Culture eats strategy for breakfast

This really deserves to be a longer post, but I'd like to get it out there.
One of the services Loud Dog offered was a value and culture practice (this was part of our branding practice – a well-defined corporate culture is a cornerstone of a sustainable corporate brand). Although I no longer do this, our portfolio companies still have to address this, and I figured I'd document Loud Dog's process in brief.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, aka Execution is 80% of the battle.

Why focus on culture? It's simple, really. Success is all about execution, execution is conducted by people, and people work in the millieu that is culture. Without a good culture, you won't have a functional team, won't execute well, and won't succeed.
Every company has a culture. It may be fragmented, it may be dysfunctional, or it may be amazing, but like a brand, it exists, even if it hasn't been defined. An organization consists of people working together, and that inevitably leads to a culture.

Your culture isn't what you think it is.

Our projects were usually initiated by the C-Suite. The challenge many companies face is that the executives think they know what their culture is. This is especially the case in SMB, and especially the case with he CEO. If you ask any CEO of a small company if they have a strong culture, and they know what it is, they will say that they do.
They don't.
For a variety of reasons, executives at larger companies are less inclined to make this claim, but it still happens.
Because of this, we began every culture project with confidential employee interviews. We wanted to uncover what the real culture was. Each interview lasted about 35-45 minutes and dove into how the employee described the culture, the values, etc.
This was all documented in a report for the executive team (all answers were anonymized) that described what the real culture was.

Culture can be defined.

Although culture often occurs organically at companies, it doesn't have to. You can define what you want it to be and shape it.
We'd conduct a values exercise with the executive team to define what culture they wanted, using a series of exercises.
In the end, this took the form of a series of value statements.
Some of these values would match what we discovered with the employees. Some would not. A simple gap analysis reveals shortcomings.

Now make it real.

Most companies stop at defining their values. It's great. Maybe they define value statements that describe what the values mean in the context of the company. Maybe they'll even print out some big signs and hang 'em in the cafeteria.
However, that's not good enough.
To make culture real, we'd work with the executive teams to define specifically what they'd do to make these values real in the organization.
For example, if "collaboration" is a defined value, what will a company enforce to make that real? How will they measure how collaborative they are? How will they make sure executives are encouraging collaboration and being collaborative themselves?
A colleague conducted a values project at a very large company that will remain unnamed. The executive team defined "respect for others time" as a value. But after a while, it was clearly not taking hold. Follow-up interviews revealed that the COO was consistently 30-45 minutes late to meetings. You can't sustain a value if you aren't willing to live up to it yourself.
Getting back to our example, a company that wanted to create a culture of collaboration might have periodic teamwork exercises that require cross-functional teams to collaborate to succeed.
The company should define a number of specific ways they intend to make each value "alive" within the company, to promote it and incentivize it.

In summary

  1. Determine your real culture
  2. Define your aspirational culture
  3. Conduct a gap analysis to identify areas of work
  4. Define specific methods to cultivate your aspirational culture, focusing on the areas highlighted in the gap analysis.

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