Right Focus 04.29.19 // Michael Canic

Let’s Put an End to the False “Strategy vs. Culture” Debate

Man in shirt is fighting against his self

People, let’s put an end to it. The false debate about which is more important: strategy or culture. It’s a debate that seemingly refuses to die, and it’s based on a total misunderstanding. But before I get into that, a little history …

Go back in time and “culture” wasn’t even on the radar of business. Feelings were something you left at home because they weren’t “professional.” Whether or not you liked your job was irrelevant. You had a job. Be appreciative and get back to work.

Fast-forward, and businesses discovered that even though you hire employees, human beings show up to work. And when you treat people as human beings, not just instruments of productivity, they’re more likely to be engaged and to perform better. It turns out that workplace environment matters, for business reasons as well as human reasons. Company culture counts.

Fast-forward to the present day, and some have concluded that because good strategy with bad culture fails – and there are many examples of this – it somehow means that culture is more important than strategy.

Let’s resolve this once and for all. Yes, good strategy with bad culture fails. But good culture with bad strategy also fails. (Why wouldn’t it?) Arguing which is more important: strategy or culture, is like arguing which is more important: sales or operations. It should be obvious you need both to win!

Next, unlike sales and operations, strategy and culture aren’t separate functions. There’s no rule that says strategy can’t take culture into account, or that culture must be independent of strategy.

In fact, just the opposite.

You want a culture in which people’s traits, values and behaviors support your company strategy. If your strategy demands that you have a fast-acting culture, a culture with a sense of urgency, then you absolutely want to hire people who fit that culture, and create an environment which supports that culture. Cultivating such a culture might even be one of your strategic objectives.

You should also want a culture, in a general sense, in which people are valued, engaged and fulfilled. That is independent of any specific strategy, but completely aligned with strategy execution in general.

Strategy and culture aren’t in competition with each other and they aren’t independent of each other. Being mindful of culture is strategic.

So, can we finally put an end to the “strategy vs. culture” debate?

Develop strategy. Create a vibrant culture that supports strategy execution.

Done.

Make it happen.

Michael

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