Your Company Culture Will Eat Your Strategy for Breakfast

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Management consultant and certified Scrum/Agile coach Michael Sahota explains why the real keys to breakthrough results are rooted in your company culture, not your tactics and strategy.

Your Company Culture Will Eat Your Strategy for Breakfast

The following diagram is a powerful mental frame to help understand change efforts within organizations. It makes the discernment between tactical, strategic, and cultural levels. One way to use the diagram is to position each change item or activity on the line to show what aspect it is focused on.

More importantly, I use the diagram to engage with clients to explore what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, and how invested they are in the outcome.

Some typical benefits are listed above the line. Most importantly, break-through results only come from culture –  not tactical or strategic approaches.

  • Tactics – “How do we work?” is about day to day practices and process elements. These are things that a team or organization can adopt.
  • Strategy – “What do we want to achieve” is about aligning the company around key goals and initiatives.
  • Culture – “Who do we want to be?” is about clarifying the organizations reason for existing as well as it’s values and vision.

Relationship Between the Levels

Culture is the foundation that Strategy and Tactics sit on. But culture is like an iceberg – a powerful force that is underwater where you can’t see it.

Sure, it’s possible to work at the levels of tactics and strategy, but that is unlikely to make any lasting change or draw great benefits. Lasting change requires working at all three levels so that the tactics and strategy support the culture.

Relationship to Leadership Agility

Bill Joiner has identified a number of distinct mindsets that can be found with managers/leaders. and his work on Leadership Agility. The following are one to one mappings from types of leaders/mindsets:

  • Experts focus on Tactics: problems and work execution
  • Achievers focus on Strategy: outcomes and the system
  • Catalysts focus on Culture: vision and break-through culture

Acknowledgements & Additional Resources

The deepest inspiration comes from Bill Joiner and his work on Leadership Agility and the different levels of focus. This served as the basis for my model.

I would like to thank a variety of sources for the notion of Culture being mostly hidden – I have seen or read this in a number of places but most vividly from the folks at Crucial Conversations and their book Influencer in particular.

I am grateful for Mike Cottemeyer for helping me understand the difference between Agile Adoption (Tactical) and Agile Transformation (Cultural).

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Michael Sahota, senior principal of Agilitrix. It originally appeared on his company blog. For more on this topic, go to SlideShare for his Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide.

Do you agree that transformative results have to start with company culture rather than strategic or tactical approaches? Let us know in the comments below!

Catalyst & Certified Scrum Coach

  • Brian B

    I believe that achieving transformative results requires leadership styles that vary based on the stage of the company. This is exactly why many founders (experts) are replaced with Achievers and then Catalysts as the company grows unless they are able to adapt and evolve with the company. I think that trying to put a Catalyst-focused leader in an early stage environment would rarely be the best approach.

    • George

      I would add to your thoughts on this. The key to founders remaining in charge is their development as leaders of the company as it evolves from early stage… to expansion stage… to growth stage.

      Having the right partner with skills to help mentor the CEO can help them through the process and growth as the CEO. In addition the right partner can help them understand that building out the management team with the right skills it is just as critical to their growth as the CEO and the companies success in the future. The right management team lets the CEO do what they are best at as the company grows.

    • I think many founders are experts. Some grow in their leaderships skill, but I have seem many companies where they do not. AKA founder’s syndrome.

      Either way the culture of the founders leaves an indelible mark on the company since only people who fit within that culture are hired. So even at early stage, the seeds of long term success (or failure) are being sown.

      The reality is that you need all levels of capability in your organization. But not in any one individual.

  • HCFOX1

    With early stage ventures, the ideal is to assemble a team that (a) aligns along values and vision and (b) complements each other with respect to skills and experience. Very few CEOs possess the all-round skillset required to deliver success, but smart ones engage other team members to complete the jigsaw. Being able to develop, and supplement, this team as the business grows and evolves is tough. Having a leadership coach/mentor to guide the team is a worthwhile investment.

  • Ctw

    What’s a boutique couching company? 🙂

  • I think that when we do the deep dive analysis, we discover that employee selection ( hiring very selectively only the very best ) coupled with a mission and vision along with a hands off leadership team is what really drives transformative results. The people are the culture – there is no way around that. Empower them with a leadership team that is unafraid to let them excel using their talents and you will reap the reward. Place them under the yolk of a narcissistic manager and the company while fail no matter how good “the culture” was. Platitudes absent income and customers rarely are at the vanguard of transformative results.

  • Inspiring piece, thanks Michael. My brief thoughts, including a quote from your post, in ‘Talking about creativity & culture’: