Virtuous Integration of Strategy, Culture & Leadership

If a good strategy were a well-designed automobile, a great culture would be its purpose-built engine and outstanding Leadership would be its steering, transmission, and braking systems. With that vision of how these three pillars of an organization are linked, I invite you to understand, how I arrived at this conclusion.

Sai Kumar Chandran

Strategy is the design that aids everything from Survival to Thriving…

Today, strategy isn’t just about the economics of a business, as it traditionally was. Nor is it only about competition and technology changes, as it has been in the last 20 odd years. Today, strategy is about managing innovation, regulations, customer opinions, societal contributions/responsibility, fair business practices and not to miss – employee sentiment.

Now, some of us may argue that not all of it matters to all sectors, and definitely not for all sizes of companies. However, let’s ask: What are we bargaining for or shying away from if we are not going to acknowledge that all these factors matter in the times we live in?

Often what we are shying away from, is the sheer weight of responsibility that comes with acknowledging these factors. If we acknowledge, we have to do something about it. And that is easier said than done.

Let’s begin then by simply acknowledging that today’s strategic landscape is more complex than ever!

In a new business classic and an essential reading, Your Strategy Needs a Strategy by Martin Reeves, Knut Haanæs, and Janmejaya Sinha of the BCS Strategy Labs, explain using ‘The Strategy Palette’ that, “Business environments now vary from predictable to highly unpredictable, fixed to highly malleable and favorable to harsh. To succeed, Leaders need to match their strategy to their business environment.”

So, for all the strategy role holders out there:

  • Planning works in a stable business environment
  • Agility works in an unpredictable environment
  • Novel experience is good for a malleable environment
  • Leveraging customer voice and ecosystem is critical in hostile environments
  • The survival approach is critical in harsh environments

And then depending on your strategy mix, you can decide and execute the following:

  • The Value Proposition for customers
  • The Strategic Priorities for the organizational functions to build value
  • The non-values added activities that need to be stopped
  • The initiatives to manage the internal and external environment and
  • The Systems: Culture and Leadership to see things to a closure

Only then is the Strategy and Strategy Design comprehensive. Well, no Strategy is every Complete or Total, that’s why the word comprehensive. This is how an optimum strategy along with your Cultural and Leadership Focus is derived.

Customers and Employees alike, want to connect with a company/brand that has a clear, and purpose-built strategy to survive, if not thrive.

Are you there, in the league preferred by customers and employees? If not, what do you need to do to get there?

Your strategy may be done, but it is far from being enough to thrive.

In a 2017 survey, The Economist Intelligence Unit and Brightline Project Management Institute REFINE THE CORE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION Virtuous Integration of Strategy, Culture & Leadership STRATEGY, CULTURE & LEADERSHIP n Sai Kumar Chandran 28 | | Ashwin 2078 found that only 1 in 10 companies achieve all their Strategic Objectives. In other words, 90 percent of organizations are failing in achieving all their strategic objectives. Scarier, is the fact that in this 90 percent population, on average the organizations are not able to achieve around 20 percent of their strategic objectives.

In simpler terms, if 100 companies set out to get to a Strategic Objective A, only 10 percent achieved it. Of the 90who did not achieve Strategic Objective A, they achieved 80 percent of Goal A or less. Now Scary?

What’s the difference between the two sets of companies, according to the after studies?

The organizations which achieve all their Strategic Goals have Strategic Leaders, who get their Strategy Design Teams, to work with their execution teams, get things done, and build a culture of doing this consistently and over and over again.

Surprisingly, before and after this survey, many other researchers and management thinkers have said enough and more about this in different ways.

So, it boils down to this:

  • Craft a great strategy, that defines the required Culture and Leadership also
  • Enable that Strategy through a great culture of execution
  • Build and Leverage both Strategy and Culture through a great leadership

Very egg and chicken story, isn’t it? And it is. Until you finally anchor the fact that, you need a great strategy to start this cycle. And as a business owner or business group if you do not have the leadership depth or experience to build one, hire someone to build the strategy for you. And from there, learn the ropes and keep re-enforcing the three things again.

Culture is the driving force behind all that gets done. And Leadership is the steering force that flies the Mission to Moon and Back

Culture has two parts to it: Structure and Dynamics. The Structure of culture is a framework of values, policies, procedures, and collective guidance for how the organizational environment ought to be. The Dynamics of culture is how we behave in an organization and keeps a check on: are we getting better or worse with every passing day?

Pick up any organization which has got some level of organization-building thinking and they will give you a bunch of documents that will talk about values, policies, procedures, etc.

But the million-dollar questions are:

  • Are the values, policies, procedures, built to enable the Strategy or Strategy Mix of the organization?
  • Is every single person right from the top practicing values, policies, procedures, etc in letter and spirit while getting the Strategy executed?

Answer for the first question: No, for most organizations, even if they disagree.

Answer for the second question: No, for most organizations, and they can’t really disagree.

Why are the answers a NO?

Most likely, the next answer will be, we are all too busy with getting things done. After all, everyone is supposedly too busy, dealing with a VUCA world!

What we don’t realize is that this means, we are too busy to adopt the values, policies, procedures, etc to the strategy.

I know of several organizations that have decided to go digital and be agile to meet the demands of the market. But their values, policies, procedures are all best suited for a classical business model. As a result, people are all busy, doing what they always did! Now, how can we achieve new results with old thinking and behaviors?

What we don’t realize is that this means, we are too busy to get every employee to collectively think and behave in a similar way about getting to the same ultimate strategic goal.

Hence, in most organizations, we will find a product, IT, Sales, HR, Actuarial, Customer Service Team member. But it is rare that we will find Strategic Employees or Strategic Execution Employees. So, most of what gets done are functional priorities thus missing out on 20% or more of Strategic Organizational Priorities.

Changing the madness in our methods is simple. It means curing the madness.

If Culture and Leadership issues have to change, real Leadership Will is needed; a WILL that has the resolve to define, clarify and sustain the cultural pillars to achieve the strategy.

In practice, this is like an agile loop:

  • Clarify the strategy mix
  • Assess and intervene in culture building
  • Execute strategy l Assess blocks or breaks in execution
  • Do remedial interventions in building the culture
  • Go back and repeat steps 3 – 5

This is what building a great culture and building a high performing organization really means.

This culture building, we are talking about is everything. It is value clarification for employees, employee experience, performance management, talent development, rewards and recognition, innovation practices, quality frameworks in the organization, audit, and remediation practices, and more.

There are many balls to keep in the air to build culture, but the good news is, this is not a new field. Enough and more credible help is available today. The bad news or difficult part of the news is: it takes a great strategy to start, and great leadership to see it through to its closures.

Are you up to building a sustainable organization is questions? If yes, help is available and profits, growth, and all good things will come in time.

Remember this: Building a great business is not the sole focus anymore. That’s hygiene. Are you building a business and the required organization around it? That is the key inquiry to be engaged with! And that’s why: Strategy, Culture, and Leadership, must go hand in hand.

Sai is the founder of Orbit Shift. He is a coaching & consulting practitioner and an entrepreneur at heart. He can be reached at

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