently. Yes, there can be a gap between strategy and capability, but a well-thought-out strategy that reflects true opportunity in the marketplace cannot be put aside lightly. The bigger issue is not the existence of capabilities, but engaging them in the mission! Operational teams, themselves, may not be aware of the untapped potential contained within their ranks, waiting to be tapped by the right cultural approach.
Executives, in short, see their strategies “eaten for breakfast” by a strong, resistant culture because they don’t take the time to really understand their culture. And they rarely make the effort (because it is really hard) to redefine the culture in a way that would support new strategies.
In short, they must take steps to fix any dysfunction within the culture before it can be relied upon to execute an exciting new strategy!
Strategic development and cultural realignment can happen simultaneously, however, and the strategic development process can be a tool to realign culture.
Fix Culture Before Strategy
Here is how a cultural realignment process could go:
I. Senior managers put a program in place to truly get to know their people and processes.
They spend more time with their direct reports exploring people issues rather than operational issues. They conduct seminars to train both leaders and followers to better understand their own potential, and agree that employee engagement is a two-way street. They can demand communication and transparency, in return for adopting a higher degree of personal accountability and taking responsibility for their own, and the team’s success. Once each employee understands their purpose within the organization, and has their issues valued and addressed, they reengage and are ready to tackle bigger challenges.
II. Senior executives draw middle and junior managers into the strategic development process.
These mid-level leaders have now been through the reengagement process, and can give more accurate reports on current capabilities, and on latent capabilities that could be unleashed with the right engagement and motivational structures.
Executives can stress-test their strategic concepts more aggressively to see if a capabilities gap really exists, or if the gap is more grounded in engagement issues. The talent is there, simply unapplied!
III. Senior management retains control over the setting of strategic direction, but gathers operational feedback before creating a final plan.
Development sessions are held with groups of employees who put the proposals to hard questions. Executives gain buy-in from key mid-ranking leaders to help promote the proposals to their peers.
IV. Management delegates more of the implementation plan down the ranks, to the people who actually have to carry the plan out.
Implementation plans are developed by mid-level managers, and brought to senior management for review and approval.
This is a rough outline, but the idea is straightforward. Where executives may see a lack of capabilities, there may actually not be a skill gap at all! By diligently re-engaging employees, they will uncover plenty of latent capabilities and contribution is ready to go, as soon as the organization galvanizes it through effective employee and team engagement programming.
This is a fixable problem. We are in the middle of a “capabilities awakening” with two clients right now as 2018 opens. It is incredible what talented people can achieve if fully engaged and energized!
If you want details about what is going on with these clients, and whether you can tap some of that magic, give Brooke or Dave a call. If you don’t have their numbers, start here.
For a sample of the work we did for clients in 2017, click here. Or on this button: