Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Posted by Saurabh Chaturvedi
March 22nd, 2018

Culture eats strategy for breakfast…a pretty catchy phrase and I simply loved it, the first time I came across it. But the next thought was, what does it really mean? And more importantly what would it take to inculcate this or as we popularly say, what would it take ’to walk the talk’?

The phrase was coined by Management Guru Peter Drucker. It means that no matter the strategy an organization has in place, the success and benefits of it can only be secured by the effectiveness of its implementation. This is primarily driven by the people implementing it, the passion and capabilities they put in to implement the strategy and their passion towards the growth of the organization. But this does not mean strategy alone is important, strategy and people should work in a cohesive manner.

All of us know the importance of having the right strategy to stay ahead of the market, disrupt the market and blow the competition out of the water. However, a lot of times, the importance of having cultural alignment is often overlooked and this is not something that can be turned around overnight or even done in a short span of time.

The culture of an organisation is painstakingly built, employee by employee, unit by unit, through processes, policies, learning interventions, mentorships, rewards & recognitions and overall work environment.

You may have seen/ heard or read about organisations having a good legacy, the right business strategy, but failed in their execution, due to their cultural misalignment. This is even more true in the last decade or so, where the disruption is happening at an alarming speed and we have seen a lot of digital born companies, service organisations and other legacy organisations take advantage of the available technology, reaping vast benefits where others failed. Did they have the right strategy?… Of course, yes, cause ’a rudderless ship reaches no shore’. But more importantly, they had the right cultural alignment to this strategy of disruption, people to support this strategy and vision. Passion to drive it and capabilities to support it.

Inculcating the right culture in the organization, is it possible to consciously and successfully change it?

Over the last 4 years, I have had the privilege of observing quite a few positive changes in my current organisation. Hexaware was striving to bring about a cultural alignment required to support its business strategy of ‘Shrink IT and Grow Digital’. So yes, it is possible and its always a work in progress. After careful, constant monitoring of cultural needs of Hexaware, I have penned down my experiences below:

  • 1) It starts with having the right leadership in place. Not only from the technical side, but also the supporting teams like Human resources, Technology Infrastructure, Administration, Training and Development. And then, making them understand the business strategy and what it would take to implement this?
  • 2) Getting the people on the ground to support this, the doers. A workforce that is passionate about the strategy and believes in the values of the organisation. Having the right attitude, skillset and capabilities in alignment to the defined strategy. Now, we completely understand, strategies need to be reviewed every few years in relevance to the environment it operates in and then modified or revamped. And at that stage, it is not possible to revamp the workforce as well
  • 3) This is where HR and Training come into play. The responsibility for cultural alignment rests with these teams as well. To have policies, procedures which promote self-upskilling and initiatives, as well as have learning tools available for these. These tools could be technology driven suited to meet millennial technology needs. Also, Instructor led trainings to promote functional trainings and behavioural trainings
  • 4) Reward and recognition acts as a great motivator and accelerator to support this alignment. While the bigger policies around reward and recognition can be drafted at an organizational level, HR level, something as small as pat on the back or sending an appreciation email goes a long way in motivating employees. And this is something we can all do towards, colleagues, team members.
  • 5) Tools and frameworks for idea sharing across the organisation, both top down as well as bottom up would work wonders as well. This particular one has worked very well within Hexaware, ‘Bottom up innovation’. “The doers” who have the exposure to add value to our customers, have a framework where ideas can be proposed for implementation. And after a feasibility assessment, they are supported to implement these.

There is no fixed step by step guide to achieve this cultural alignment. It varies from industry to industry. However, the above-mentioned suggestions, broadly do apply across the groups of industries operating in today’s environment.

Lastly, in my experience, nothing works better than mentoring individuals, coaching them and having the right leaders in place, that act in accordance with the culture. I once read somewhere, “Attitude reflects leadership” and this I believe to be true. A leader is best positioned to display and reinforce the right culture required in the organisation. This one / handful of individuals could go a long way in supporting a business strategy by small acts of behaviour and ‘Culture eating strategy for breakfast’….

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