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Strategy is also about People and Culture Dynamics

When organizations design strategies, the focus is typically on crafting an approach to achieve key organizational goals.These plans usually take hundreds of hours collectively, and once complete, are presented to the organization in a series of town halls, beautifully illustrated documents, and leadership meetings. Yet while we believe the strategy itself is the path to success, it’s the people and culture that make a strategy work.

Yeah, yeah. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. But it doesn’t have to. Culture and strategy can work together in harmony, and even complement each other in a way to compete more effectively. This starts with crafting your strategy with your culture and people in mind. What I mean by this is by examining and deeply understanding what you’re genuinely good at, where you are today, and the behaviors inherent across the organization. Here’s why:

What You’re Good At – Many strategies focus on big, aspirational goals, while ignoring what can be leveraged as differentiators today. This doesn’t mean your strategy shouldn’t look towards the future – it just means your strategy needs to consider what advantages you have today that you can capitalize on. For example, your company might be excellent at customer service, so your strategy should consider how this can be leveraged in a way to compete more effectively. Instead of thinking of it as a basic requirement and looking for alternative ways to grow, consider how this advantage can be amplified, accelerated, and further differentiated.

Where You Are Today – For instance, a strategy may center on leveraging advanced technology to better engage customers and compete against new entrants. On its face, this sounds like a smart approach. Yet, if your organization is in the proverbial technology stone age, simply declaring this strategic goal won’t get you anywhere. Instead, understand where your organization is today, and articulate within your strategy the key steps you’ll take to get from here to there. In this scenario, becoming technologically advanced may seem like an unreasonable leap, especially if teams are struggling today to convert Word documents into PDFs. This is why knowing where you are today provides you with a clear starting point for articulating your strategy in a way that the organization can see a clear, plausible path forward.

Behaviors Inherent In The Organization – Strategies often declare major behavior changes while ignoring how those changes should occur. For instance, a company might claim in its strategy that the goal is to be customer-centric. Arguably, an admirable objective. However, if there’s an undercurrent of doing what’s in the best interest of the organization rather than the customer, it will take a lot more than a strategy to change long-standing habits. Instead, examine organizational behaviors and identify specific ones that may undermine your strategy. Then, use those key behaviors that need to change as the infrastructure to support your customer-centric strategic goal. In short, don’t declare that you simply want change, but illustrate the key things that need to change to make it happen.

Granted, there are cases where an organization has become so toxic and internally focused, that a major overhaul is in order. But these are the exceptions – most companies have gotten to the level they’re at by doing something right. And many of those people who helped the organization get there are still employed with the company.

Don’t throw yet another strategy over the fence, hoping and praying this time it’s so compelling people won’t be able to resist making it happen. People need to not just understand where you want the company to go, but that you see the realities of today and have a clear path to getting the organization to its destination. Because people are the only thing that will bring a strategy to life.

About the Author:

Andrea Belk Olson is a keynote speaker, author, differentiation strategist, behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert.As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of three books, including her most recent, What To Ask: How To Learn What Customers Need but Don’t Tell You, released in June 2022.

She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive MagazineEntrepreneur MagazineHarvard Business Review, Rotman Magazine, World Economic Forum, and more. Andrea is a sought-after speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and startup coach at the University of Iowa, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also an instructor at the University of Iowa Venture School.

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