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  • Writer's pictureUlrika Gustafson PCC LL.M

Mastering the Symbiosis of Strategy and Culture: A Guide for Leaders

In the complex process of organizational success, leaders often find themselves torn between two seemingly distinct forces: strategy and culture. The most successful organizations are those that master the intricate balance between these two elements.

While strategy plots the course, culture propels the journey.

Let's explore four key actions that can harmoniously unite strategy and culture, each followed by a practical example to illuminate the path.

1. Embed Cultural Values in Strategic Objectives 

Effective leaders understand that strategy should not operate in a vacuum; it needs to be deeply intertwined with the organization's cultural values. This involves identifying the core values that define the organization's culture and deliberately incorporating them into strategic planning and execution. The key is to ensure that every strategic objective is a reflection of, and is supported by, the cultural values of the organization.

In my work with a multinational technology firm, we aligned their strategic goal of enhancing customer experience with their cultural value of innovation. This was achieved by involving employees from various departments in brainstorming sessions, leading to innovative customer support solutions that were both strategically sound and culturally resonant.

2. Foster Open Communication and Inclusivity 

Cultivating a culture of open communication and inclusivity is crucial for aligning strategy with culture. This involves creating platforms and opportunities where employees at all levels can freely share their insights and perspectives. It's about making sure that every voice is heard and valued, ensuring that the organization's strategy is informed by a diverse range of views and experiences.

During a project with a leading healthcare provider, we instituted regular 'culture-strategy' forums. These forums encouraged open discussions between senior executives and frontline staff, ensuring that strategic decisions were informed by diverse perspectives and cultural insights, thus fostering a sense of inclusivity and alignment.

"No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it." - Jack Welch

3. Recognize and Reward Behaviors that Reflect Both Strategy and Culture 

Recognition and rewards are powerful tools in aligning strategy and culture. Leaders must identify and celebrate behaviors and achievements that exemplify the organization's strategic goals and cultural values. This not only motivates employees but also sets a clear example of what the organization values in terms of both strategy and culture.

While consulting for a global retail chain, we developed a recognition program that rewarded teams and individuals who demonstrated a commitment to the company’s strategic goals while embodying its core values, such as teamwork and customer-centricity. This approach helped cement the importance of a dual focus on strategy and culture.

4. Continuously Evaluate and Adapt 

The business environment is constantly changing, and so should the alignment between strategy and culture. This action involves regularly assessing how well the organization's strategy and culture are aligned and making necessary adjustments. It requires a willingness to adapt and evolve both elements in response to internal and external changes.

In my engagement with a leading financial services firm, we established a bi-annual review process where strategic goals and cultural initiatives were evaluated for alignment and effectiveness. This created a dynamic environment where both strategy and culture could evolve in response to changing market conditions and internal feedback.

The intersection of strategy and culture is where true organizational excellence lies. As leaders, our challenge is to not only recognize this but to actively nurture it. By integrating these four actions into our leadership approach, we can create organizations that are not just strategically sound but also culturally vibrant, leading to sustainable success and a fulfilling work environment.

Ulrika Gustafson LL.M PCC is a Certified Executive Coach, former C-suite leader and partner of HAMILTON THERRELL Executive Advisors, an international advisory group of experts in leadership and organizational transformation. She advises CEOs and coaches senior executives on succeeding in demanding environments.


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