Should leaders focus on strategy or culture to grow their business?

Wendy Ferris Leadership, Strategy

Scrolling through LinkedIn this week, I found the great quote from Peter Drucker:  “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  As I continued scrolling, it was interesting to read the passionate ‘anti-strategy’ comments that followed.  It appeared that this was an either/or debate, and I felt compelled to weigh in.teamwork2

I agree with Drucker: an organization can have a great plan, but if there isn’t a healthy culture and team supporting the plan and executing for results, all you have left is an expensive, fancy binder with a bunch of thoughts and dreams gathering dust.

I’ll also argue that the opposite is true:  an organization can’t have a healthy culture without a plan.

Stay with me here. Whenever I ask executive and leadership teams to share an experience when they were part of a high functioning team, had fun, and were fully engaged and excited about what they were doing, they consistently list a core group of the same attributes:  common goals, trust, positive results, learning and growth, understanding their specific role and that of their teammates, having clear direction, etc. There is a strong connection between strategy and culture — the organization that recognizes the relationship is that much stronger.

So how do you accomplish and promote both a healthy culture and a smart strategic plan that works?

  1. Determine the your organization’s purpose.

Go beyond the wordy mission statement that no one remembers and define your organization’s “Why”.   When you rally your team around a common purpose and passion, you build the foundation for a really great culture and plan.

  1. Assess where you are now.

You can’t see where you’re going unless you know where you have been.  Be honest, listen to the team, and engage them to take stock of the organization’s challenges and opportunities. Together, you can build a plan based on reality.

  1. Create clear goals and actions.

Keep it simple and apply the Law of Threes to develop a plan that focuses on your three Big Goals. From there you can build a smart, targeted plan with tangible, realistic actions that will drive change. The goal is to engage your team — not overwhelm them.

  1. Remove things that could get in the way.

Let’s be honest.  The world is constantly changing, and a plan needs to be ready to pivot and adjust if needed.  You can increase the success of your plan by identifying any “death threats” that could derail the plan if left unchecked. Let’s call them out so that we can deal with them and create proactive strategies to overcome them.

  1. Review progress often.

You’ll derail your strategic plan and your culture if you don’t show commitment and follow through to the work that needs to be done.  Your team is ready to own it, and expects you to do the same.  Make the plan happen by building in a rhythm of accountability. That means making the plan (and its progress) a priority, and create visibility and regular communication channels to stay on track.

It’s time to look at Drucker’s quote with a new perspective.  It’s not about whether you have a healthy culture or a smart strategic plan; It’s about approaching strategic planning in a way that creates both.