Realigning culture and strategy
The culture of an organization constantly reshapes itself to remain aligned with strategy. But obstacles sometimes stand in this convergence’s way. How can we draw inspiration from history’s great reformers to succeed in transforming our culture?
Peter Drucker, the theorist of modern management, marked minds with this statement: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This phrase underscored the overriding importance in his eyes of corporate culture—i.e., the values and beliefs shared by employees, which determine their behavior. In reference to this phrase, the author of ReCulturing, Melissa Daimler, proposes a more balanced relationship between the two terms: for her, the ideal would be for culture and strategy to “eat breakfast together, maybe even lunch and the occasional dinner”. In other words, for the two to constantly realign: up to strategy to integrate cultural factors into its orientations, up to culture to adjust to these orientations in order to support them.
Many examples do indeed prove that strategy and culture go hand in hand. At Apple, attention to design and detail, which is reflected right down into packaging, serve the brand’s high-end positioning. At Amazon, the focus on optimizing and compressing margins is apparent even in the minimalist layout of offices.
And yet, is it realistic to want to transform a culture? By its very nature, a culture cannot be decreed, it results from the sum of individual thoughts and behaviors. Yes, a company’s founders can leave their mark on it, its leaders can influence it through their speeches and the example they set. But it is ultimately the coherence of the actions put in place—standards, processes, symbols, etc.—that allow inflecting a collective cultural trajectory.
The mission is arduous, but by no means utopian. Historical leaders have known how to impel significant cultural changes. In Saint-Domingue, Toussaint Louverture led a slave revolt that rocked Napoleon’s regular troops, instilling the spirit of liberty and responsibility to men in rags. Before him, Genghis Khan had introduced the principles of a modern meritocratic administration to the clannish culture of the steppes, notwithstanding his image as a ruthless conqueror. Closer to us, Dara Khosrowshahi strove to correct the excesses of a toxic culture within Uber. So many examples that allow us to identify constants and courses of action to effectively work on a collective’s culture.
In this synopsis:
– Is your culture still relevant?
– Reprogramming a culture: lessons from history’s great reformers
– Contributing to cultural evolution through your leadership
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