Culture eats strategy for breakfast” Leadership and management guru, Peter Drucker

Challenge – Risk during times of change

Strategy-culture alignment brings great value to an organization. Employees are able to learn the culture over an extended period of time and become accustomed to the unspoken way things get done within the organization.

However in today's world, organizations are constantly changing and shifting, causing strategy and culture to do the same. When even the best strategies encounter a misaligned culture, it’s like getting stuck in molasses- progress slows and momentum is lost for all moving parts. This makes realigning strategy and culture essential, especially during the times of change detailed to the left. 


Strategic Planning

Challenge – Execution Molasses

Culture often resides in the shadows. Sometimes organizations have a proven methodology for creating and cascading their business strategy, yet culture remains an elusive challenge. Purposefully managing your culture is difficult because it’s so nebulous, and often embedded in the unspoken ways that work gets done. Left unspoken, old ways of doing things can act like molasses, slowing critical change and innovation.

Creating a purposefully aligned culture

Ask your employees “What is culture?” and you will likely receive a variety of responses. You may hear a reference to “living our values” or “having the right people who are aligned, committed and engaged.” These descriptions form the foundation of a healthy organization, yet do little to align the unique ways in which people personally think about getting their work done. 

To achieve maximum performance, your culture and strategy must be purposefully aligned.  This alignment provides employees with clarity about the work they are performing and how it contributes to the overall success of the organization. Creating true alignment for your organization starts with bringing culture out of the shadows, in order to define, measure, and purposefully manage it.  

Note of caution: You can’t run a marathon with a broken leg.

If your organization is severely unhealthy, we recommend that you don’t attempt to align your culture and strategy because the hurdles are simply too high and your efforts could result in a highly public failure.  One such leader who experienced this was Ron Johnson, former CEO of JC Penny. To achieve culture alignment and effectively implement your strategy, you must have a healthy foundation. Your organization doesn't need to be in Olympic athlete shape, but it can’t be on life support either.  

Effectively aligning your culture and strategy requires:

  • Strategy

Without a clear plan, you are allowing chance determine your success.  If your strategy is nothing more than an employee mandate, then you merely have a dream. Effective strategy is enthusiastically embraced by your leadership team and effectively translated to each employee so they understand their role and contribution to the whole. Without a strategy, to what does an employee align?

  • Leadership

When your leadership capability is deficient, it creates a “hole in the boat”.  Leaders need to possess some BASIC leadership skills and practices to create committed followers.

  • Trust

If you have a trust issue within your organization, it’s impossible to create true alignment.  Fear, protectionism, conflict, and lack of candor are all indicators of a trust deficit.

  • Capability

When an organization lacks foundational resources or a commitment to service, quality, or efficiency, aligning strategy and culture will be daunting at best.

If your organization’s health is on life support, so to speak, start with solidifying the foundational areas outlined above and then make the necessary moves to align your culture.

Align Strategy and Culture

Challenge - Strategy Underperformance

An aligned and purposeful culture can impact 50% of an organization’s overall performance.  Even if two people on a team have a clear understanding of the goal, that does not mean they will approach their work in the same way. If one person believes in fact-based decision-making while the other relies on history, wisdom, and experience, there is misalignment, which often results in costly delays, rework, conflicts, etc. Operating as a healthy organization should always be one of your goals, yet the addition of a purposefully aligned culture has proven to produce significantly greater results.  Here are the results of a 10 year study of over hundreds of organizations. 

Outcomes Healthy Purposeful Culture
Revenue 166% 692%
Stock Price 74% 901%
Net income 1% 756%
Job Growth 36% 282%

Realizing the results of a purposeful culture requires a connector from strategy to results, i.e. leadership

Managers are wonderful problem solvers, leaders help others discover solutions, however this doesn't mean their work is complete. As the world transforms to a knowledge-based workforce, the demand for stronger leadership continues to escalate. Knowledge workers require less problem solving and an ever-increasing need for direction. Creating followers by providing direction, is significantly more impactful and sustainable than merely managing performance. The BASIC leadership qualities that create followers and foster trusted relationships include:

  • Beneficial Partnerships
  • Aligned Emotions
  • Sustained Determination
  • Intellectual Flexibility
  • Character   

In times of change and when “culture is eating strategy”, you can minimize “organizational indigestion” by focusing on developing the BASIC leadership traits.   

Roadmap to Results

Upcoming Events

Iowa SHRM State Conference - Michael Stewart Presenting
Strategy Culture Alignment Certification - Fall Session

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