We recently saw a few references to this statement on social media and wanted to understand where it originated. It’s been around awhile, and is often attributed to the classic management theorist Peter Drucker. Upon investigation, the origin of the phrase could potentially come from a variety of sources …
Regardless of the first person who said it, it’s more applicable in today’s business environment than at almost any time since World War II. If you think culture is one of those squishy HR terms, just think about these four US statistics:
- Seven out of 10 workers in the US are either activity disengaged or not engaged in their work, according to a recent study by Gallup;
- The Bureau of National Affairs estimates that US businesses lose $11 billion annually as a result of employee turnover;
- A study by Dale Carnegie Training found companies with engaged employees outperform those without them by up to 202%; and
- Companies with a higher sense of purpose outperformed others by 400% (Jim Stengel, 2012).
Some of the stats for Australia over the last few years are as interesting. Take the 2014 Towers Watson Global Survey of 32,000 employees in 26 countries: only 44% of Australian employees surveyed said their leaders were effective.
Among government workers, the Australian Public Service Commission State of the Service report showed in 2014/15:
- The average rate of unscheduled personal and miscellaneous leave for APS employees was 11.6 days; and
- Some 17% of APS employees reported being bullied or harassed.
“Culture” can mean many things, but by and large it speaks to the connectedness between your people and the central mission/goal of the organisation and how people within the organisation accomplish their work each and every day.
If you have a poor culture — if disengagement is rampant — it’s nearly impossible for strategy to take hold. The mere idea of strategy implies longer-term thinking, commitment back to core ideas, and aligning on how to best corner your market.
How can strategy take hold, then, if people are disengaged and not connected to the culture?
A great culture is essential for great strategy execution. Poor culture equals poor execution. Simply put, this is why culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack!
Less strategy, more culture
The challenge for most organisations: you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about strategy, but comparatively less time thinking about culture. But here’s the rub: strategy tends to be about trying to control things to achieve important goals, but it’s getting harder and harder to control things in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
Positive culture, on the other hand, is about empowering people in the context of volatility, to achieve those important organisational goals through agreed norms of behaviour and values that unleash initiative, adaptiveness, collaboration, local decision-making and strong accountabilities.“Shaping an engaged organisational culture is a leadership responsibility.”
Shaping an engaged organisational culture is a leadership responsibility. Leaders have more of an impact on culture (positive or negative) than any other factor in the workplace. Organisational culture is shaped by the kinds of behaviour and values that leaders demonstrate, like respect and honesty, the agenda the employee chooses to focus on, the sources of information that are trusted, where time and energy is spent and how performance is managed.
Culture is reinforced by the choices that leaders make in these areas on a daily basis. These choices signal norms of behaviour, priorities and expectations for the organisation. An aligned and engaged culture results when choices are intentionally made consistent with corporate strategy, organisational purpose and its values. If these choices are inconsistent, culture starts to fray and achieving strategy will be that much harder.
Even in the strategy-driven world of digital transformation, organisations are recognising the importance of focusing on building supportive cultures that enable digital agility. Waggl was recently invited to participate in a Global Centre for Digital Business Transformation, an IMD and Cisco initiative, on Workforce Transformation in the Digital Vortex. We found that several cultural traits are foundational for digital business agility:
- Hyperawareness: ability to sense what’s going on throughout and outside the enterprise.
- Informed decision-making: using data and analytics to empower the workforce at every level.
- Fast execution: responding rapidly once decisions have been made.
Nearly every organisation has room for improvement, with regards to culture. So if you believe culture eats strategy, what are the next steps to transforming your workplace? Well, leaders around the world are adopting these principles:
- Recognise that there is wisdom is in the system — tap into this and ask powerful questions;
- Make the workplace more human — positive culture is built through respect, good information, meaningful dialog, diversity and inclusion;
- Build a culture of listening that is owned by everyone — ask and listen rather than tell; and
- Invest in a strong culture first, to increase success on strategic initiatives and empower people.