You can’t deliver strategy without a supporting culture

McRae Williams

At Walking the Talk, we believe that culture is comprised of systems, symbols, and behaviours that are encouraged, discouraged, and tolerated over time. Each of these sends signals about what is valued and what isn’t, and therefore shapes the culture of your organisation. And rather than ‘culture eating strategy for breakfast,’ as the famous line goes, we think of culture as being in support of strategy, as the key determinant in whether it will be successful.

Why is culture critical to strategy?

Market conditions are changing at rates never seen before. As a result, companies are regularly reviewing and updating their strategies to capitalise on new opportunities and remain competitive. But strategies cannot implement themselves. Often these strategic shifts or tweaks require your people to think and behave in different ways if they are to be delivered successfully, so having the right supportive culture for where your business is heading is fundamental. To quote Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

Cultures of command and control served their many companies’ strategies for decades. And because of a lack of competition, there was no reason to change. However, the influx of disruptors across their industries created huge shifts in their markets, and suddenly strategies had to change. The same top-down approaches that were once effective were now holding the same organisations back. They needed to evolve their cultures to focus on what behaviours would be needed to succeed in their new worlds (for example, collaboration, empowerment, and experimentation).

Is your culture helping or hindering your strategy?

Begin by reviewing your strategy and the business outcomes you want to achieve. Then think about what specific behaviours, systems, and symbols you need to encourage AND discourage to deliver on it. And what is the gap between how you need to be, and how you are?

Day-to-day as a leader, it’s about continually looking at your culture and asking yourself ‘Is how we’re behaving today going to get us where we need to be?’ It’s a continuous process, because you can have the best strategy in the world, but unless your behaviours, systems, and symbols are aligned with it, it will be impossible to achieve your goals.

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