How to align culture with strategy for sustainable success

10 December, 2018
Could failure to align culture with strategy cause a company to fail? Evidence suggests so, though there are ways to engage employees with your culture.

4 ways to drive achievement of vision in your organisation

It was Peter Drucker who famously said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. But is he right? Evidence from the world of mergers and acquisitions would appear to support his theory. Many mergers have failed as a result of cultural issues. However, perhaps not because culture should consume strategy, but rather because of the failure to align culture with strategy. Famous examples include:

These examples, and many more, provide the evidence of how important it is to align culture with strategy. Yet, according to a recent study, boards are struggling with implementing this alignment.

In this article, we outline four ways in which a business can better align culture with strategy.


Where are businesses failing to align culture with strategy?

The 2017 study by Board Agenda & Mazars in association with INSEAD discovered a chasm-sized gap between recognition of the importance of corporate culture to business success and the inclusion of corporate culture in the assessment of performance. Perception and reality are miles apart. While setting culture from the top down is seen by the majority (62%) as how the board can influence culture, what really happens is very different. Key findings from the study include:

  • 43% say that culture is rarely discussed at board meetings
  • Only 20% of respondents fully consider their culture
  • Only 5% are very confident that their desired culture aligns to actual culture

In short, board members are not spending enough time addressing cultural issues, and the consequence is that instead of strategy and corporate culture being aligned, they are diverging corporate elements.


Four things a board can do to align culture with strategy

The Mazars study shows that there is overwhelming awareness of the need to align culture with strategy, but that boards are failing to make this a reality. This failure poses severe risks to a business.

With a lack of focus on culture, workplaces can spiral into an environment where there is an absence of good people management, planning fails to deliver vision, and goals and ambitions are hampered by poor communication. These four tips will help you to align culture with strategy and evolve sustainable success.


1.    Make effective communication a key goal

Ineffective communication acts as a barrier to success. Without the information they need, employees cannot complete tasks, develop skills for the future, and become the engine that drives long-term business success.

Effective communication helps to unite people with a collective cause. It helps to break down cultural barriers, reduce conflict in the workplace, and create a collaboration of colleagues.

To align culture with strategy, effective communication is key. Techniques to make this happen include using tools to ensure two-way dialogue and exchange of views and ideas, and transparency and honesty in all communications. Organisations who recognise the challenges to effective communication in the workplace will be better placed to create an effective communication strategy that breaks down barriers, and develop the consistency of communication that will help align culture with strategy.

2.    Align your values with your vision

Unless your values are aligned with your vision, your business strategy is almost bound to fail; like the person who wants to lose weight buts insists on eating a calorie-packed three-course meal every night.

The board must understand what its company believes in, and these values should then drive vision. Communication of your values to your employees is essential. If they don’t know what it is that your organisation stands for, how can they be expected to support your vision?

Where an employee’s values don’t align with those of their employer, it is probably best to part company.

3.    Brush off your mission statement

Is your mission statement gathering dust on the wall? It’s time to ensure that you align culture with strategy through your mission statement. Make it a story that leaders and managers can articulate to teams. One that explains values and beliefs, and leads people to an understanding of how they contribute to the company’s vision. Develop it so that it creates a vivid picture with which employees can associate and integrate, and encourage people to focus on this mission in everything they do.

4.    Engage your people in success

Employee engagement is directly linked to performance, of individuals and the business. It impacts on recruitment, productivity, staff retention and profitability.

Employees who are committed to the cause care about how your company is perceived, and are not simply exchanging time for money. Engaged employees form emotional attachments with the company they work for. Their work is given a higher meaning that extends beyond the working day.

Employee engagement is not optional, and, by extension, neither is the need to align culture with strategy.


Does culture really eat strategy for breakfast?

Does culture eat strategy for breakfast? We think not. Rather, they are both essential ingredients in the recipe of long-term sustainable success. Only when you align culture with strategy will the way things are done compliment why they are done. Ultimately, successful businesses place culture and strategy on equal footing, and ensure they are given equal time and attention – for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Get in touch with The Big Picture People today, to find out how our Learning Map could help you align culture with strategy and drive employee engagement to achieve your vision and goals.

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